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National Public Radio's War on Free Speech

by Stephen Lendman Sunday, Nov. 06, 2011 at 5:38 AM


National Public Radio's War on Free Speech - by Stephen Lendman

Like other major media sources, NPR serves corporate and imperial interests. It's called public to conceal its real agenda. Critics ridicule it as National Pentagon or Petroleum Radio for good reason.

It features managed, not real, news and information. In its May/June 2004 issue of Extra!, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) headlined, "How Public Is Public Radio?” saying:

From inception, "it promised to be an alternative to commercial media that would 'promote personal growth rather than corporate gain (and) speak with many voices, many dialects.' "

Not according to FAIR on "every on-air source quoted in June 2003 on four of (NPR's) news shows: All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday."

Each guest was classified "by occupation, gender, nationality, and partisan affiliation." Combined, 2,334 sources from 804 stories were quoted.

FAIR found NPR relies on familiar dominant sources. They include government officials, professional experts, and corporate representatives nearly two-thirds of the time.

Spokespeople for public interest groups accounted for 7% of total sources, and ordinary people appeared mostly in "one-sentence soundbites."

Male guests outnumbered women about 4 - 1, and those quoted most often came from elite categories like men.

Overall, NPR represents dominant state and monied interests like commercial media. Voices aired are conservative, pro-business, pro-war, pro-Israel, and anti-populist.

Despite its mandate, NPR never represented public interests fairly. Today, it's worse than ever, cheerleading America's wars and interests serving monied elitists. Its state and corporate funders get what they pay for. Otherwise perhaps they'd withdraw support enough to pull NPR off air.

Founded in 1970 as an independent, private, non-profit member organization of US public radio stations, it promised more than it delivered.

From inception, it abandoned the public trust. It relies heavily on substantial corporate and government funding. As a result, it's indistinguishable from other corporate media sources. It's corrupted like the rest. Consider its former head, Kevin Klose, its current president emeritus.

He was hands-on president from December 1998 - September 2008, then CEO from 1998 - January 2009. Earlier he was US propaganda director as head of Voice of America (VOA), Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Worldnet Television, and the anti-Castro Radio/TV Marti. As a result, he fit seamlessly in his new role.

On January 5, 2009, Vivian Schiller succeeded him as president and CEO. Her official bio says she was previously with "The New York Times Company where she served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of"

Until resigning in March 2011 amid controversy surrounding a former NPR fundraising executive's comments about Tea Party backers "hijacking the Republican party,” she oversaw all NPR operations and initiatives.

Joyce Slocum served temporarily as interim president and CEO. Previously she was HIT Entertainment's executive vice president in charge of global legal and business affairs as well as general counsel. Earlier, she was a staff attorney for Southland Corp.

On October 2, NPR named Gary Knell new president and CEO. He's a Heidrick & Struggles board member, the global executive search firm. He also served as managing director of Manager Media International, a print and multimedia publishing company.

In addition, he was senior vice president and general counsel for WNET/Channel 13 in New York, and counsel to the US Senate Judicial and Governmental Affairs Committees. Earlier, he worked in the California State Legislature and Governor's office.

NPR affiliates include over 800 member stations, serving around 34 million listeners weekly. They get the usual corporate media diet - a combination of managed and "junk food news."   

Created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) calls itself "a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress...and is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting."

"It helps support the operations of more than 1,100 locally-owned and-operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services."

Like NPR, it's heavily corporate and government funded and provides similar services for them. Under George Bush, former Voice of America director Kenneth Tomlinson was chairman of CPB's Board of Governors until an internal 2005 investigation forced him out for malfeasance.

Bush appointee Patricia Harrison now serves as president and CEO. An insider like other PBS and NPR officials, she earlier co-chaired the Republican National Committee. In 2001, she served as Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs under Colin Powell.

On October 25, FAIR headlined, "NPR vs. Free Speech," saying:

On October 21, NPR cancelled distribution for its opera program "because of the political activism of the program's host - who does not work for NPR." On October 20, North Carolina station WDAV, World of Opera producer, said it would keep Lisa Simeone as host.

Her political views don't relate to opera hosting. Nonetheless, NPR cut ties, saying:

"We are not her employer, but she is a host for a show that we distribute....She's a public person who represents NPR and public radio."

NPR spokesperson Dana Davis Rehm added:

"Our view is it's a potential conflict of interest for any journalist or any individual who plays a public role on behalf of NPR to take an active part in a political movement or advocacy campaign....Doing so has the potential to compromise our reputation as an organization that strives to be impartial and unbiased."

Surprisingly, Rehm didn't choke on her words. Besides representing state and corporate interests, NPR is notoriously biased for Israel.

From 1990 - 2009, Linda Gradstein was NPR's Israel correspondent. At the same time, she accepted pro-Israeli organization honoraria, a clear conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, she was inexplicably exempt from NPR code. She never observed it. Nor do other NPR correspondents, covering foreign or domestic affairs. They, like other major media reporters, are paid liars. They answer to NPR's code only when supporting the "wrong side."

Calling its decision "appalling," FAIR said freelance host Simeone joined Occupy Washington protesters. As a result, NPR affiliate WAMU fired her as host of Soundprint, citing ethics guidelines.

NPR officials said they played no part in the decision. Whether or not true, it began investigating her occasional role as an Occupy Wall Street Washington spokesperson.

Simeone said NPR's code of ethics was cited for her firing. They say in part:

"NPR (and WAMU) journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid....exceptions may be made for certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue or other institution or worship, or a charitable organization, so long as this would not conflict with the interests of NPR (and WAMU) in reporting on activities related to that institution or organization."

However, NPR's code has exceptions, including for "freelancer(s) who primarily (do) arts coverage." It also states, "There may be instances in which the type of programming may not demand the application of a particular principle in this code."

FAIR asked if NPR monitors all hosts, including for arts and culture programs. "If the hosts of Car Talk took part in a Tea Party protest, would they be fired?"

Moreover, its code isn't clear. NPR news host Scott Simon expressed views on Washington's Afghan and Iraq wars. Reporter Mara Liasson appears regularly on Fox News. She denounces Democrat party members.

On October 3, 2002, she said:

"These guys are a disgrace....You don't go to an adversary country, an enemy country, and badmouth the United States....(T)these guys ought to, I don't know, resign."

New analyst Cokie Roberts notoriously expresses bias. She wrote a May 2007 column saying, "Democratic leaders cannot afford to listen to the labor movement as the country approaches a major debate over trade policy."

She co-authored a December 2010 article on attacking "liberals in fantasyland."

New president Knell wants to "calm the waters (and) depoliticize" debate over Republican desires to cut public broadcasting's funding.

Perhaps he believes throwing Simeone overboard may help placate critics. Others think these incidents highlight NPR's longtime elitist bias.

She responded, saying:

"I find it puzzling that NPR objects to my exercising my rights as an American citizen - the right to free speech, the right to peaceable assembly - on my own time in my own life."

NPR only respects free assembly and speech when they address the right things.

In other words, the usual imperial and monied interests featured regularly on its broadcasts.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

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