Culture

I Grew Up Listening To NPR, But Now It’s Just Another Obviously Biased News Outlet

By Gwen Farrell··  8 min read
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When I was growing up, National Public Radio (NPR) was a valued addition in our household.

“Car Talk” was on every Saturday morning as my dad cooked breakfast, and when my mom picked me up from school “Fresh Air” or “All Things Considered” would already be playing. My parents donated money during every fundraising cycle, which signaled to me even at a young age that I could trust them as a media source because my parents leaned conservatively when it came to politics. As I grew up, I thought that I might want to be a journalist someday and not just anywhere, but NPR. I wanted to cover foreign affairs as a war correspondent or produce hard-hitting interviews.

Cut to over a decade later. It was late 2020, and I had just been laid off. I listened to NPR as I drove to my sad retail gig at 5 am, trying to wake up and stay warm in my ancient Honda Civic. I was expecting the same experience I had always had – interesting coverage, quality journalism, poignant pieces conveyed by the same voices I had known for years. Instead, the story that particular morning concerned how private companies were paying thousands of dollars to so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants” who essentially teach their HR departments how to pass the PC smell test. 

Strangely enough, I felt insulted. I was working a seasonal minimum wage job and struggling to pay my rent, and the important “news” of the day was nothing more than an exercise in overwrought virtue signaling. It was a jarring indicator to me as a listener that something had definitely shifted, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but nevertheless motivated me to ask: what happened to NPR?

Being Woke Is the Now Primary Goal

It’s no secret that Americans’ reliance on and trust in the media has tanked in the last few years. In 2020, Gallup and Knight reported that more Americans than ever view the media, as an institutional entity, as “compromised by increasing bias” and how we have not only “lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media,” but believe that “news organizations actively support the partisan divide.” 

If you’re questioning why this might be, you need only look to mainstream coverage on the Covid-19 pandemic, January 6th, and the Canadian truckers’ convoys, for example, on why the average citizen feels the media is not only out of touch, but actively encouraging division. When it comes to NPR, their choice in important news of the day, while sometimes subtly biased, is more often than not misguided and pointedly partisan. 

In 2020, Gallup and Knight reported that more Americans than ever view the media as “compromised by increasing bias.”

An article from last August declared that human remains of an ancient warrior found in Finland pointed to the individual in question being “nonbinary.” Another from the depths of the dumpster fire that was 2020 blamed bookshelves for the apparent lack of visibility of minorities and even postured that the books we buy are the main motivation behind “dehumanization.” An anti-diet segment went so far as to blame white supremacy for “fatphobia.” Even the coverage of actual current events is tinged with an apathy only reserved for the non-progressive – NPR’s coverage of the Boston mayoral election was rightfully lambasted online after it mourned an Asian woman was chosen by voters and not one of two black female candidates.

It’s apparent that NPR has made wokeness their objective when it comes to reporting; it’s also the objective when it comes to who they employ, as it happens. In the aftermath of three hosts’ decisions to leave NPR for competing media sites, one reporter tweeted that NPR should examine why it's “hemorrhaging hosts from marginalized backgrounds.” NPR allegedly makes every effort to maintain a (racially and ethnically) diverse array of journalists, which chief executive John Lansing has called the organization’s “North Star.”

What about Actual Journalism?

It’s one thing for the arty, cultural segments with movie and book critics at the helm to regurgitate the PC talking points and narratives of the day. But what about actual journalism? As it turns out, the organization isn’t looking too great in that regard, either.

Veteran reporter Nina Totenberg reported in mid-January that the politicization of Covid policies was now infiltrating the highest echelons of our nation: the Supreme Court. According to Totenberg, as the Justices returned to the federal bench from the holidays, two particular Justices were facing a rift resulting from disagreements on professional protocol versus personal preference.

It should be noted that this isn’t your typical workplace gossip swapped at the water cooler or a chyron you might see on E! News. This concerns two sitting members of the highest judicial branch in the land, Trump-appointed Neil Gorsuch and Obama-appointed Sonia Sotomayor, two diametrically opposed associates. Justice Sotomayor has diabetes and is immunocompromised, leading her to attend hearings virtually over concerns that Justice Gorsuch “refused” to wear a mask, despite sitting next to her and being well aware of her health problems. NPR’s headline read “Gorsuch didn’t mask, despite Sotomayor’s COVID worries, leading her to telework.” The report had the desired effect in stirring up vitriol online, especially since there’s a clear hero(ine) and villain in the situation. As it turns out, the report was entirely false.

How can you stand by reporting that’s been proven by the sources to be factually incorrect?

Not long after, the official Twitter SCOTUS account released a statement: “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.” Even after the statement was released, Totenberg and NPR asserted that they “stood by” their reporting. But how can you stand by something that’s been proven by the sources in question to be factually incorrect?

It’s possible that NPR isn’t particularly fond of the idea of Democrat and Conservative justices being pals off the bench – seeing as how the remainder of Totenberg’s segment presented the Court as nothing more than a dysfunctional group practically bursting at the seams with divisiveness, threatening to take our country down with it. It’s odd that a reputable agency like this one wouldn’t immediately issue a correction upon receiving evidence that directly contradicts its claims – but by that time, the damage had already been done and perhaps that was the intended goal all along.

A Fall from Grace

We would assume that a publicly funded “public radio” source would reflect the views and concerns of the public. But we’d be wrong. It’s true that NPR’s listeners belong to a specific group, and it’s one they probably wouldn’t be comfortable advertising. 

From the looks of it, you’d think NPR’s predominant audience was people of color, perhaps ones who are unattached or unmarried with no children and would identify as queer or non-binary. No indeed – though NPR puts much blame on white supremacy for the state of things – their audience is overwhelmingly white, about 84%.

It’s telling and slightly ironic that the important “news” and stories deserving coverage on NPR are only appealing to the interests of white Americans. These are likely the same listeners who overwhelmingly use the term “Latinx” and have no problem with vaccination mandates or masking young children in schools.

We’d be surprised to remember that NPR receives taxpayer funding, given how niche their news is.

NPR might be a “public” resource, but it certainly isn’t representative of the listeners it so desperately wants to appeal to – definitely not conservatives or independents, no matter what race they may be. On any given day, we’d be surprised to remember that they receive taxpayer funding, given how niche and pointedly exclusive their news is. It’s amazing to think that, at one time, NPR was a source the non-partisan felt they could depend on, but it has since gone the way of many of our once-trusted media organizations. It’s also uncomfortably obvious that though NPR expected the priorities of their listeners to change in accordance with theirs, they did the exact opposite, effectively alienating an entire subset of listeners who now have to turn elsewhere.

Closing Thoughts

Consumers like to feel that the news they consume actively reflects not just their values, but their priorities. Unfortunately, decolonizing bookshelves, examining the racism of airplane seats, or celebrating non-binary Vikings isn’t the priority of most news consumers these days…

Like many media organizations, consumers likely feel that not only is NPR not representative of them, but that the organization actively derides, belittles, and infantilizes the listeners it often targets. It’s one thing to not produce fair and accurate journalism on the stories that actually matter – it’s another to not execute that responsibility while maintaining that your detractors are misguided, uneducated, and ignorant. Only when media organizations grapple with that simple realization will they comprehend just how much they’ve alienated what were once dedicated and valued consumers.

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