Does NPR Have a Liberal Bias?

Friday, September 14, 2012


(Mr. T In DC/flickr)

OTM takes up the question posed by Ira Glass: Does NPR have a liberal bias? Brooke wrestles first with the (surprisingly hard to define) terms. What is liberal? What is bias? What is NPR? We then hear three different perspectives on NPR’s political leanings from political scientist Daniel Hallin, media researcher Tom Rosenstiel and conservative volunteer-listener Sam Negus.


Daniel Hallin, Sam Negus and Tom Rosenstiel

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [55]

Adrian from Washington, D.C. / Atlanta, GA

I am also an evangelical Christian, and think Sam Negus perfected articulated my thoughts on the matter.

May. 09 2014 08:34 AM
Tim Grizzard

Liberal Bias? Bias implies a slight leaning to the left. A minor drift on to the yellow line. NPR operated in the open ditch on the far side of the left lane. The entire side of their car, including mirror and door handles, are scraped off by the tree line.

Jul. 21 2013 11:28 AM

The hardest question these dimwits can ask a liberal/democrat is "What is your favorite color?" Then sit back and gush while waiting for a pat on the head. Sickening on many levels. Kudo's for putting the right on the hot seat, but way to be lap dogs for the left.

May. 06 2013 11:11 PM

Hello, everything is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing facts, that's in fact excellent, keep up writing.

Mar. 07 2013 06:02 AM

NPR is terrible. It's as bad as Fox News for liberals. News outlets should not have government funding.

Jan. 31 2013 07:47 PM
Lenny Jenkins from N.O.L.A.

I found this blog while I was searching for information on last nights Prairie Home Companion. I have been listening to NPR for 4 decades. Over the past 5 years I haven't tuned in nearly as often due to health problems. I began listening regularly about one month before the 2012 election and have continued since. What I have been hearing is appalling. When I started paying attention prior to the election, I included Fox, MSNBC, NPR, as well as any other media. The way things are, if you pay attention to only one source, you only get half of the picture. When I listen to NPR I am routinely frustrated due to the fact that they purposefully eliminate any rational point from the conservative side, and only will include the things which show it in a bad light. I'll be paying attention to a broadcast and know what the "other sides" point of view is, and await a mention of it.....Only to hear the most ridiculous right wing counter to the left wing stance. Very frustrating. Last night's (Jan. 19, 2013) broadcast of Prairie Home Companion was so critical of the most extreme conservative stereotype that I found it as offensive as racial profiling of a minority, inclusive of bigotry. I will not tolerate such things in ANY form.

Jan. 20 2013 11:25 AM

Good questions:

Why do all conservatives unanimously proclaim NPR biased?

Why do all liberals unanimously proclaim NPR neutral?

Why isn't it reversed or mixed? Statistically, if NPR is not, in fact, biased they should play the lotto because they defy astronomical chances.

Dec. 11 2012 04:58 PM
jaket kulit from Indonesia

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Nov. 29 2012 12:43 AM

I favor Aristotelian philosophy/search for truth; you see unlike his mentor (Plato) Aristotle was delighted to be proved wrong - if doing so produced unvarnished truth. The egos in NPR's editorial meetings have not evolved to Aristotle's integrity yet.

For the last 4 years I have aggregated NPR headline copy, context and slant. NPR continues to post egregiously biased and even bigoted headlines that favor the left wing liberal progressive (democrat) ideology. Even 6th graders can tell who the article is going to favor, just by parsing the headline copy. Transparant and equally scathing journalism is on its death bed in America and those who control the majority news content (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, PBS, MSNBC) are just as just as guilty as the politicians they foist upon trusting content consumers.

Oct. 10 2012 02:14 PM
Gerry O'Halloran from Strafford, PA

Even the "Prairie Home Companion" got on the political bandwagon with its song parody about about Mitt Romney. Score one for "Big Bird."

Oct. 07 2012 01:06 AM
Greg Jones from Washington D.C.

