Right Wing Smear Campaign Against NPR

With conservatives dominating broadcast and cable news (and with much of it being of poor quality regardless of whether there is any bias), NPR has become the primary source for quality, objective broadcast news. This makes it a prime target of the right wing, which requires that people be exposed to their falsehoods as opposed to the actual facts in order to obtain support.  The latest attack on NPR comes from James O’Keefe, the same person responsible for the faked tapes in the right wing smear campaign against ACORN.

The attempted smear against NPR has multiple problems. O’Keefe used people pretending to be Muslims connected with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood offering a contribution. The person caught on tape, Ron Schiller, previously worked in fund raising at NPR and had nothing to do with editorial or news content of shows. He is not even currently working at NPR. The statements which the right wing finds sh0king are quite true:

Schiller: The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — and I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move… it’s been hijacked by this group that…

Fake Muslim: The radical, racist, Islamophobic, Tea Party people?

Schiller: It’s not just Islamophobic, but really xenophobic. Basically, they believe in white, middle America, gun-toting — it’s pretty scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.

The tape was heavily edited, but regardless of context these statements about extremist elements taking over the Republican Party and Tea Party are true. He also discussed government funding of NPR:

Republicans play off the belief among the general population that most of our funding comes from the government. Very little of our funding comes from the government, but they act as if all our funding comes from the government… it is very clear that in the long run we would be better off without federal funding. And the challenge right now is that if we lost it altogether, we’d have a lot of stations go dark.

NPR gets about $90 million out out of a budget of $800 million a year from the federal government. In responding, NPR points out that the view that Schiller’s statement that “in the long run we would be better off without federal funding” is  “a position in direct conflict with the organization’s official position.” Dana Davis Rehm, NPR’s senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement:

“The fraudulent organization represented in this video repeatedly pressed us to accept a $5 million check, with no strings attached, which we repeatedly refused to accept.

“We are appalled by the comments made by Ron Schiller in the video, which are contrary to what NPR stands for.

“Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”

There were also some portions which are of questionable meaning, such as laughing at NPR being referred to as “National Palestinian Radio” due to both editing of the tape and due to questions as, if true, they simply represent pandering to potential donors.  As David Weigel (who also found at least one case of dishonest editing of the tape) put it, “Schiller is a professional fundraiser, not a journalist. His pandering to the group is actually sort of masterful.”

Here we have a case of someone who spoke the truth about the Republican Party, but which NPR is still not going to accept to preserve their journalistic integrity. (It is a totally different question as to whether these standards of objectivity are a mistake, making it easier for the right wing media to spread misinformation by giving a false equivalency to honest news and right wing propaganda.) The right wing regularly defends Fox for making statements which not only are biased towards their side but which are also untrue.

Here we have a statement from someone who is not at NPR, who was never involved in editorial decisions, and which (while true), NPR objected to. The donation offered was not even accepted. There’s nothing here to support the right wing crusade against NPR.

NPR Ends Use of Misleading “Pro-Life” Label

The religious right has used the “pro-life” label to make their views sound more palatable as they deny women the fundamental right to control their own body. NPR has decided to avoid the use of such labels. They are also avoiding “pro-choice” in an effort to keep the language more descriptive and politically neutral. Here is a memo distributed at NPR:

NPR News is revising the terms we use to describe people and groups involved in the abortion debate.

This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work.

On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

Digital News will continue to use the AP style book for online content, which mirrors the revised NPR policy.

Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group. Of course, when the terms are used in an actuality they should remain.

Actualities in the final line refer to a clip or tape of someone talking. Obviously they cannot edit the language used by others.

The Web vs. NPR

This week my radio listening is being interrupted by pledge breaks on my local NPR station. This points out another way in which the web can do things old media cannot. Often subscribing to a web site will allow you to avoid being interrupted by ads. It is a shame there is no way for members to similarly bypass NPR pledge breaks.

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PBS Beats Fox As Most Trusted

There’s some hope for the country. PBS is the most trusted television news source:

The annual GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media poll released its results today and PBS was named the most trusted name in news, as well as one of the most trusted institutions in America, reports B&C.

When asked to assess PBS’ news and public affairs programs, 40% of Americans responded that they trust the network a “great deal.” Fox News was trusted a great deal by 29%, a bit better than CNN at 27%.

When it came to qualifying the news coverage as liberal, mostly fair or conservative, 40% of respondents said PBS was mostly fair.

Both NBC and ABC received 33% mostly fair from those surveyed, then CNN with 31%, NPR with 29%, Fox News with 25% and MSNBC with 24%.

Although Fox is neither accurate or fair it is not surprising that a sizable number of people believe they are. We know there are people who have been brain watched into believing the propaganda spread by Fox.

