Thursday, February 10, 2005

Progressive Call to Action: Boycott NPR Pledge Drives

Over the past year, I've become increasingly distressed by the shift in editorial direction at National Public Radio (NPR). The first apparent shift in direction occurred last year, when Bob Edwards (then-host of Morning Edition) was given his walking papers. In the subsequent runup to the election, it became increasingly clear to me that NPR was taking great pains to shift from a neutral-to-left editorial slant to neutral-to-right.

Since the election, the shift has become even more pronounced. Case in point: a report on All Things Considered yesterday evening included a nearly 10 minute infomercial for Bush administration Iraq policies. The interview with U.S. Army Col. Mark Milley was so chock full of inaccuracies, outright lies, and downright blatant propaganda that I had to call my local NPR affiliate (WHYY) after listening to the report. As another example, it seems like every morning listeners are subjected to "reporting" from NPR's Baghdad correspondent Pentagon stenographer, Ann Garrels. The lack of critical thought in her reporting has become abhorrent. What's really perplexing is that Garrels was one of the first to complain about the "Pentagon muzzle" on news from Iraq. Yet now, Garrels has apparently lost the concept of the difference between a reading a Pentagon PR flack release and actually digging for the real story behind the press release.

NPR used to excel at exactly that type of reporting.

The NPR editorial shift has been subtle but unmistakable. Since Joan Kroc bequeathed a $200 million endowment to NPR nearly two years ago, NPR has clearly moved editorial content in a more conservative direction. NPR was created as a news gathering organization by local public radio stations, but with its listenership having grown almost five-fold in the past 10 years, is becoming the 700 pound gorilla in public radio. Instead of member stations having direct involvement in NPR management, the opposite has occurred. Local member stations are increasingly beholden to NPR for providing both content and funding beyond local pledges.

So, why did I call yesterday afternoon? WHYY is at the beginning of their winter pledge drive, and I wanted to tell let them know why I was not donating during this fundraising cycle. It's not enough just to not donate. They need to know why. I've supported WHYY in the past, and might again in the future, but it was time to make a statement with my money. And my statement was: until NPR gets out of the propaganda business, I will not donate to my local public radio station. It's the only thing these folks understand. I want my local NPR affiliate, as my surrogate, to bring my concerns to the NPR corporate table.

I'm not normally a boycotting kind of person, because I think that in the main, most boycotts are fruitless. But in this instance, given that left-leaning listeners are traditionally the demographic that has supported NPR (as well as local member stations), I feel that a strategic boycott of local public radio stations would be exceptionally effective in influencing NPR. I have always believed (and still do) that independently operated public radio is essential to dispersing unfiltered information. But what NPR is fast becoming is the stateside equivalent of Radio Free Europe or Voice of America.

Here are the action points:

  1. Contact your local public radio station and tell them why you are withholding a donation during this funding period. If you are already a member, give them your name. Be very explicit why you won't be pledging during their next drive.

  2. If your local public radio station is in the middle of a pledge drive, call the phone number for the drive, and ask to speak with a supervisor - the college kid that answers the phone won't care why you're not donating.

  3. Getting specific, WHYY can be contacted from anywhere in the country, toll free: 1-888-345-9499. Why WHYY? They are one of the largest public radio stations in the country, and produce lot of content for NPR.

  4. Publicize this boycott on any blogs that you frequent. For example, I'm going to add this to my diary on Kos. All it takes is a brief blurb in the comments about boycotting NPR, then linking to this posting.
I have never been as disappointed with NPR as I am right now. The right wing already has a very loud and effective noise machine, and doesn't need gutless NPR reporting to add to the cacophony. I've always counted on NPR to provide a neutral, unbiased view of the news, and to actually research their stories and critically interview their guests from either side of the political spectrum.

It's time to nip the CNN-ization of NPR in the bud. I don't want to wake up one morning soon, and find that J.D. Guckert is hosting "Morning Edition".

Progressives can be part of the solution, if we get busy and take this seriously.