Ms. Gladstone,
Thank you for confirming NPRs already obvious liberal bias. Non only did you confirm that most of your reporters and board members are "progressives" and "democrats," but your examples in this piece confirmed the horrendous bias. By the way, I am an independent who has been listening to NPR since 1992. It took me about 5 years, through college, to begin to recognize it - which I did, long before Bill O'Reilly came along. I love that you "can't find a metric," and Ira wants us to "go through, you know, this morning's Morning Edition, and find me even a sentence that smells like political bias to you, like, like find one!" Hilarious. Try finding some self-identified independents, liberals & conservatives to review a random sampling of a years worth of coverage, including a survey of the type of shows NPR airs. Each person could review transcripts & underlined percieved biases. Then list them for the others to review & mark agree, neutral disagree. Obviously, the liberals will tend to never think what the conservatives believe is bias, and vice versa, but if they are being honest, I think you will see the lean. I would LOVE to see that study. You are right, though, if NPR initiates it, it will not be creditable. Here is an example of the routine bias I see from this show: When Ms. Gladstone is on her rant about how rediculous the charges are & tries to bring the scientific-sounding (therefore unbiased in her mind) Halland's donut, but when citing an example of topics outside the donut "like pedifilia," - she compares it to not to something like sex/orgies/swingers, homosexuality, use of the word, "pussy" on the air (all recently heard on my local NPR affiliate), but to questioning the President's birth certificate, a topic for which there is actually a factual, constitutional, multi-tierd debate, even if you believe the President should not be fighting that battle while in office!

Personally, I do believe Public broadcasting has to be defunded, although not simply due to it's bias. By virtue of the fact that it is publicly funded, it almost has to be biased if you belive people will always act in their own self interest (which I do). I understand the concern that NPR will not be able to be unbiased if they have to rely on a capitalistic/popularity sytem to be funded, although NPR (Ms. Gladstone) admitted that they already run 98% through private contributions. By saying that you need the state funds to be able to control the message, you are controlling the message & assuming your message is the best one! Why not at least give it a go? If they were defunded, I would then be able to fund those programs I listen to, like The Splendid Table, This American Life, Freakonomics, Marketplace, etc, and I would probably even fund Morning Edition, because I do listen to it to get my dose of what passes as "mainstream media" daily.

Oct. 06 2012 10:10 AM

I won't repeat my comments at length: I'll just paste the link to the original story where I commented:


The relevant question should not be whether NPR (and/or its affiliates and their local programming) has a liberal or "left wing" bias, but whether NPR (and/or its affiliates) do everything that can be reasonably expected of a group of human beings...

On balance, does NPR do a better job either to attempt or to achieve the journalistic balancing rubric I've expressed than do other comparable journalistic organizations?

Oct. 01 2012 04:47 PM
A Gray from Rochester NY

Media Bias; as a regular podcast listener I was intrigued to hear you take up this subject. In my estimation you gave short shrift to the case that NPR might have a right wing bias.

One instance that makes that case come to mind is NPR’s refusal to use the word “torture” in reference to enhanced interrogations, when there was a clear historical president to describe water boarding as a form of torture. While this to me seams a blatant case of partisan pandering to the republican held White House, I am also willing to admit that this might be a case where NPR’s dependence on government funding resulted in NPR being unwilling to alienate those responsible for an important part of its lively hood.

What also puzzles me is the pro-Israeli bias that I hear on NPR. In particular I often hear coverage of the Israeli prime minister demanding the U.S. take action with out any time allotted to those expressing the case for diplomacy, much less presenting an Iranian point of view. Further more the fact that Israel has never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, much less admitted to its own nuclear arsenal seams like a significant double standard to an objective U.S. citizen that I would like to think of myself as. Would it not be reasonable for Israel to admit itself to these facts as a good global citizen? Should not NPR discuss this when covering the Israeli Iranian conflict?

Thanks again for your excellent show

Sep. 30 2012 02:13 PM
Nathan Roser from Leawood, KS

I have a somewhat different analysis than other people. My experiences in listening to NPR stories comes from the context of having obtained a masters' in philosophy. When you read philosophy on the graduate level, the teachers will ask you to prepare an article, usually around 15 pages or so. Then, the professor will walk you through its preconditions, what the argument attempts to establish, its relevant counterexamples, and whether or not the guiding argument can be saved in light of each of the counterexamples. I could talk here about WV Quine, who famously wrote in 1957 that any argument you encounter has counterexamples that will render it nonfalsifiable. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you choose the counterexamples you're willing to live with, because your position, whatever it is, has just as many counterexamples as the next person.

I mention these two precepts because when I hear journalism I like, my standard for whether the journalism is well-crafted or not is by the facility and relevance of its counterexamples. I am not talking about mere "he-said/she-said" journalism, but rather, that the reporter is so prepared for a guest's position, whatever the guest's position may be, that the reporter will go after the guest's position carefully and subtly. To borrow another point from Quine, he said in a different essay that we are required to attribute to any person we encounter the strongest possible reasons for their position before we knock holes in what they have to say. It is precisely unfair to our interlocutor to attribute to them anything less than the best motives for their position, and I think a lot of what passes as partisan bias one way or the other toward some story revolves around the mere dislike of the representation of views. "This person disagrees with me, therefore they must be wrong."

One of the things I really like about NPR, therefore, is the fact that they leave the critical listener the space to decide for themselves the validity of someone's argument, noting strong counterexamples to the guests' position. Very few sources tend to do this any more. I think the Times, the Post, the New Yorker, and the PBS News hour all do it in America.