Posted in News Media, Polls. Tags: , , . 8 Comments »

Wasted Time with Cable News

In the previous post I noted an example of how weak cable news is compared to either the blogs or The Daily Show with regards to fact checking and meaningful analysis of the news. Matthew Yglesias, returning from Europe where he became spoiled by the superior BBC and CNN International newscasts, found the return to American cable news to be a rude shock:

It makes you think about the strange influence that daytime cable news has on American politics. The three networks combined have an aggregate daytime audience of roughly zero. But even though the audience, looked at nationally, amounts to rounding error the networks are hugely popular among the tiny number of people who work in professional politics. Just like traders have CNBC and Bloomberg on in their offices, political operatives are constantly tuned in to what’s happening on cable news. The result is a really bizarre hothouse scenario in which people are basically watching . . . well . . . nothing, but they’re riveted to it. How things “play” on cable news is considered fairly important even though no persuadable voters are watching it. And cable news’ hyper-agitated style starts to infect everyone’s frame of mind, making it extremely difficult for everyone to forget that the networks have huge incentives to massively and systematically overstate the significance of everything that happens.

While I’m aware that some do so, I cannot imagine wasting time with any of the cable news networks if the goal is to be informed about what is going on. Periodically monitoring a news aggregator, and having text messages sent with true breaking news, is far more effective. If you really feel that having some portion of the media on constantly to present and discuss the news,  at least put on NPR as opposed to the cable news networks. If you do feel it is necessary to monitor cable news because of their influence on the professionals it is only necessary to turn on the television for short periods of time as they tend to repeat coverage of the same stories throughout the day to minimize their expenses and minimize their need to actually keep up with what is going on in the world.

Over Seven Out of Ten Doctors Recommend Including A Public Option


The average American might be totally confused about what the public option means but doctors who experience the differences between private insurance and public plans such as Medicare have a clear opinion.

Those of us who work with both types of plans realize that Medicare provides financing of health care for our patients more efficiently than private plans and meddles less in their care.  This poll from The New England Journal of Medicine and reported by NPR found that 63 percent of doctors support a combination of public and private options. Another 1o percent prefer a public-only option, or a single payer system. I bet that if there was an active push in Washington for Medicare for All, an even larger percentage of doctors would support it.

In July the American Medical Association endorsed the House health care plan which includes a public option. It remains uncertain if a plan with a public option can pass in the Senate.

Why Neoconservatives Love John Stewart

Daily Show

Jon Stewart  is often, only half-jokingly, referred to as the most trusted anchorman today. Despite primarily being a comedian, he often does  provide more information on important issues than the mainstream broadcast and cable media (a low bar to surpass).  This includes information obtained from his interviews, especially with those who hold opposing viewpoints. New York Magazine has an article on Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart, initially quoting “Cliff May, a national-security hawk and former spokesman for the Republican Party.”

“There is genuine intellectual curiosity,” May told New York. “He’s a staunch liberal, but he’s a thoughtful liberal, and I respect that.” May isn’t the only conservative gushing about Stewart. While the movement professes a disdain for the “liberal media elite,” it has made an exception for the true-blue 46-year-old comedian. “He always gives you a chance to answer, which some people don’t do,” says John Bolton, President Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor, who went on the show last month. “He’s got his perspective, but he’s been fair.” Says Bolton: “In general, a lot of the media, especially on the left, has lost interest in debate and analysis. It has been much more ad hominem. Stewart fundamentally wants to talk about the issues. That’s what I want to do.”

What’s more, Stewart seems to like hosting conservatives (Comedy Central did not reply to requests for comment). In recent weeks, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Kristol have stopped by. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Stewart has interviewed more conservative pundits than liberal ones. (Remember when fans fretted he’d have trouble finding ways to be funny under the new president?) It may be because it’s simply easier to tangle with an ideological adversary than to needle a compatriot. A clash of ideas is always more entertaining than an echo chamber. And, for a liberal wit like Stewart, it’s easier to stake out a clear position when facing off against a direct opponent. When he’s interviewing a liberal politician or pundit, he comes from a weaker position. His offensive instincts are blurred — notwithstanding his on-air indictment of Jim Cramer — and occasionally he fawns

Conservatives like Stewart because he’s providing them a platform to reach an audience that usually tunes them out. And they often find that Stewart takes them more seriously than right-wing political hosts, who are often just using them to validate their broad positions, do. Stewart will poke fun, but he offers a good-faith debate on powder kegs — torture, abortion, nuclear weapons, health care — that explode on other networks. “Shepard Smith did the same discussion [on torture],” says May. “He kept yelling me at me: ‘This is where I get off the bus! Not in my name!’ He wasn’t arguing with me. It was just assertions and anger. That’s not what Jon deals in.”

I’m sure that to a considerable degree this is because of the differences between Jon Stewart and people like Bill O’Reily and Rush Limbaugh. More importantly, I think it is due to the differences between liberal and conservative audiences. The modern conservative movement has turned into a top-down movement where conservatives are more interested in having their biases reinforced. Liberals (as well as those conservatives who reject the conservative movement) are more interested in obtaining factual information.

