Sunday, August 10, 2008

Editorial: NPR aka Home of the Unqualified

Yesterday, NPR's Weekend Edition offered "Former Bush Adviser Analyzes Obama Economics."

They also offered a take on McCain by a Democrat. What they didn't offer was any takes on any presidential candidates who weren't Democrats or Republicans. Today Weekend Edition offers up "Voters Discuss The Influence Of Race On Politics" which manages to put forth the lie (via omission) that bi-racial Barack is the only candidate of color running for president. Last time we checked, an African-American woman and a Lebanese-American man were running as well. But NPR's just not interested.

When criticized about their s**t poor election coverage, NPR likes to point to a July post that really reads like an admission that the news outlet (that is how NPR defines itself) is merely a gossip network. Think of it as the audio equivalent of FaceBook or MySpace.

Holley Simmons (we'll get to "WHO?" in a moment) thinks her comical attempt at explaining the unchecked balance cuts it as reply to listeners who continue to complain that a field of six candidates is being reduced to merely two. To call her word assembly "stupid" is to let it off too easily. It is journalistic ignorance.

* Referring to a complaint from "listener Stephanie Bowman" about a "media blackout" on Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader, Simmons insists that "isn't quite correct." She goes on to list three days when Bob Barr was mentioned on NPR programming (May 12,, May 26 and July 28). Three days of coverage! Why, he should be polling at 98% with that 'intense' coverage! Is Simmons really that STUPID? Yes, she is. She wants to insist that "NPR's Chicago bureau covered the weekend Green Party Convention" -- then they didn't cover it very well because that convention started on THURSDAY. Or is NPR on a different work week than the rest of the country?

* Simmons wants people to know that Ralph "Nader, and his running mate Matt Gonzalez have had 48 mentions during this political cycle, mostly after Nader declared his candidacy in February." Ron Elving embarrasses himself (NPR's senior Washington editor") arguing that "as these candidates make news or participate in debates, NPR will report it." Really? Where is NPR's coverage of the BonusGate scandal coming out of Pennsylvania? But even when a Nader, Barr or McKinney 'makes news' on the NPR scale, Ron says it's won't matter because covering them "will not amount to much more than a small fraction of the coverage devoted to the two major parties' nominees."

* Simmons notes that "the election guide on NPR's Election 2008 webpage features only presidential candidates McCain and Obama. In the interest of fairness, however, Rudin is working on getting the other candidates represented before the end of summer." Really? And who will work on Simmons IGNORANCE? The only CANDIDATES currently are Bob Barr, Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader and Chuck Baldwin. Barack Obama and John McCain are NOT YET their parties' nominees. The election guide could be fixed to include everyone in about ten seconds which is about how long Ken Rudin worked putting together the "Veepstakes" crap.

Let's look at some of the 'make news' coverage of Barack. "Obama Looks To Make Fla. Inroads"? Aired Thursday on All Things Considered. And what was 'newsworthy'? Nothing. Barack went to Florida to campaign. Greg Allen reported on it. Nader will be in Canada on Monday, will NPR report on that? Paris Hilton is not running for president. But August 6th, her mock ad was 'news' to NPR's Morning Edition. It's totally arbitrary and, no, it does not meet any standards of journalism no matter how much NPR wants to kid themselves.

Holley may want to check out NPR's ethical code, it might enlighten her. "NPR is primarily a news organization. We are always testing and questioning the credibility of others. We have to stand that test ourselves." Holley might also want to familiarize herself with the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 which created NPR (and PBS) in the first place (and pay attention to the part about programming "that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences").


The most frightening thing about Holley is that she's writing for NPR's ombudsperson*. She signed her name to that July column/post. She's repeatedly suggesting -- via e-mail -- it be read by those complaining about NPR's sorry coverage.

Though not the ombudsperson, she is doing the speaking and the writing.

Who knew ombudsperson required all the 'skills' and 'education' that working the counter at Burger King would?

In other words, Holley is not a journalist.

In other words, Holley has never practiced journalism.

Holley holds a degree in English (sociology was her minor). And she only recently graduated. She's only recently been upgraded to "assistant,", she was a summer intern this time last year -- one whose resume 'boasts' that she'd like to get a degree in journalism. We'd like for her to do that as well and strongly suggest to NPR that, until she does, she stop posting at the ombudsperson website.

In Public Editor #1**, Daniel Okrent, the first ombudsperson for The New York Times, explains, "American journalism's first ombudsmen -- the most common term for reader representatives at United States newspapers -- had shown up in the 1960s, notably at the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Washington Post. The Times, however, had for more than three decades steadfastly refused to hire one, citing the presumed obligation of the paper's own editors to represent the readers." Whether you agree with that refusal or not, The New York Times' excuse was that trained journalists (editors) were already overseeing the news outlet and responding. Arthur Bovino was Okrent's assistant and answered e-mails. Bovino was also a journalist (who had published in The New York Times, among other outlets). Deborah Howell, a journalist, is the current ombudsperson at The Washington Post. One of the most celebrated ombudsperson was Geneve Overhosler who held that job at The Washington Post beginning in 1995, after decades of journalism (including editorial work on journalism that went on to win a Pulitzer). (Overhosler is still alive. "Was" indicates she is no longer an ombudsperson.) Michael Getler, formerly of The Washington Post and -- at one point -- its ombudsperson, is currently the ombudsperson for PBS (and the outlet's first ombudsperson). He brings to the job decades of journalistic experience.

We're having a really hard time understanding how NPR believes non-journalist, non-journalistic degreed Holley, just out of college, is supposed to be qualified to offer 'learned' opinions on NPR's political coverage. As noted above, she doesn't even know the guidelines or the mandate under which NPR (and PBS) were created.

Listeners with serious complaints about NPR's obvious failings in covering the presidential campaign are being steered to her 'work' on the issue?

In what world is that acceptable? (Probably in the same world that NPR's political reporters think they can regularly refuse to cover all the candidates running for president.)

It is unacceptable.

And before Holley next weighs in with her 'definitive judgment' (which an ombudsperson is supposed to be able to offer) either online at the ombudsperson weblog at NPR or in e-mails, someone might want to tell her that's not really her role. Barring that, they might want to encourage her to begin all commentaries with, "I just got out of college and I didn't study journalism so this is a completely uninformed position. Heck, I barely remember the 2004 election!"

Public radio better start doing its job. That's Pacifica, that's NPR. And they better grasp that people across the country are damn sick of paying for this garbage that's no different from the easy trash offered on the cable chat & chews. People are paying attention and when the next cry of "SAVE BIG BIRD!" comes along, don't be surprised to see a LARGE number of people contact their members of Congress with one message: "Pull the plug!" That's not a joke. That's not a threat. It's an honest reflection of sentiment across the country from once devoted listeners of NPR and Pacifica. Public radio continues down this path at their own peril.



*"Ombudsperson" is used here because it is inclusive. It is also the term that The Common Ills ombudsperson Beth prefers.

** C.I. is mentioned on one page of Okrent's book. That's not why we quote it in this editorial; however, C.I. and Dona both know the e-mails will come in if that's not noted. Also, in the Okrent quote, he does not italicize titles so we haven't added that to his quote.

*** Along with Holly Simmons' byline being on that July column, we have thirty-one e-mails she's sent out since it was published. Any listener who makes a complaint about the bias in NPR's election coverage is quickly encouraged, by Holley, to read that lousy column/blog post.
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