I could add that I once asked a friend, "What does it mean to be a conservative?" His answer was that when Aristotle and Aquinas wrote their treatises, their arguments were treatise length because they were documenting the best reasons for the positions they encountered. Aquinas's Summa Theologica is something like 26 volumes because he was so busy documenting his position. Part of the difficulty of documenting what is the case is that no person at all can claim that the way they perceive the world is the way things actually are, so therefore each person must get outside of their own head, and their own prejudices one way or the other to see what is the case. NPR does this, most other news sources do not. It's that simple.

Sep. 28 2012 03:18 PM
Regina ludus

The argument that NPR is "biased" because they don't echo someone's religious viewpoint is ridiculous. We don't all believe the myth about some guy being resurrected by some paternal omnipotent being some 2,000 years ago. So why should listeners of all religions (or none) be subjected to reporting that supports such superstitions?

Sep. 23 2012 11:13 PM

Conservative bias is nothing new on NPR. Just go back & listen to Maura Liasson's report on the night of the so-called "Republican Revolution" in 1994. I have rarely heard such naked glee in a reporters voice.

Sep. 23 2012 11:05 PM
Jess from Ogden, UT

I have listened to NPR for ten years and I am a Republican. I do feel that NPR is one of the best news organizations out there but NPR is left leaning. NPR often does story that are pro-abortion, pro-homosexuality, and anti-religion. When stories like these come on I just turn the station, not because I don't want to be challenged in my views, but because I don't want a news station to try and convince me that a certain value system is correct. I want just the facts, nothing more. For this reason I will never donate to NPR.

Sep. 22 2012 05:56 PM
Derek DeVries from Grand Rapids, MI

Sam Negus' anecdotal examples are weak. His first criticism of the Diane Rehm show featuring a portrait of the Christian faith he disagreed with is invalid because the individual he referred to was being interviewed PRECISELY BECAUSE his view of Christianity is unique. It was remarkable. News frequently reports on what is remarkable in addition to what is mainstream. What Negus is actually arguing for is closing off views and perspectives to only those he agrees with on any given subject (which is bias).

His other example was a subjective interpretation of the reasons underlying a perceived happiness following a Democratic win in an electoral cycle. Negus is no mind-reader. Perhaps the reporters were elated that the long, drawn-out electoral process was over. Perhaps they were excited about being able to finally report on something conclusive as opposed to meandering speculation from political pundits.

Sep. 21 2012 11:18 AM
Sam from Colorado

Following up on Tom Jeffries' post, Mara Liasson also said in that piece that the 46% pay "plenty" of taxes. There you have it.

Sep. 20 2012 07:22 PM
jkc from LA

Re: Michelle Norris and "The tax holiday doesn't cost anything"

I interpreted her reply as proper and not a republican/democrat tax/spending issue. It was a slightly misdirected challenge to his claim of "it doesn't cost anything". It was more akin to an example of here in LA where a big developer wants a tax break, free land, and public bond sponsor to develop a new sports arena. The developer claims his bringing a new team will create jobs and ancillary business flow through and not congestion. A interviewer challenge to such a upfront discount, is really to suggest not everyone agrees with his hopes and projections. In short, they ask "can we afford it?". That is you ask for a upfront discount now and we bear all the risk the future will provide the payback. In essence: Can we afford to gamble on your claim of return, or opt for the taxpayer's no risk route.

Sep. 19 2012 06:33 PM
Tom Jeffries from Pennsylvania

Regarding NPR bias: On 18 Sept. 2012, heard on Morning Edition, Mara Liasson in reporting concerning Mit Romney's 47% comments Mara in concluding her comments said "shiftless losers and parasites" and "never to take personal responsibility" seeming to indicate that Mr. Romney had made these negative comments. It sounds like bias to me. Did Mr Romney actually say something like that? Bias to my ear often involves the use of adjectives such as severe, extreme etc. when another person with different views might say strong or forceful.

Sep. 18 2012 10:35 PM
William from Napa, CA

YES ! ! NPR has a bias, On The Media has a bias; any good news paper has a bias . . . a bias toward the TRUTH, facts, reality. If you belong to an organization which uses lies as a tactic, you may feel you are not being treated very well by News organization which are trying to uncover the truth. If you lie a lot and your opponent lies a little, it will feel like those who are uncovering the truth are against you. It's true, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias" (Stephen Colbert); because all Liberals believe, on some level, that you can not lie and cheat your way to a better world. Some others do not believe that.

Sep. 18 2012 06:32 PM

Just one quick PS: if NPR took what Fred L. said in his comment to heart: you could make history. Oh, if only, if only...

