A publicly created and funded network whose programs are heard by 20 million listeners each week via 750 stations
Routinely violates the “objectivity and balance” rule of the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 which created it
Founded and incorporated in February 1970 with 90 public radio stations as charter members, National Public Radio (NPR) is today a loose network of more than 900 stations located in all 50 U.S. states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and Guam. These affiliate stations, some of which are based on college and university campuses, design their own formats by combining local programming with news, talk, music, and entertainment shows furnished by NPR. As of March 2011, NPR was producing and distributing 26 separate programs (accounting for more than 130 hours of air time each week) and a widely carried newscast service. Especially popular were its newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, which ranked #3 and #4, respectively, in radio-audience ratings nationwide. At the time, NPR employed more than 300 news staffers, including reporters, correspondents, editors, producers, hosts, and bloggers.
The 27.2 million people who comprise NPR's listening audience have a median age of 50 and a median household income of $86,000; they are 54 percent male and 86 percent white; and nearly two-thirds of them possess at least a four-year college degree.
In addition to its radio listeners, NPR has a website that provides some 12 million regular visitors with news updates, blogs, streaming audio, downloadable multimedia content, and access to archived coverage and transcripts.
NPR's member radio stations receive, on average, slightly more than half of their revenues from listener contributions and corporate sponsorships. Another 10 percent comes from the government-backed Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a nominally private entity that disperses public taxpayer money. Six percent derives from federal, state, and local governments. And the balance comes from such sources as foundations and universities.
NPR is a radio landscape crowded with liberal and leftist voices but nearly devoid of conservative hosts and anchors. In one of its most infamous moves, NPR in May 1994 announced its plan to air prison-life commentaries by convicted cop-killer (and former Black Panther) Mumia Abu-Jamal, a cause celebre of the academic left. Public outcry prompted cancellation of Abu-Jamal's program.
Of all NPR's programs, the one that offered the greatest degree of political balance was its 1994-98 show Bridges: A Liberal/Conservative Dialogue, on which liberal host Larry Josephson would discuss issues and ideas with a variety of conservative guests. The program was taken off the air, according to its co-producer Paul Beston, when NPR executives concluded that the Republican-dominated Congress elected in 1994 was no longer likely to make good on its threats to cut NPR's budget.
Over the course of NPR's history, some of its broadcasts have made big headlines with their incendiary anti-conservative rhetoric. In July 1995, for instance, after Republican Senator Jesse Helms had stated that the federal government was spending too much money on AIDS research, NPR's legal-affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg said: “I think he [Helms] ought to be worried about what’s going on in the Good Lord’s mind, because if there is retributive justice, he’ll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.”
Fifteen years later, in 2010, the same Nina Totenberg, reporting on Barack Obama's nomination of Elena Kagan for the Supreme Court, described Kagan "as a modern-day Superman."
In November 2009, the NPR website featured an animated video disparaging the Tea Party movement by teaching readers how "to speak Tea Bag."
NPR's bias is not confined solely to American domestic affairs. According to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), the network has a "long pattern of sharply underreporting and depersonalizing violence against the people of [Israel] while emphasizing the feelings, perspectives and accusations of the Palestinians." CAMERA researchers have found that NPR's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is "marred by factual distortions and disproportionate presentation of Arab and pro-Arab speakers"; by "skewed and serious allegations against Israel" which are "aired in completely one-sided programs"; and by "partisan language" that "shades reporting" and "blur[s] the terrorist role of Palestinian groups." Moreover, CAMERA has documented NPR's "clear avoidance of terror terminology" when discussing Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, as well as the network's "chronic refusal ... to report candidly on the hatred of Israel and Jews that is widespread and active in Arab and Muslim countries."
Loren Jenkins, NPR's foreign editor since 1996, has depicted Israelis as imperialists and interlopers in the Middle East and has compared Jews to Nazis in his writing. By contrast, he portrays PLO leaders as freedom-fighters who are "modest," "soft," and "warm" in their demeanor. In a February 2009 radio broadcast, Jenkins denounced Israel for having "taken total control and colonized ... the occupied territories to such an extent it's unimaginable that you would see a two-state solution at any time in the immediate future.
In October 2010, NPR fired national correspondent Juan Williams after he had publicly suggested that radical Islamists posed a serious threat to the West, and that he could understand why American air travelers might feel "nervous" about flying with passengers dressed in Muslim garb. Vivian Schiller, who had served as NPR's CEO since January 2009, subsequently stated that Williams should not have shared his feelings about Muslims with anyone other than "his psychiatrist or his publicist -- take your pick."
In March 2011, scandal again hit NPR when activist James O'Keefe went public with an undercovervideotape of the network's fundraising chief, Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian), wherein Mr. Schiller was conversing with two men who were pretending to represent a (fictitious) Islamic organization supposedly founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Schiller told the confederates, who had offered to donate as much as $5 million to help NPR counter the "Zionist coverage" of other news organizations, that a "Zionist" and "pro-Israel" orientation was "obviously" present among "those who own newspapers." He stated, further, that the "anti-intellectual" Republican Party had been "hijacked" by groups hostile to Muslims. He referred to conservatives as "not just Islamophobic but really xenophobic," "scary," and "seriously racist" people who "believe in sort of white, middle-America, gun toting." And he derided the Tea Party movement as a "wierd evangelical" phenomenon. Schiller also laughed when one of the actors joked, approvingly, that the acronym "NPR" could stand for "National Palestine Radio " because of the network's refreshing, pro-Palestinian slant. When the actor said, "I just don't think what Israel does ... can be excused, Schiller nodded in agreement.
In addition, O'Keefe's undercover video showed NPR's Senior Director of Institutional Giving, Betsy Liley, reassuring one of the actors that the network could legally accept his $5 million-dollar gift anonymously in order to shield the group from government audits. When the actor complained that the Muslim Brotherhood had been demonized by many Americans, Liley said (while Mr. Schiller nodded in agreement): "Sadly, our [Americans'] history ... shows that we've done this before. We put Japanese Americans in camps in World War II."
As a result of significant public fallout from this video, both Ron and Vivian Schiller resigned from their posts at NPR, in compliance with the wishes of the network's board. Liley was placed on administrative leave.
The controversy also prompted congressional Republicans, who already had been seeking to put an end to government funding for NPR, to say that the O'Keefe video confirmed their view that the network did not merit taxpayer funding.
On October 19, 2011, it was reported that NPR host Lisa Simeone was acting as a spokeswoman for "Occupy DC" -- a chapter of the October 2011 (O-2011) movement -- possibly in violation of the network’s ethics rules which forbid employees from “engag[ing] in public relations work, paid or unpaid.” When questioned about the matter, Simeone said that because she was a "freelancer," she was not obligated to abide by the restrictions. Asserting that O-2011 planned to "occupy" Freedom Plaza for a long time, she added:
“Our main focus is that we are against corporatism and militarism.... I do know whenever it ends, we are not going to stop acts of civil disobedience, and various acts of civil resistance and organization. That will be done in the myriad of ways around the country, and again, this is not the end, but only the beginning.”
Upon learning of Simeone's involvement with O-2011, NPR fired her for having violated its code of ethics.