Steve Inskeep Stands Up for NPR

Challenges notion that network is “liberal” in WSJ

The NPR board may have buckled under the pressure of James O’Keefe’s faux scandal, but weeks after the Schillers resigned, NPR journalists are standing up to take a swing. And not in the venue you might expect.

Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep has a column in The Wall Street Journal today in which he challenges claims that NPR has a “liberal bias.” The main evidence he provides is that NPR has a significant conservative following, and he presents it with a convincing mix of stats and anecdotes from meeting NPR audiences on the road.

The facts show that NPR attracts a politically diverse audience of 33.7 million weekly listeners to its member stations on-air. In surveys by GfK MRI, most listeners consistently identify themselves as “middle of the road” or “conservative.” Millions of conservatives choose NPR, even with powerful conservative alternatives on the radio.

…Conservatives in our diverse audience let us know when they disagree with our coverage—as do liberals, who’ve sent notes for years to advise me that I am conservative. Most listeners understand that we’re all figuring out the world together, calmly and honestly, in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Think what you want about Inskeep—the fifth suggested search to come up as you type his name into Google is “Steve Inskeep annoying”—but we’re happy he’s coming out and saying his piece. What Inskeep does particularly well is latch on to an important, oft-ignored element of the ongoing NPR debate: whether or not the programs are created by latte-sipping liberal east coast types, they reach and are enjoyed by conservatives, liberals, moderates, and independents in some of the nation’s most rural and hard-to-reach crannies. It is supplying news in places from which other outlets are pulling out.

“When I was NPR’s Pentagon correspondent,” writes Inskeep, “I discovered that it’s a prize beat, because on every base you meet people who already know who you are. Many other Americans are listening in places like Indiana, my home state, or Kentucky, where I first worked in public radio. Not much of the media pays attention to the middle of the country, but NPR and its local stations do. Many NPR stations have added news staff as local newspapers have declined.”

Kudos to Inskeep too for making a point that should get the goat of all who care about journalism: while James O’Keefe was orchestrating and promoting his “gotcha” sting, real journalists at NPR were out committing acts of real, dangerous, and valuable journalism.

At the same time that the NPR/O’Keefe story was unfolding, Inskeep writes that he was in Egypt and…

…my NPR colleagues in the Arab world were reporting on the actual Muslim Brotherhood and many other players involved in the uprisings. My colleagues’ reporting technique demonstrates their values. Suppose you’re NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, one of the first reporters into Libya after its rebellion began. You need to know if the rebels are advancing. The only way to find out is to drive toward the front lines until the artillery shells exploding around you make it clear that they’re not. Next, you figure out how to get back alive. Then you try to rest, because you’ll do it again tomorrow.

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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor. Tags: , , , , ,