Sep. 18 2012 12:55 AM

I'd like to make two points that may seem unrelated but which only an essay could probably connect so I won't try to do so here. First, Andy from NC has a good point. I'd like to hear more from everyday perspectives on your show. So let's take the immigration story on Utah. I happen to believe that the AZ law is prejudiced and benighted, but I hear there are people along the border who deal with drug traffikers, who are often illegals, and they may have some very good reasons for believing in such a law, so we should hear their point of view more on NPR and elsewhere.

Second point. Stop worrying so damned much about bias, guys. Worry about the truth. Ira is worried about people wincing--that's ridiculous; the truth hurts and every time it's said, someone is going to wince. All NPR guests, on the left or right, should have the premises of their positions questioned, vigorously. If the press had done their job, we wouldn't still be pretending that global warming wasn't supported not only by a mass of climatological data but by the simple facts of physics. The problem with American journalism in the last fifteen to twenty years is it forgot how to look for the truth. It decided that it's only job was to report both sides and give them equal time. It forgot that while every story has two or more sides; sometimes, the truth lies only with one of them. The current brand of journalism we have would have reported the holocaust as only a rumor since, after all, the Nazis denied it. The current brand of journalism couldn't have deconstructed Joe McCarthy on national TV the way that Edward R. Murrow did--too afraid of showing "bias."

Stop worrying about the charges of people who believe things that lost credibility with the rise of the scientific method. Your former NPR President was right: people who think we were "founded as a Christian nation" haven't read their founding fathers; people who want war in the name of Christ, haven't read the gospel; people who think the scientific proof of evolution in currently changing species is a test of our faith by the Almighty, well... you get the point: they have no interest in reason, in fact, in objective truth--these words don't mean anything to them. They only know what they believe and what they don't believe, and anything that doesn't agree with what they believe, they call bias. And those people aren't paying to hear you; people like me are. So give us what we want: journalism that doesn't kowtow or cater to anyone's pet beliefs or nauseating talking points, and actually, finally, at long f'ing last, tries to get at the truth of each particular issue. If you did that, you'd realize how ridiculous all this constant hand-wringing about bias really is. If you did that, it might make sense to once again refer to the press as the "watchdogs of democracy." But NPR doesn't deserve that title any more these days than the rest of the mumbling corporate media.

Sep. 18 2012 12:50 AM

I listened intently to this program. It was fascinating that the main presenters NEVER could even fathom there might be a liberal bias. I consider myself an avid NPR listener, but there are times I just must switch to another station when it gets too offensively liberal. I do support NPR financially because I believe we should all pay our share( a conservative position?)for at least 60% neutral content. But, please, don't be so incredulous when others notice the tone, the word choice, and the choice of those who are profiled.

Sep. 18 2012 12:20 AM
Tony V from Wisconsin

Regarding the bias of NPR, it is like how Justice Potter said about pornography, "pornography" was hard to define, but that "I know it when I see it." Liberal bias is hard to point out, though not impossible, every time NPR goes liberal, but when you hear it, you certainly know it.

I thought it was nit-picking when OTM took the argument whether NPR is liberal and narrowly defended only NPR shows and tried washing its hands by saying NPR only distributes the programs. I would hazard a guess that when people in general say NPR, they are not differentiating NPR from PRI, APM, or the local PR stations. Perhaps there are some who say, "I listen to NPR and WPR (or whatever local station there is)" but they are probably in the minority.

One NPR (or its subordinates) show that, in my view, has an extremely biased slant is On Point with Tom Ashbrook. From his practical fawning over the left-leaning guests to his cutting callers short when they have a right-leaning comments. That, cutting the right-leaning callers short, does seem to be a common occurrence throughout the NPR (and its subordinates) spectrum, from NPR, WPR (Wisconsin), MPR (Minnesota), to IPR (Iowa). Sometimes, in my humor, I imagine the producer of the show yelling at the host through the IFB (or headphones) to end the call because the caller has been on too long expressing a counter point of view, usually right leaning.

I guess the bias really doesn't bother me so much as fact NPR (and its subordinates) deny it vehemently. Just admit it, it won't change anything except from those on the right who will point a finger at you and yell, "Ah ha! I told you so." If NPR (and its subordinates) funding from the US government is only 2% as it was reported, why don't it just forego that 2% and throw that yoke of "because we are gov't funded, we must be unbiased." Bias news can't all be bad, look at Fox, right? But it manages to be self-sufficient of the gov't. Why can't NPR (and its subordinates)?

