NPR really would be better off without federal money

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You can imagine that a lot of people are asking me, a guy once fired by National Public Radio, whether I’m getting a kick out of the media firestorm now enveloping the organization.

Well, I’m over that personal hellhole. The executives who fired me and publicly called me a psycho and a bigot have all either resigned or been forced out by now. But it is hard to wipe off the rain of contempt from NPR executives who judged me to be too conservative a Black guy to work for them.

Now NPR’s arrogance is setting off a new round of national controversy. Uri Berliner, a veteran editor, broke ranks to say publicly that “an open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR.”

That led the chairman of the hard right House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Bob Good (R- Va.), along with Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), to introduce bills to cut off federal funding to NPR.

So Republicans hope to capitalize on Berliner’s insider critique of NPR to fulfill a conservative dream of crippling NPR, because right wingers have felt for decades that NPR does not support their viewpoint.

Good complained in a news release that “National Public Radio has a track record of promoting anti-American narratives on the taxpayer dime.”

On the other side of the political divide, several years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out fundraising letters asking for campaign contributions to back Democrats sure to preserve NPR’s government funding against threatened cuts proposed by Republicans.

The DCCC’s fundraising letter made it clear that people on the political left wing regarded NPR as their playground.

Good can offer his opinion of whether a news story is “anti-American.” But his opinion should not be attached to a threat to choke off NPR’s funding. 

Unfortunately, NPR accepts a very small amount of federal funding. That reality opens the door for its journalists to be called on the carpet by politicians from one side or the other.

Years ago, that led NPR’s top fundraiser, Ron Schiller, to admit on tape that “in the long run…[NPR is] better off without federal funding.” I agree.

The left-right tit-for-tat reduced me, as a journalist, to a man walking the yellow line in the middle of the road, traffic from both sides coming at me. Neither side wants to hear about straight news delivered as honestly as possible. 

The DCCC letter and the far-right attacks are both damaging to the reputations of hardworking reporters, editors and reporters trying to deliver quality journalism.

Journalists should not operate out of fear of angering political parties and government officials.

That is a hard truth in this age, with dominance of news delivery by internet social media. Advertisers are fleeing serious news reporting.

Websites that aggregate stories and use them to provoke outrage and generate clicks are draining ad dollars from news organizations that produce real reporting. The result is the death of local newspapers across the nation.

Major broadcasters, radio and television operations are losing reporting staff positions and sacrificing resources needed to send reporters out to cover the school board as well as the Congress.

People in search of news are instead being fed Tik Tok and postings from X and Facebook.

And there are a lot of one-sided entertainment shows that pretend to be news shows. This is especially true of today’s most popular talk radio, websites, podcasts and primetime cable news.

Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 by exploiting populist anger to turn differences of opinion into a canyon of political polarization. He encouraged Republicans to demonize Democrats. 

Trump’s fans scored points in their echo chamber by maligning “mainstream media” while celebrating one-sided conservative-leaning shows that delighted in tribal and racial division.

Today, Good complains about NPR being biased but says nothing about conservative talk shows tiptoeing around Trump’s lies about the 2020 election being “stolen.”

In the right-wing echo chamber, the historic public protests against police brutality after the killing of a black man in Minnesota were often twisted into threatening riots, with select incidents blown up as evidence of crazed destruction of private property.

Meanwhile in left wing media parlors, several years after NPR dumped me, similar arrogance led a PBS host to cancel an invitation sent to me to speak on his show about race relations. 

He said I was the wrong kind of black American, due to my insistence on questioning left wing political orthodoxy, as well as my immigrant background.

This mess is not journalism. It is distortion for political purposes.

In every case, left or right, the nation is growing accustomed to hearing phony news programming whose real intent is to affirm the pre-existing opinions of the listener, reader and viewer.

I worked at NPR as the afternoon talk show host and later a senior news analyst for over a decade. The NPR audience I got to know included libertarians in Alaska, middle-of-the road Iowa housewives and conservative jazz musicians.

They are a great audience — smart people who want the news. That is where some NPR shows fall short. They don’t trust that their audience wants to hear all views. 

That is the real story and the real tragedy here.

Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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