Sunday, March 01, 2009

Something Decent

Today I get a rare chance to make a positive comment about something on NPR news - and with Scott Simon involved, too. Next thing you know, it'll be snowing in Alabama!

On WE Sunday, NPR talked to a former guard about abuses he witnessed at Guantanamo. In spite of a few misfires - e.g. Simon claiming that "there have been few first hand accounts of what the military prison at Guantanamo Bay is really like" - I have to say that (though way too late) it was a good start.

The best part of the story was the reference in the report to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project at UC Davis's Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas. I can't believe I actually learned about a new information resource from NPR! On the story web site NPR even provides this link to the guard's testimony based on the UC Davis site.


Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

I noted with interest that lil Stevie Insqueak has made the jump into tv-punditry, appearing on some show or other today.

THis, along with his recent jaunts to picturesque 'trouble spots' bodes ill, to me, for any hope of seriousness in NPR reporting or editorial perspicuity...

Madison Wilburs said...

It's great to hear you give credit where it's due. I sometimes wonder if people posting here want NPR to fail so that they can have something upon which to bash. We already have Fox news for that. A post like this reminds me that the mission of this site is to get NPR back to what it used to be--fearless, serious, full of integrity.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that (though way too late) it was a good start. "

This is actually nothing unusual at NPR.

In fact, it is the PATTERN.

NPR denies stuff until it becomes untenable to continue to do so -- and popular in "official" pundit circles to (finally) acknowledge the stuff. Then they jump on the bandwagon.

This serves a couple purposes. It allows them to further their agenda (eg, support for war in Iraq) while also giving them an "out" if (when?) they are proven wrong.
critically, it gives them the facade of "balance" which they can use later when people claim they denied reality.

They can say, "no we didn't. Look, we covered this stuff"

yeh, a day late and a (public) dollar short.

NPR did this on WMD in Iraq. They did it on "deaths in Iraq" (MTW just pointed out the recent NPR piece in which NPR finally acknowledged that many civilians have actually died in Iraq, though they still qualify that with "No one is sure just how many have died"). They do it on nearly everything, in fact.

"I sometimes wonder if people posting here want NPR to fail so that they can have something upon which to bash"

Actually, I won't beat around the bush. I don't want something to bash. I want NPR put out of business entirely.

They are using public money for propaganda. That's not only unethical. It is ILLEGAL.

They are seriously abusing the power and responsibility that comes from calling themselves "national public radio" -- and from receiving millions of dollars from Congress and the "public' to do so.

Anonymous said...

Wow, better late than never I guess. So in about five years Scott will do a story on the Gonzo and DOJ scandal?

You don't think now that Democrats will be appointing Board members to the CPR has in influence on Mr. Simon?

Anonymous said...

It must be close to pledge drive time. That's when they usually do one or two decent stories, then it's back to bidness as usual.


Perhaps a more practical explanation, was that Scott was an emergency substitution, the Sunday shows seem to have different editors. (The Sunday show seem to be the only ones that do stories on troops in Iraq and Afganistan).
Since he was a walk on, he didn't have influence on the stories.

I would like to think the numerous complains about Simon being Juan Williams' top enabler and his incurable case of "FOX Tourettes" (can't stop appending a FOX talking point to the end of each story) might have restrained him. One can dream.

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...


I agree with you. NPR is replete with continued examples of their current, systemic failure. NPR’s failure isn’t some end for which I hope. Failure – in my opinion – is their current MEANS. Their news process IS the problem. And while I hope criticism (more constructive than less constructive) could be corrective for NPR, the criticism will only have a positive effect if NPR heeds it. I am not hopeful NPR will listen to criticism, and I say this having worked for several years for an NPR member station that completely toes the NPR company line. That station, like NPR, is entirely process oriented. They are not concerned with creativity of thought or the real substance of reporting. Most “news” organizations have this process down to a science, and it continues to work just well enough to succeed through an appearance of overly-earnest, faux without challenging elite power structures – what NPR has convinced themselves passes for broad and deep, long-form journalism.

Two of the people most responsible for NPR’s slide to the inoffensive, corporate middle are of course, Kevin Close (at the helm), Robert Siegel (in the trenches) and the news editors in between. Close has applied his Voice of America (VOA) wisdom and experience to the NPR vision, and Siegel (as head of the news department some years back) insisted on presenting NPR as a mainstream news organization, but driving away the substantive and creative “hippies” of the 1970s and 1980s. Sure, NPR – bailed out by member stations and saved by Kroc money – bought news respectability, but the price has been (over time) quite high.

Past research shows, with some clarity, that NPR movement to the corporate center served them well, because their audience grew – that and because of worldwide emergencies that NPR could have probably predicted had they been paying attention (technology bubble, the attacks of 9/11, the energy bubble, the health care crisis, the housing and financial crises, etc.). But in order attract more listeners, NPR sold its soul to elite power to grow the audience and increase revenue flow. That is why NPR guests still include know-nothing think tank types, corporate elites and government officials – a steady stream of public relations spinners and chatterers – the “newsmakers.”