Lastly, in my opinion do believe OTM is probably the most fair show on NPR (and its subordinates). Once in a while, my ear perks up, usually it is when Bob Garfield says something in jest.. or was it. -_-

Sep. 17 2012 10:52 PM
Bob from Noo Yawk from Noo Yawk

Does NPR lean to the left? You have to be kidding.

Then why do I, a fiscal and size-of-government conservative, albeit a military dove, have my radios set to WNYC, as the annoying commercials incessantly enjoin me to?

First the frivolous. Only on WNYC do I discover the latest linguistic fads: Prefacing sentences with the word, "so." Embedding the same sentences with the phrases, "sort of" and "kind of." These latest have nudged aside the formerly popular ending of declarative sentences with a questions mark. And only John Schaefer still peppers his speech with "you know." But with the latest crop of young female announcers, the fashion of speaking with a growl is entrenched and growing. Little do they know that eventually they'll sound like Bob Dylan.

As with its politics, NPR/NYC's new-speak is a matter of demographics - of its staffers. Most are young, the interns still in school and many of the rest recently graduated. It's to them the administration seems to be listening when making programming decisions. So Schaefer and Schwartz get kicked into the basement while Glass ascends to the living room.

Nevertheless, old stalwarts hang on. Sarah Fishko gets thrown an occasional bone. My favorites, Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate are, I dare to hope, still going strong.

I love Lopate's show, the old lefty. If anyone is rigorously unbiased it's he. If only he wouldn't exclude most right-leaning guests. And converse so companionably with their opposites. But he tries, and his show is the most interesting and intelligent on the air in my opinion. Even if it is biased.

So there. Sort of. You know?

Bob from Noo Yawk

Sep. 17 2012 04:46 PM
Matt Hirn

There are lots of animated comments here, but let's try to look at this objectively. Ira admitted that the staff members at NPR are overwhelmingly progressively liberal. Any attempt to report the news without bias must first be run through a personal filter to attempt to keep an internal liberal preference from being presented. This is a tall order, since one's entire life is immersed in their own world view. It is not possible to view the world from a completely impartial vantage point and I imagine that the news would be a fairly sterile statement of objective facts if we could.

One of the best things that NPR does to try to overcome the bias dilemma is to bring in credible opponents from both sides of an issue and to allow them to present their point of view. Even though the moderator's questions are not always free from bias, the guests articulate their position.

The bottom line is that everyone has a bias. Ira is silly to suggest that he can turn his off or that NPR is capable of doing it. Listeners want to know that different points of view are being presented. We are not so nieve as to expect you to be able to see the world as though you had none of the passions that the rest of us possess. It's an imperfect world and here's the bad news Ira, NPR is not perfect.

Sep. 17 2012 01:32 PM

Ira,take off your blinders.

Last night I listened to the re-broadcast of On the Media's show about NPR bias. Your passionate defense of NPR in which you argue agianst poltical bias is clueless.

It was ironic that immediately following this rebroadcast was your own This American Life show that devoted one entire hour to victimhood (a popular theme at NPR.) This particular show covered children who do poorly in school becuase unstable family life affects their brain development.

The premise is that:

... IF ONLY we can make programs to 1) teach ghetto mommies how to make a strong emotional attachment to their children by correct nuturing behavior and 2) address already damage teen brains with speical programs ALL FUNDED BY THE GOVERNMENT of couse

...THEN we will fix this problem.

Ira, Dude, make whatever programs you like but please do not expect me to view them with your lense, as unbiased.

I say this as a regular NPR listener and contributor, having written large checks to NPR recently in excess of regular membership dues.


Sep. 17 2012 12:41 PM
Laura Griffith from Tyler, TX

I think maybe the evidence of being liberal might be the fact that you are soul searching to see if you are coming off as "liberal." I say this in humor, but you'll never see a conservative ANYTHING, wondering how they come off to others.

Sep. 17 2012 11:44 AM

has sam negus examined his own positions for evidence of bias?

Sep. 17 2012 11:25 AM
Arman Thurgood

The last time anybody on NPR asked a Republican a tough question was back in the 80s when Terry Gross interviewed Nancy Reagan. She had her head handed to her for lèse-majesté against sacred Gipperdom, and the entire network has been a whipped puppy ever since.

Sep. 17 2012 06:40 AM

@Hugh Green: "Those who favor abortion prefer to be called, "Pro-Choice" since it sounds much nobler than "pro-abortion"."

Nobody is "pro-abortion". Here's the thing: I'm pro-choice. What's the difference between pro-abortion and pro-choice? Someone who is pro-abortion is happy when an abortion happens. You will never hear me cheering or clapping or giving high-fives because someone had an abortion. That's what we'd be doing if we were "pro-abortion". So, no - your description of the situation is wrong. Claiming that the phrase "pro-abortion" is an accurate description of our views is wrong and it's an attempt to make us look sinister.

