The CEO of NPR has resigned. I'd like to take this moment to beg NPR to stop embarrassing me. Firings, liberal rants, resignations... The debate about whether public funding is "necessary" for NPR induces enough of a headache on its own, without people supposedly confirming the so-called "liberal bias" at NPR. (Nevermind that they trapped a fund-raiser who has no influence over content. Nevermind that almost all of this nonsense has taken place outside of their news programs. Or any of their programs.) I've ranted on and on about the "liberal media" (most of which is buried in an entry about the 2008 election). But one of the biggest problems I see right now is that the label "liberal media" gets tied to all sorts of things that liberals pay attention to, regardless of actual political leanings. The idea seems to be that liberals only listen to liberal things, and conservatives only listen to conservative things, so since the majority of people who listen to NPR are liberals it's a liberal organization. Which, yes, is probably mostly true of its employees, considering they're technically public employees and probably joined up knowing they'd never make as much at NPR as they would in the private sector, and that kind of idealistic nonsense comes from liberals more often than conservatives. But the idealism that brought them there is idealism about unbiased, public-oriented, public-supported media.

But that's a mostly a semantic argument, so no one's going to pay attention to it.

Instead, I want to complain about this public funding thing. Because, apparently, even NPR's fund-raiser thought that public funding wasn't necessary. And maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the government money isn't really financially necessary for NPR's existence. But it is necessary for NPR to continue being what NPR is: a news organization that has the public involved, but is ostensibly held accountable for its coverage by virtue of the fact that the public (and the government) pays for it. This comment on the NYT article is pretty much what brought it into focus for me:

"I think, however, that this last episode does make it fairly clear that NPR would be better off in the long term if they stopped taking federal money. They would then be free to report in any way they wished, and their executives could say whatever silly thing they wanted to, with no fear of reprisals."

That is exactly what we do not need from NPR. Right now, the commercial media is defined by its left-wing vs right-wing personalities. Very, very few people read a variety of sources, and people are incredibly likely to just stop watching/listening/reading when someone presents news that they disagree with*. NPR has screwed up several times recently, revealing people slinging bias unprofessionally (on both sides, interestingly enough), and it's being held accountable by people. That is something that simply does. not. happen. with typical news outlets. Why is this a bad thing? Why would it be an advantage to any news outlet for no one to have to question them when their officials misstep?

NPR is something we all pay for. As such, it is one of the only news agencies we have that can be held accountable for its bias. Because it's taxpayer-funded, because it has to keep its paying listeners happy, because it's backed by the government. It has a reputation to uphold. Whatever people believe about it, NPR still presents different sides to each story, they give air time to unpopular opinions. NPR presents debates, its journalists dig into things. People have a hard time making points that NPR's programming is biased--most arguments I've seen mostly complain that the people who call in are liberal. This so easy to fix it's embarrassing, everyone! These people are not paid by the station! They are not part of the station. They listen to it and call in. Chances are you also have a phone. Call in. It's as simple as that. As much as we hate "intellectual elitists," NPR is hardly a bastion of tooth-gnashing party-line liberalism. If you call with a different viewpoint, they will let you through. If they don't, people can't just shrug and say "it's the liberal media" because NPR is state-backed public media. When it fails to give a voice to those that seek it, that is when you pull funding. Not when you disagree with the listener base.

I'm often impressed at how delicately NPR handles stories/people/events that a lot of other organizations tend to exploit. And I can't really explain how important that is. Look at what has happened to most other news outlets that have been tagged with the "liberal media" tag. They've all gone on to play into it (because why not? It keeps people's attention). Talking heads, sensationalism, demonizing the other side. But NPR cannot and is, in fact, making an effort to avoid that stereotype, even though it's become a big target for funding cuts because of its perceived bias. That's not a reason to take our toys and go home. Reprisals are a good thing for a news organization if they can learn from it (and it certainly seems like NPR is trying). These jolts get them out of the echo chamber of their own separatist hordes (or, in NPR's case, tote-bag-carrying elitists). I understand the sentiment ("If only we could unchain NPR from the government so it can stop pandering to both sides and unleash its righteous understated rightness on the unsuspecting public without interference from anyone"), but it would not work that way. Once NPR loses its public backing and the sleeper-cell liberals who are no doubt couched within its ranks are set free from the tenets of basic journalistic etiquette (something that is taken completely for granted these days), it's just like everything else: easy to dismiss when you disagree, and with no way to fix it.

Also, if we break NPR what on earth am I going to do when I grow up? I don't want to work for National Private Radio.

* Actually, come to think of it, I am going to start a campaign for the separation of fact and opinion, since a lot of people don't put the effort in to distinguish between the two. News should not be something you can disagree with, and news should not be sorted by who listens to it. You can disagree with the presentation of the news, sure. But the news itself? Denying or ignoring some stories because they don't fit with your world view? It shouldn't work that way, and it scares me that it does work that way for some people. It's bad enough that we have political parties, but now we're trending toward having media parties as well. Something should not be true only when MSNBC reports it, or only when Fox News reports it, or only when CNN reports it.
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