I am not hoping for NPR to fail. In my mind, they already have. That they are nominally better than cable and broadcast news sources like CNN, Fox News, ABC News, et al., provides me no comfort or hope. And while I’d hope that a bit of criticism from a blog like NPR Check might have some effect, I am not holding my breath. Sure, I am thankful that I have found a forum like this to exchange information, ideas and analysis with like-minded individuals, but my intention was never to assist NPR in becoming better; rather, to call attention to the abject failure of much of our media to keep its citizenry informed. If that means completely tearing NPR down and building it anew, I am ready with all my tools. If it means burning it to the ground, I am ready with the fuel and the matches. And if it means leaving it to wither away and die, I am prepared to withhold my contributions and persuading others – including my elected officials – to zero-out the budgets for NPR, PBS and the CPB all together.

When NPR (and its member stations) worked on a shoestring budget, without insider to access to established power structures, they were leaner, hungrier, more creative and more independent. Because of their sizable dependence on corporate underwriting support for revenue, and their nearly complete reliance on “official” sources for news, they have become journalistically lazy, fat and predictable. And member stations and networks that follow the national “model” by developing the NPR “sound” are simply perpetuating the problem. If the “localism in radio movement” is so important and popular, then why do so many member stations and networks sound just like NPR or worse, just simply function as repeaters for NPR product? In my opinion, the entire NPR network – including most member stations – produce elite-funded, -driven, and -reported propaganda that reinforces the status quo. The only reason I listen to NPR is to gauge the degree to which they aggregate conventional wisdom.


Porter Melmoth said...

An archive scan would show that there has been little hesitation around here to praise NPR when it's worthwhile. Personally, I have never written off NPR as a total loss. It's just that the presumed mission of NPR has plainly been altered, and that alteration merits valid criticism. I deem this blog a forum for such criticism. Actual rescuing or reforming NPR is a matter of opinion. I'm not so sure this is the place to concentrate on pulling off such a herculean dream. (NPR itself certainly isn't, either.)

It is indeed tempting for me to wish that NPR, as it is today, would be off the air. The frustration that the media in general can instill on the public is inarguable, but NPR was ostensibly supposed to be 'above' the predictable media morass. Problem is, it isn't. Thus the critiques, in their wide-ranging forms. It is also important to blow off a bit of steam as a response to the frustration felt. I don't consider this a bashing site, even though the responses can be a bit 'sporty' at times. We're a bit more perceptive than that here.

Anonymous said...

Juan, good points. I think I will just cut and paste your essay and use it or reference.

Regarding "Past research shows, with some clarity, that NPR movement to the corporate center served them well, because their audience grew"

How bout a alternative explanation or contributing factor: the NPR audience grew because the FCC permitted Clear Channel (wholly owned subsidiary of Satan, Inc.) and others of their ilk to kill radio news.

Here in Dallas these only two other "news" formatted stations and they're heavy on Winger talk. If you want news, but not Winger hysterics, NPR is pretty much your only choice.

NPR listeners increased because news junkies had nowhere else to go.

Porter Melmoth said...

Yes indeed, good points all. We're just calling it as we hear it - no uNPR 'spin' or storytelling in these here precincts. We've had a few disgruntled visitors from time to time, but nobody's ever claimed we're full of it regarding NPR as it really is. In fact, many regard the perspectives examined here as a kind of revelation.

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...

Porter and Grumpy,

Yes, both great points. Undoubtedly, as NPR turn toward the "corporate middle," they garnered market share from commercial news radio dissidents – people like my fundamentalist, Catholic brother who for years – while I WORKED in public radio – listened (secretly) to ME and ATC while he bad-mouthed as some hippy haven. It was only years later, when NPR had fully ensconced itself into the center of conventional journalism that he finally admitted to me that he had been (a) listening, (b) contributing, and (c) agreeing with many of NPR’s guests. Hmmm, I wonder which ones he liked? Could it have been Cokie Roberts, Mara Liasson, Juan Williams, David Frum, David Brooks, et al.?

GD is correct. FCC policy under mostly Republican administrations, as well as the Telecommunications Bill of 1996 under Bill Clinton (a nominal Democrat) waylaid radio – commercial and noncommercial. Now, we have infotainment in both the com- and nom-com FM bands. Lucky us, eh?


Porter Melmoth said...

Many thanks, JET, for your experienced insights. They make complete sense to me.

Personally, I have never expected or needed NPR to 'please' me. I would just like them to be a good and reliable source for neutrally-presented news.

Your cogent points have demonstrated what happened to NPR in clear terms that should be wider known.

Anonymous said...

"It's great to hear you give credit where it's due. I sometimes wonder if people posting here want NPR to fail so that they can have something upon which to bash. We already have Fox news for that. A post like this reminds me that the mission of this site is to get NPR back to what it used to be--fearless, serious, full of integrity." Madison's post

I used to be a member of NPR but I was out of the loop for about 10-12 years and when I got back NPR was not what it had been. Many posters here, and elsewhere seem to have had the same experience.