Sep. 17 2012 02:35 AM

Sam Negus was more offended by how he imagined others would receive NPR reporting than he was personally bothered by the same. Am I the only person who finds people who set themselves up as uninvited, unwanted spokespeople for others to be outrageous?

Sep. 16 2012 11:17 PM
Tim from Minneapolis

I find it ironic that you allow Sam Negus to say that 99.99% of Christians believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus in his criticism of a Fresh Air interview. You let that completely inaccurate and naive comment stand uncorrected. A very high percentage of people who call themselves Christians do not believe what Mr. Negus believes (Google it), but you don't bother to edit statement out. Fact check please. And why even let his comment air regarding an interview show in a story about news biases?

Sep. 16 2012 09:20 PM
Fred from Minnesota

I think a well-run poll would shed a lot of light on the subject of whether NPR has a liberal bias or not. Another way might be to run searches on the NPR website on "George Bush", "Bill O'Reilley", "Rush Limbaugh", "Richard Nixon", "Barack Obama", "Israel", etc, and see how balanced the coverage is. My guess is that it's pretty one-sided. If the Washington Post can admit that it's biased I would think NPR could also be big enough to do so. Instead we get self-aggrandizement and tone-deafness.

Sep. 16 2012 08:47 PM
Carl from Minnesota

Public radio news coverage is inherently liberally biased and couldn't be otherwise, because public radio is, at least in principal, open to considering and presenting multiple points of view on issues. That approach is undeniably liberal and it irritates any diehard conservative - especially if their money is being taken away and used in support of this activity. The essence of conservatism is to conserve; to preserve whatever conservatives are attached to; to limit new or dissenting opinions. Why would anyone ever want to consider or promote any views or values other than the conservative?

The contrast in values between opening to other views or shutting out other views clearly reveals the liberal bias of public radio news, regardless of the balance in the actual coverage and reporting - even if the reporting happened to lean towards the conservative points of view. Because of that, there is no way for public radio to win an argument against any conservative claim of liberal bias - at least from the conservative point of view. And conservatives are, after all, Right.

Sep. 16 2012 08:35 PM
Andy from North Carolina / Georgia

The one comment that Ira made that made me want to write was when he basically said, "Sure, reporters tend to be liberals, but that doesn't affect our reporting."

That is crazy talk. I am politically independent, and a lawyer by trade. Why do people think we take so much time choosing a jury? It's because baises make us who we are.

To answer the question, I most definitely believe that NPR is biased, but not just politically. I think, like most news organizations, it is biased by the narrow slice of the population that it draws its reporters from. Mostly liberal, mostly liberal arts majors, mostly middle class or upper middle class upbringings.

But am I not just writing to complain, but instead, I have a suggestion. One of the strengths of our jsutice system (although hotly debated at times) is the jury. Currently NPR has a lot of repetition on much of its news programming. Take the recent Middle East unrest. It gets reported on more often than new information arisses. Therefore, I think some of this time could be used to have NPR's news jury respond to events, and guest anchor by suggesting questions to the field reporter.

This jury should consist of all of the people that are not represented in the reporters' clubhouse: Farmers, mechanics, engineers and scientist, housewives, ministers, cops, bikers, gang members,southerners, coal miners, etc.

I think that you would find that many of these people would have insights and ask questions that you would never think to ask, because of their life experiences. You could pick people at random, and find say 6 willing to "serve" for 3 months at a time. For each story, or big story, you could see who had interesting input and questions. However, they should be more than just proviing opinion or feedback, they should get to provide some direction to the reporting.

I think that you would find that there is something to the idea of a jury of the people, and since NPR is taxpayer funded, it should represent the people it informs.

Thanks for considering my comment, keep up the good work.

Sep. 16 2012 08:04 PM
Bob Aho

There's a term of derision that describes your diary subject: Tone troll. From the Urban Dictionary:

A tone troll is an internet troll that will effectively disrupt an internet discussion, because they feel that some of the participants are being too harsh, condescending, or use foul language. They often complain loudly and target specific subjects, even though they may actually agree with their subjects's point of view.

If a media outlet responds to all the tone trolls, they will discover that no substantial subject will be covered without a troll appearing to disrupt the conversation. For example, the idea that Christianity is given a short shrift, that its message is somehow unheard in the public sphere is ludicrous to the point of being paranoid delusional. Unable to provide an effective (or for that matter a coherent) argument to support the assertion demonstrates that tone trolls should be ignored.

