Saturday, March 03, 2007


A thread runs through NPR news. Any history unfavorable to US foreign policy is completely ignored even when that history is essential to understanding the story that NPR is reporting. Saturday morning I woke up to hear an NPR story about an apparent narco-crime assassination involving government officials in Guatemala and El Salvador--and yet there was no mention of the policies of institutional violence and drug-dealing that the US inflicted on El Salvador and Guatemala - especially in the 1980s.

This got me to thinking of a few other very recent stories missing a little background. Indeed, again on Saturday morning Julie McCarthy talked to musician Gilberto Gil of Brazil. A lot was made of his time in jail in 1968 and the military dictatorship in Brazil in the 1960s--but there was not even a mention made of the role of the US in advising the dictatorship in torture techniques (seems relevant to events today) or in fostering police-torture states throughout South America during those years.

And then just the day before (Friday morning) there was a powerful story about the rise of violently, repressive Islamic fundamentalism in Gaza. It is an unnerving situation, and yet I was struck at how there was no mention of Israel's role in fostering the rise of Hamas, or the US role in fostering the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Middle East in general. That would be uncomfortable territory--wouldn't it?

It's provocative to consider how often NPR news presents its stories utterly devoid of truthful historical context. I'd love to know how this happens-who makes the decisions, where in the process does it happen, just how is the sausage made?


Unknown said...

Watched the documentary "Ghosts of Abu Graib" on HBO last night. It was very good; I highly recommend it. However, as on NPR, a lot of history was missing. They talked about electric shock techniques "developed by Brazilian police", without mentioning Dan Mitrione and the US role in the military dictatorship and in those procedures. Also there was talk about how the US has always been the model for protection of human rights. If that was true, it would be truly horrific.

Anonymous said...

How does it happen? I think it is rather simple and mundane, really.

Several factors are at play. First is intellectual laziness. To include historical context by necessity means one has to be aware, and then have the over arching context at hand to lay it into the story with any relevance. This requires a lot of study and understanding. Not particularly a strong suit of reporters in general.

Secondly, time constraints provide cover, and the reason for intellectual laziness. Trying to work in al the relevant pieces with efficiency and grace requires talent AND knowledge. 'Too hard. Besides. We don't have the minutes.'

'Stick to topic at hand as if the world only exists for the preceding 5 minutes until 5 minutes from now.'

Porter Melmoth said...

Good and valid points all. I would add that the editors, like any media mechanism, those we hear so rarely about at NPR, certainly are the principal ones who mold the NPR of the air. It's not too hard to imagine that, if they do have an agenda assigned to them by more shadowy forces yet higher up, their influence on the reporters, via conferences, one-on-one discussions, and assignment expectations bring about the tone we witness from NPR. I should think that, for the reporters anyway, it's not so much of a think-tankish environment as it is a competitive and editor-pleasing workplace. Pretty much like more clearly commercial media factories. Inskeep and Block can push in certain directions, and tweak a few things here and there, and after their shift, some NPR mogul might say, 'I liked your approach with that Chavez story, Steve', or 'Let's follow along with that thread, Melissa'. Perfectly normal stuff in journalism, but the one catch is that NPR approaches and threads are increasingly dubious, as we know. What are we to assume? That certain ideologies and specific agendas are being attended to at NPR.

Newspaper editors tend to be much more visible, but who are these NPR controllers? Their brief website bios don't tell us much. Perhaps because they aren't 'names'. All the better to work 'under the radar', as they say.