This difference can be seen the most dramatically with radio. Conservative talk radio is thriving while comparatively few liberals listen to Air America. In contrast liberals tend to prefer the far more objective and informative NPR as opposed to more ideologically biased shows. On television MSNBC has only recently had some modest success with shows such as Keith Olbermann. One reason is that liberals have little choice on television. If we had a real cable news channel, as opposed to twenty-four coverage of headlines and often just one story of the day, I suspect that many liberals would choose that over the current MSNBC shows. Of course even these shows are generally far less shrill than their Fox counterparts, except when in direct battle with them. In interviewing conservatives to have a true exchange of ideas, Stewart is providing what a liberal audience wants.

Books You Cannot Read

If you were counting on reading Mark Sanford’s book I have some bad news for you. His book deal has fallen through.

While driving up north I listened to a few NPR podcasts. This included yesterday’s episode of Fresh Air which included an interview with Jeff Sharlet on his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. This is the secret religious group which Mark Sanford and many other conservatives belong to. They believe certain political leaders were chosen by God. As they are chosen by God they are above conventional morality. This explains Sanford’s comparison of himself to King David, which he sees as justifying his affair and making resignation unthinkable to him.

Extremism and Conspiracy Theories

I spent much of Saturday driving which meant little opportunity for blogging but I did spend part of the time listening to podcasts of recent NPR shows. One of particular interest was of last Thursday’s episode of Fresh Air entitled Extremism, Conspiracy Theory And Murder. Terry Gross interviewed Chip Berlet, who provided background on extremism and conspiracy theories. The show concentrated on right wing extremism, noting nine murders by right wing extremists so far this year, including the recent killing of a guard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The show also discussed the atmosphere of hatred created by the right wing media and how it promotes violence from the more unhinged element of the right. Berlet discussed the manner in which Bill O’Reilly targeted George Tiller. He argued that while he could not be held legally responsible for the murder, O’ Reilly is morally responsible.

While they primarily discussed right wing extremism and conspiracy theories, going back to conspiracy theories involving the Bavarian Illuminati, Freemasons, and the Elders of Zion, the show did also touch on conspiracy theories held by some on the extreme left with a discussion of the 9/11 “truther” theories.

The Identity Of Kindle Users Revealed

As I tend to buy lots of books and lots of gadgets all the stories about the Kindle have naturally caught my attention. While I find the concept interesting I have not actually purchased one.

One reason is technological. When I purchase a book I will always be able to read the book assuming no physical damage. I fear moving my library to a pretty much closed device and risk being locked into continuing to own the same technology or risk losing the books I have purchased. I would be more open to the concept if all the books were in a more open format such as pdf’s and I could be certain that I will be able to read purchased books on a wide variety of devices in the future.

Another reason is that I like books in their current physical form. I like holding a book when I read it, along with being able randomly open a book to any page. I like to see the length of a book, how the chapters are set up, and physically see how much of the book I have completed. I also like having books on the walls. I currently have three rooms in my house in which at least two walls are covered with book shelves, along with four other rooms and even a portion of one upstairs hallway, where there are also book shelves (along with another room in which the shelves are used for videos).

This isn’t to say I haven’t seen some benefit to the Kindle for certain people. It sounds terrific for people who travel frequently, or spend lots of time on subways or buses. The device allows them to have multiple books present to choose from, and many might not mind if novels they read while traveling are not available should they move to a different format a few years down the road. The ability to immediately download a book also sounds both fascinating and a dangerous way to greatly increase impulse buying every time a good book is mentioned on NPR or Oprah.

I had previously thought that many of my objections to the Kindle and preference to physical books were a matter of my age. I wondered if younger people, who are already accustomed to keeping their music libraries on iPods, would see moving their book libraries to such a device as a natural progression. On the other hand, there is far more reasons to have music on an iPod than to have books on a Kindle. People only need a limited number of books with them, while they might want to listen to a large portion of their music library repeatedly. The ability to randomize songs from one’s entire music library on an iPod gives an advantage over listening to CD’s but there is no comparable advantage to randomizing chapters in books.

It turns out that at present Kindle’s aren’t primarily attracting younger readers as I suspected they might. Instead they are selling more to those who are older. Tyler Cowen presents the breakdown by age:

0 – 19: 5%
20 – 29: 10%
30 – 39: 15%
40 – 49: 19.5%
50 – 59: 23%
60 – 69: 19.5%
70 – 79: 6%
80+: 2%

Comments in the cited discussion revealed reasons for this:

So many users said they like Kindle because they suffer from some form of arthritis that multiple posters indicate that they do or do not have arthritis as a matter of course. A variety of other impairments, from weakening eyes and carpal-tunnel-like syndromes to more exotic disabilities dominate the purchase rationales of these posters.

Posted in Gadgets, Health Care. Tags: . 7 Comments »