Embrace The Bias?

With the recent gaffes from NPR execs, conservative opponents of publicly-funded radio and television have taken fresh aim at the popular radio producers. Many conservatives have had a hard on for de-funding NPR (federal contributions make up about 10% of NPR’s budget) mostly because they believe that the network, along with PBS (the television network) and CPB (the actual organization that gets most of the federal funding) are all liberal fronts.

I’ve been listening to NPR for years now. These days, this consists of Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Planet Money, occasionally the Diane Rehm show, and This American Life (technically produced by PRI, which gets only 2% of its funding from the federal government). I have yet to observe a systemic liberal bias in the content on NPR, and that’s during a time that spans from me associating with the Republican party, to my participating in a Democratic caucus and beyond.

I’m sure some particular shows do have a noticeable liberal slant. I won’t dispute that personalities like Bill Moyers or Tavis Smiley have particular political perspectives, and if those were the only personalities that someone caught on NPR or PBS, then I couldn’t blame them for thinking there was some bias there.

But take the shows like Diane Rehm, Talk of the Nation, or PBS Newshour, which regularly have guests and roundtables from all different perspectives, and specifically balances at least the two major parties during political analysis. I challenge you to find definitive cases of the hosts or producers imposing their political or ideological bias on the shows.

The complaint I tend to hear is not that the shows are obviously biased (like almost every second of Fox News is) but that they are more subtly biased via things like story selection. This sentiment is concisely provided by the second letter (from a self-described progressive) in this post over at the Daily Dish:

…If they would just say, “Yes, our story selection is directed at mostly rich, mostly white, mostly liberals.” OK, now we can all move on.

If conservative detractors would largely agree that public radio/television’s alleged bias is in story selection rather than story coverage, then they’ve already conceded the argument. Even if you agree that NPR’s story selection is directed at “mostly rich, mostly white, mostly liberals” (which I don’t concede; but maybe I’m just blinded by being mostly rich, mostly white and mostly liberal), in order for that to mean that the network has a liberal bias per se, then you have to agree that those stories themselves, even when covered completely fairly, lend themselves to a natural liberal interpretation. Such criticisms devolve to arguing, in effect, the adage “reality has a liberal bias”.

And is that grounds for labeling the coverage of such stories as biased? There are no liberal facts or conservative facts, just facts. If the facts lend themselves to a liberal interpretation (or a conservative interpretation), then that’s what the facts lend themselves to. Accepting that is not liberal or conservative bias, it’s just being rational. Avoiding facts inconvenient to your preconceived worldview, on the other hand, is not balance, it is obstinacy.

NPR should not ’embrace bias’ in their journalism or their hosts, they should stamp it out. Does that mean their personalities can’t have opinions? No, they can, but if they are reporting on facts or moderating guests’ discussions, then they should be as objective as possible, challenging and exploring all views as appropriate in order to better inform their audience (as opposed to entertaining their audience).

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