Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Public Radio Goes 'Internationale'

I don't cotton much to widespread complaints from the right that public radio, NPR in particular, is a mouthpiece for the left. As a matter of fact, I listen to NPR regularly because it presents in-depth reporting on a wide range of issues. I find the interviews and stories on NPR informative, entertaining, and educational. I especially enjoy the work that Terry Gross does on "Fresh Air" as well as the programs "All Things Considered" and the two "Weekend Editions" on Saturday and Sunday. (I listen to local radio on weekday mornings, so I seldom hear "Morning Edition.")

In this I am not alone. Writing in the Boston Phoenix, Dan Kennedy reported:

Every week, somewhere between 23 million and 29 million Americans tune in to National Public Radio. In the apples-and-oranges world of television and radio ratings, it’s hard to know precisely how to compare TV’s daily numbers with radio’s weekly audiences. But there seems to be little question that NPR is now the second-largest broadcast news source in the United States, still trailing the network newscasts, but catching up rapidly — and far ahead of the cable news shows upon which media critics regularly dump barrels of ink.

NPR’s audience has at least doubled in the past decade. The only radio program with a larger audience than NPR’s two drive-time newscasts — Morning Edition and All Things Considered — is Rush Limbaugh’s talk show. The NPR audience tends more toward middle age than youth; in the past year or so, for instance, I’ve heard Lyle Lovett and, just last week, John Prine come on ATC to plug their latest CDs. But that’s still a lot younger than the network news audience. And whereas the television news audience is shrinking because it defies cultural trends, the public-radio audience is growing along with those trends.
Statistics aside, something in Kennedy's article really struck a chord with me:
"If you are a thinking person looking for the most intelligent coverage of world and national news in America, you would have to put public radio at the top of the heap. It has taken over the reign in broadcasting that institutions like CBS used to have," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. "Broadcasting’s crowning achievement at this point, in terms of the news, is far and away public radio."

Adds David Mindich, who chairs the journalism department at Saint Michael’s College, in Colchester, Vermont, and is the author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News: "You could certainly make the argument that among elites, people tend to listen to NPR in much greater numbers than television news." And he offers a devastating comparison between NPR and the evening network newscasts. "People consume media that will help them in their conversations," Mindich says. "People tend not to talk about the evening news, at least anecdotally. I’ve seen that. People don’t say, ‘Oh, did you see the report on CBS last night? Did you hear what Peter Jennings said last night on ABC?’ People tend to quote stories on NPR, at least among people I know who are seriously following politics and news."
How true is that? As soon as I saw that, I did a quick search of this blog and discovered that references to NPR outnumbered references to all other broadcast sources. NPR has long touted its "driveway moments" -- those occasions when you sit in your car in the driveway because you want to hear the end of the story. (This is not unique to NPR: I have often stayed in the car to listen to all of Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" in order to find out, well, the rest of the story.) But NPR also, more than the three broadcast networks, provides us with "water-cooler moments" or, at least, their 21st century equivalents. NPR programs give us something to talk about with our friends and colleagues, regardless of whether we agree with the point the NPR report was making.

When I say that NPR does not deserve criticism from the right concerning its bias, I mean that in the broad sense. There are a few public radio programs that are nothing but platitudinous left-wing pabulum and New Age pap.

One of the most egregious offenders is "Living on Earth," which focuses on environmental news and never tries to veil its green tendencies. (At least we know what we're dealing with.)

The latest "Living on Earth" program may have gone a bit too far, however, and throws fuel on the fire of charges of left-wing bias. In this case, it can't be attributed to mere watermelonesque naivete (a "watermelon" is green on the outside, red on the inside). This will be found to be clear evidence of not Socialist, but Communist sympathies.

On the program dated April 29, 2005 (airing on different stations on different dates during the week that follows April 29; I heard it on Roanoke's WVTF-FM on Monday, May 2), host Bruce Gellerman ended the show this way:
We leave you this week ringing in the month of May. Steven Feld recorded the annual festivities in Oslo, Sweden, held to celebrate May Day, the international day of the [worker].
That's right: "Oslo, Sweden." But I'm not vexed because Bruce Gellerman can't read an atlas. What caught my attention was the music played under the story (and under the show credits that followed): "The Internationale."

Don't blink. Don't blow your milk through your nose. And if you're Brent Bozell, don't dance on top of your kitchen table in glee. (OK, I'll allow that last one.) "Living on Earth" ended its show this week by playing the anthem of global Communist revolution. You can listen to it yourself. Go to the "Living on Earth" website and, under "This Week's Radio Show," click on "Earthear." You won't believe your own earthears.

Workers of the world, unite, indeed.


Waldo Jaquith said...

Indeed, NPR news is in-depth, with no discernible bias. But "Living on Earth" is nothing compared to "New Dimensions." Now there's some whacked-out crazy hippy bullshit. Once a year, I'll grit my teeth and listen to an episode, just to laugh at the ridiculous self-caricatures that constitute their staple of guests.

Rick Sincere said...

"New Dimensions" is precisely the program I was thinking about when I used the phrase "New Age pap."

Thanks for identifying it by name.