NPR may pick and choose which of its employees' opinions are considered firing offenses, but there is one thing that remains consistent about the nonprofit news organization – its bias against conservatism and the Fox News Channel.
Last week, NPR fired long time analyst Juan Williams for saying on Bill O'Reilly's Oct. 20 Fox show that he gets “nervous” when he sees Muslims in traditional garb on airplanes. NPR terminated Williams' contact, saying that his statements were “inconsistent with our editorial standards” and “undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
But conservatives quickly pointed out that other NPR reporters have made statements that were just as controversial without losing their jobs. For example, correspondent Nina Totenberg once said that she hoped Jesse Helms would get AIDS from a blood transfusion, and NPR's Geoff Nunberg used the term “tea-baggers” on the air to describe the Tea Party movement.
Williams' firing may have more to do with where he made his statement – on a conservative opinion show on Fox News – than what he said. A review of NPR's previous coverage suggests that the organization has had a long-time bias against both conservatives and Fox News.
NPR's Attacks Against Conservatives
NPR has long butted heads with conservatives, who attempted to cut the organization's government funding in the mid-1990s. Recently, conservative leaders have pointed to left-wing financier George Soros' $1 million donation to NPR as evidence of the organization's political bias.
Last September, NPR reporter Terry Gross described town hall protests against President Obama as “a right-wing movement that has been interrupting town hall meetings, staging tea party protests, and challenging Obama's citizenship,” implying that the entire movement was based on wild suspicion over Obama's birthplace rather than rational anger over economic issues.
Reporters promoted other misinformation about the Tea Party, like the claim that members spit on and yelled racial slurs at black members of congress, a charge which is completely without evidence. After the NAACP accused the Tea Party of racism, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin said that the organization was “responding to … an ugly spectacle of members, African-American members of Congress, who when they came out from voting on the health care reform several months ago, they heard epithets from people outside, so-called Tea Party protestors outside. Emanuel Cleaver, a black congressman from
Rudin didn't mention that multiple videos of the congressmen walking through the protesters showed no evidence that any racist language or physical assaults occurred. Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart offered $10,000 to anyone who could produce footage of the alleged spitting incident, and nobody was able to do so.
On another NPR show discussing “Rep. Bob Inglis On Republican 'Demagoguery',” NPR host Neal Conan told Rep. Bob Inglis that “I think there was one town hall meeting where you were jeered when you suggested that we should not question the patriotism of the president of the United States nor his birth certificate.”
And NPR reporters implied that the Tea Party movement could lead to violent militias in a show titled “When Right-Wing Extremism Moves Mainstream.”
Gross noted that there were “new developments in extremism, including the threats against Democratic congressmen who voted for the health care reform bill. Several congressmen have received death threats … The majority whip, James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American congressman, received a fax with the image of a noose.”
Gross also pointed to “an alarming poll” that allegedly showed that “57 percent [of the Republican Party] think [Obama's] a Muslim; 40 percent of Republicans agree with the birthers in their belief that Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore not eligible to be president; 38 percent of Republicans say is doing many of the things that Hitler did; 24 percent of Republicans say Obama may be the Antichrist.”
NPR's War on the Fox News Channel
NPR has also decided to take on the one mainstream media outlet where conservatives get a fair hearing, going after the Fox News Channel and the organization's hosts.
“Glenn Beck has described himself as restoring history, but my guest, historian Sean Wilentz, says that Beck and the Tea Party movement are reviving ideas that circulated on the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the John Birch Society,” said Gross during an entire NPR program devoted to Fox New's host Glenn Beck's alleged radicalism. “[Wilentz] asks why current Republican Party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge extremist ideas in their party and a great deal to abet them.”
NPR reporter Jim Zarroli called Fox News a “brand of populism with a right-wing tilt,” and another reporter mocked “Fox News attack poodle[s].” In an NPR program about something called “noisefare,” the host Alison Stewart derisively joked about “Right-wing blondes [who] were in a fire over Keith Olbermann saying Fox News is dangerous to society as a terrorist group.”
And NPR's media reporter David Folkenflik attributed Fox News' popularity to people who “are aggrieved, for those who either have grievances against the media's handling of political coverage or of the, you know, now-ascendant Democrats' handling of political issues, they turn to Fox in increasing numbers. One thing I think is worth pointing out is that, you know, the cable game is about creating the largest possible niche audience.”
Another program devoted an episode to a Pew study that “found that FOX network, the network news, 24-hour service there, has more Republican viewers than CNN or MSNBC and that -- it reports that the reporters and anchors insert their opinion into stories far more than their competitors do.”
“Fox News channel hasn't been exactly kind to the Obama administration,” reported NPR last year. “Glenn Beck, one of the network's most popular hosts, said that President Obama has, quote, "a deep-seeded hatred for white people." Some would say that Fox News hosts encouraged the so-called tea party movement, and it's widely believed that Fox News played a role in the resignation of Van Jones, the former White House green jobs czar.”
NPR's continued obsession with Fox News and its “conservative” spin might be fine if the organization didn't have a clear animosity toward Tea Partiers and conservative pundits like Glenn Beck. If NPR wants to keep up an appearance of journalistic integrity, it might be worth it to reconsider its own biases first.