If you haven't looked at NPR's ombudsman's page explaining NPR's participation in the Pentagon domestic propaganda program, its worth a look. There are a few problems: as mentioned in my post below, NPR simply claims no major distortions took place, and then treats its own assertions as evidence. For example Ombudsman Shepard writes, "While Scales and Rhame may not have been vetted by NPR, it doesn't appear that either had any glaring business conflicts." She later adds, that "both Gjelten and NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman say Scales does not spout the Pentagon's line." Holy crap! I guess if Colorful Gjelten and Hummin' Tom Bowman say it, then it's just got to be true.
Perhaps the most glaring - and unaddressed - aspect of the ombudsman's piece is how it reveals the overwhelming dominance of pro-US military/Pentagon representatives on NPR. Shepard mentions that General Scales of the NYT's report "appeared on different NPR news shows - a total of 36 times in 2003, including 11 times during NPR special news reports in first days of the war" and "since February 2003, he has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered (ATC)." Shepard also refers to yet another retired general NPR hired, Thomas Rhame, and writes that "Rhame has appeared on NPR news shows 48 times -- 43 of them in 2003."
I can understand why NPR might consult an ex-general or two when the country goes to war - but where was any counter-balance to the generals. During the time periods mentioned, did we get to hear from dissenters and leaders of the anti-war movement? Did we get 67 or 48 appearances from the likes of Kathy Kelly, Chalmers Johnson, Noam Chomsky, Scott Ritter, Daniel Ellsberg...etc? How about 30 times, or 20 times? Not a chance.
This complete reliance on US military and security insiders is well illustrated in the lousy reporting on Tuesday's Morning Edition. In one story, Inskeep talks to a West Point analyst, Brian Fishman, about al-Qaeda's Zawahiri answering questions on the web. Of Zawahiri's Q&A tactic Fishman notes "You know this is a fascinating technique. It's not the first time it's been used by an insurgent or a militant organization that we've seen." And Inskeep smugly reminds us, "Now we should mention that this is not a free and open debate. He's choosing which questions to take on and which ones to ignore." I had to laugh at both comments since it made me think of another extremist who took on staged questions and the fate that befell those who weren't part of the script.
Later Guy Raz looks into the US Army's internal debate regarding counterinsurgency. The reporting is strictly limited to members or retired members of the armed forces, and as always, NPR doesn't refer to any of the long, shameful history of US counterinsurgency operations that have tortured and killed millions since WWII.
Perhaps if NPR cut its addiction to generals and former generals they'd actually start asking questions of those in power and challenging the official line. Then instead of covering a debate only after it breaks out in the Pentagon, they'd start the debate themselves. Or NPR could do the hard, slogging investigative work of exposing the US government's exploitation and lies regarding the death of a famous soldier instead of following the story only after his mother has done all the work that they should have been doing all along.
Investigative reporting...challenging those in power? I know, it's a wacky idea.