Sep. 16 2012 07:54 PM
Dave Whipp from San Jose, CA

As others have noted, the show itself was an impressive demonstration of bias, in that the only diaries presented were for perceived liberal biases. I regularly hear "tone" issues myself, typically when a talking point goes unchallenged, or a framing is accepted; but I am most sensitive to the occurrences when they lean right, or to the center (which was not really mentioned, with the possible exception of the anecdote of the bias towards peace).

Sep. 16 2012 06:32 PM

I really appreciated the dialogue between Brooke, Ira, and Sam Negus. I loved this episode in general, but I really liked the exchange of ideas in that particular part of it.

I wish, however, that Sam Negus had explained a little more about what he meant by being "offended" by the guest on Fresh Air who did not believe that Christ literally rose from the dead. On one hand, he seemed to acknowledge that Fresh Air- and NPR in general- should have people with different views on the air, and that people have a right not to share his religious beliefs. But at the same time, Negus said that he was offended by that guest in particular multiple times. I know I have heard conservative Christians who believe in Christ's resurrection on Fresh Air, so what exactly is the bias in having someone who did not share those beliefs on the show? There are lots of people on talk shows and NPR news broadcasts who say things that fundamentally disturb me. But I don't see them as evidence of a fundamental bias in the coverage. Perhaps it was in the questions Terry Gross asked? It was unclear.

This is a great show. Please keep up the good work!

Sep. 16 2012 05:25 PM
Helen Leslie

I was delighted that On the Media took up Ira's challenge. As a regular listener and substantial financial supporter of my local public radio stations, I have been troubled by the allegations of conservatives that NPR and its public radio affilliates have a liberal bias. I consider myself to be a moderate progressive and I find plenty to agree with and plenty to disagree with in public radio programming. In other words, NPR and other public radio programming does an excellent job of presenting a variety of viewpoints.

My blood pressure went up when I heard Mr. Negus say that he "can't support" public radio even though it's his primary news source. If he's listening, he can damn well provide financial support for the service he values. I wonder how he'd feel if there were no public radio!! Shame on him for such a lame position!

Sep. 16 2012 05:19 PM
Larry from Pittsburgh from Pittsburgh, PA

The idea of unbiasedness implies a concept of absolute truth in the journalistic world. In fact, any point of view that, at any moment, doesn’t favor my bias is biased in the other direction from my viewpoint. Therefore, the broader question is whether the U.S. government should sponsor any independent news organization that has any point of view at all – even one that may change from moment to moment. Since every organization has a point of view – since any statement may be disagreed with at any time, arguably no independent news organization should be sponsored by the US government.

BTW Ira’s insistence that NPR would be found unbiased was blatant bias – and he couldn’t even see it. Also, one of the commentators during the Republican convention struck me as extremely biased.

Sep. 16 2012 12:58 PM
Craig Harney

I'm looking for a national medium committed to the objective portrayal of the issues. CBS's 60 Minutes nails that. But when i'm in my car its NPR with an ear out for the left slant which is usually there, though not generally - generally! - egregious.

Sep. 16 2012 12:37 PM
Ruchi Patel

I think to air the show is ridiculous. The fact that is was aired shows that the political debate in this country and the news network is far to the right. Its like NPR is trying to justify itself (which it does not need to to), with airing good news.

Sep. 16 2012 11:51 AM

Public radio in general and NPR in particular seem to be biased toward novelty and variety, which is unlikely to appeal to those who believe we can find all the answers in The Bible, The Constitution, and The Wealth of Nations, and are not seeking innovation in public or spiritual life. It's not always easy to identify content with appeal to both mindsets. Donald Shoup got a lot public radio air time when he was promoting his book "The High Cost of Free Parking" and I thought I could detect the faint background sound of dancing in the isles, as he had provided programers a novel application of free market principles potentially appealing to both novelty seekers and traditionalists. Maybe folks programming for public broadcasting should seek out material like that more assertively.

Sep. 16 2012 11:23 AM
Tom from UWS

Re-hearing this program, I'm struck that what Sam Negus seems to want every story to cover every base. The Arizona/Utah immigration story doesn't need more background to express for the umpteenth time the fact that Arizona voters are motivated by unhappiness with the immigration situation.

As to the business/taxation question "Can the country afford that?", it is a question that is beyond fair: it is journalistic. A good journalist will ask exactly the same question of a Republican lawmaker promoting a tax cut and a Democrat promoting a new business regulation.

The upshot - when I don't mention something that is generally already known, I am not denying it. The reporter has a right to assume that listeners know something about the subject when it has been in the news on a regular basis. When a journalist challenges an interviewee they are merely doing the journalists' job. I for one am satisfied with that.

Sep. 16 2012 10:56 AM
Randy Warshaw from NYC

If you are looking for metrics, or to see if evidence of bias can be found, don't just do it from the perspective of whether or not conservatives can find bias...that's too biased an approach. Make sure that the liberal side is allowed to find instances of conservative bias. Only if both sides would make the case for bias is there any chance to show there is equal treatment/representation of issues.

Sep. 16 2012 10:25 AM
Dan from Singapore

A bunch of what?




haha, thanks for that, Brooke!

Sep. 16 2012 10:21 AM


We talked to FAIR in the last segment on the show about precisely that topic.

Sep. 16 2012 07:57 AM
John from Wisconsin

I'm surprised there is even a question about this. I sat here a few weeks ago listening to the broadcast re:the abortion issue. The guest was definitely Liberal, and equally so - tho not as vocal - was the host. Many of the (rational) opposing view (Conservative) callers were cut off allowing the guest to re-iterate inane (as well as wrong) ''facts'' and opinion, few of which addressed the callers points. The host did not pursue these unanswered points, nor press on unanswered questions, nor challenge any of the "facts" presented - nor so much as ask for sources. Meanwhile - callers who agreed with the guest (and by extension the host) were allowed to ramble and make equally inane arguments. Yet, there's really a question about this? There have been other examples - but this sticks in my mind as being the most blatantly slanted example recently.

Sep. 16 2012 07:42 AM
Andrew M from Santa Rosa, CA

Your whole show is a re-broadcast of this topic, right? So I suppose I should be more lenient on you, but nonetheless, could there be anything more offensive than taking a right wing premise and not exploring the other side of it? Like the topic, is NPR too conservative? Preposterous? Hardly. You've just insulted at least half (the liberal listeners) of your listeners, and you don't seem to care. That really is what is consistently wrong with your show, and to an extent NPR (depending on the different shows on NPR). There is an anti liberal bias to your whole premise of today's show, obviously.

Sep. 16 2012 03:23 AM
Hugh Green from Honolulu, HI

Even within Ira's dialogue with Sam Nevus, I heard bias from Ira, although I suspect unconsciously done. At about 8 minutes 20 seconds, you hear Ira mention the "Pro-Choice" and the "anti-abortion" sides. As I understand it, this is the preferred liberal designations for the parties who are at cross purposes in the abortion debate. Those who favor abortion prefer to be called, "Pro-Choice" since it sounds much nobler than "pro-abortion". Those who are against abortion prefer to be called "Pro-Life" since that's what would what happen (in most cases) when a pregnancy is not aborted. Yet that is not what Ira said. To truly show an non bias, Ira could have used either the "pro-abortion" and the "anti-abortion" terms, or the "Pro-Choice" and the Pro-Life" terms, but not one of each.

Sep. 16 2012 12:11 AM
Lydia Cooper

I appreciate Mr. Negus being a good sport and keeping a diary, but not because I agree with him. Your topic this week has made me realize that perceived biases on the "tone" or "delivery" of a news story is based more on one's feelings rather than factual evidence. Personally, I'm surprised that Mr. Negus is such an avid NPR listener yet doesn't "support" the organization based solely on his feelings, especially since he explicitly praised NPR's news coverage as "excellent". A good storyteller must be remain truthful and also sensitive to the needs of an audience, but it's evident from this experiment that NPR simply cannot make every audience member happy.

Think of it like a steak from a fine restaurant: no matter how excellently cooked and presented, there's always going to be someone who turns his nose up at the bearnaise sauce.

Sep. 15 2012 05:23 PM
Fred Leonard from Philadelphia, PA

There is inherent bias in the topic: "Does NPR have a LIBERAL bias." Why specifically and only a "liberal" bias?
There is bias in the assumption that the absence of bias is good. There is considerable evidence people want bias supporting their own views. Prior to World War II, most newspapers presented themselves as representing a particular political party, political philosophy or segment of the audience. Fox News and conservative talk radio is successful because it has a point of view. Back in their day, so were Hearst and Pulitzer.
There is bias in the assumption that the only dimension of bias is on a uni-dimensional conservative-liberal axis, in which only two options/viewpoints are possible.
There is bias in what a news organization thinks is important. Does NPR really need to spend all the period between elections obsessing about the next election and focused only on he said - she said and gotcha stories?
And there is bias in this program's implied conclusion that if everybody is complaining, we must not be biased. That's like saying if all the critics hate the movie, it must be good.
Aaron Sorkin has vividly articulated the fallacy of unbiased media in statements made by his characters in The Newsroom. I wish OTM had focused on those criticisms than the tired old canard of liberal bias.
Sometimes NPR News seems so earnest and plodding and addicted to clever radio production tricks to stir things up. In those moments, I really miss Paul Harvey. He was biased and I mostly disagreed with him but I knew what I was getting and I didn't care.

Sep. 14 2012 06:58 PM

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