Ruth: I'm going to being with the biggest problem on public radio this week. It occurred Friday on NPR's Morning Edition. Some may not see it as a problem and certainly there are many issues and stories that need airing; however, this is a story that should not have been assigned to the reporter they assigned it to.
"Examining Race, Class and Katrina"
by Juan Williams
Morning Edition, September 16, 2005 · Juan Williams examines what the response to Hurricane Katrina says about race and poverty in the United States. One man says the hurricane ripped the covering off the class lines and racism of America.
Juan Williams is supposed to be addressing race and poverty. Race takes a back seat from the and is reduced to a sidebar in a story that is supposed to examine both equally. By the time Mr. Williams offers that Bully Boy had long been planning to introduce an anti-poverty plan, listeners may have lost confidence in both Mr. Williams' reporting and the one-sided claim.
Is race an issue? From this report, it is not. This is troubling because of the reporter they've assigned to the story.
As I discussed last week, Juan Williams made his feelings very clear on whether race was an issue or not on Fox "News." I did that by highlighting CounterSpin. From their program last week, here is Juan Williams addressing the remarks that racism may have been involved in the slow response to the victims of Hurricane Katrina:
"I think that's ridiculous. I think that's kind of spouting off of people who don't know know the president, don't know this administration, don't know the people who work there."
Here again is CounterSpin's editorial reply:
Evidently in Williams view people who don't hang out with White House staffers have no right to comment on them or their actions.
Mr. Williams' remarks on Fox "News" should have prevented NPR from assigning him to this story. There is no excuse for NPR not being aware of the remarks, if they choose to claim that.
There is no excuse for Mr. Williams accepting an assignment to cover something that he has already dismissed as "ridiculous." From the start, listeners aware of his remarks on Fox "News" may question his objectivity.
Are they correct to question it?
The people allowed the most air time are the ones rejecting the idea. Coincidentally, they are also from White House present and past: Laura Bush and Donna Brazile. Which goes to the criticism made by CounterSpin that "in Williams view people who don't hang out with the White House staffers have no right to comment on them or their actions."
The report should have been assigned to another journalist. Having failed to do that, NPR should have seriously reviewed Mr. Williams' report before it aired. Had they done so, they would have noted that CounterSpin's criticism was demonstrated to be accurated and they could have avoided embarrassing themselves.
NPR operates under a strange principle and we see it with Mr. Williams' reporting this week. "Fair" means, at NPR, that critics of the Bully Boy are slighted or silenced while those who support him are given more leeway. If that criticism seems too strong for some, I'll direct you to C.I.'s November comments in "When NPR Fails You, Who You Gonna' Call? Not the Ombudsman." For those who missed that, I'll summarize briefly.
NPR political correspondent Michele Norris was restricted in her political duties during the election because her husband, in the words of NPR's ombudsman, "Broderick Johnson was a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. For that reason, NPR management decided that Norris should not do any political interviews."
That is the policy . . . if you are not connected to the Bully Boy. However, a different standard operates for the other side. Juan Williams, a serial offender, did a commentary/analysis on Senator John Kerry's remarks that resulted in complaints from listeners. To correct the problem (Media Matters, among others, cited Mr. Williams' commentary as faulty), they brought on another person to comment/analyze the same remarks by John Kerry.
Listeners had felt that Mr. Williams had distorted Senator Kerry's remarks. So the corrective analyst should have been chosen by NPR to provide listeners with a more objective commentary/analysis. The person they chose was Robert Kagan who appeared to choke up as he gave, basically, the same analysis as Juan Williams had. The only real difference was that, when he spoke of it, he choked up and said he that he hoped this was not what Senator Kerry had meant.
Who is Robert Kagan? He is the husband of Victoria Nuland. Who is Victoria Nuland? Dick Cheney's deputy national security adviser. Michelle Norris was banned due to her husband's affiliation with the Kerry and Edwards camp. Objections to listeners from Mr. William's commentary on John Kerry led NPR to bring on the husband of a woman who worked for Dick Cheney to address Senator Kerry's remarks.
That is apparently what passes for fair at NPR. Another issue is that listeners were never informed that Mr. Kagan was married to anyone working in the administration. He was presented as an outsider with no ties to either candidate.
NPR has, to this day, not addressed the issue of bringing on the husband of someone working in the administration to critique the Democratic candidate for president. They have ignored the issue. After Juan Williams dismissed race as an issue in the response to Hurricane Katrina on Fox "News," NPR assigns him to provide an "objective" look at whether race had anything to do with the response. This appears to demonstrate that NPR has learned nothing from the issue of Mr. Kagan and that there are two sets of standards for "fair" at NPR.
More to the point, this appears to be an ongoing pattern. Media Matters caught another instance this week. From Media Matters' "All things considered? NPR host failed to mention that TNR's "liberal" Rosen endorsed Roberts for chief justice:"
In a September 13 discussion of ongoing hearings on the nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. to be chief justice, National Public Radio's (NPR) All Things Considered hosted two commentators who endorsed Roberts. Moreover, senior host Robert Siegel failed to disclose that the guests -- Douglas W. Kmiec, Pepperdine University law professor and former head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and George Washington University professor and The New Republic legal affairs editor Jeffrey Rosen -- both agreed on this central question of whether Roberts should be confirmed.
The above three issues are not isolated incidents. The three issues are a problem that NPR has failed to address and part of a larger pattern that NPR seems to believe listeners will not notice.
When C.I. noted that NPR has a larger audience than cable news combined, Ruth's Morning Edition seemed like something I could do to add to the community here.
I have attempted to support the concept of NPR while addressing problems with the programming. For instance, we have noted here Cokie Roberts' commentaries that seemed to rely on uncredited speculation ("people are saying"). The issue of the fertility panic that NPR pushed was noted here as well. Their attempt to correct the problem, after numerous complaints from listeners, once again was not a correction.
Members who e-mail cite issues such as the "NPR sound" of the voices of the anchors, the annoying music and the deference to corporate sponsors and the administration. I still support the concept of NPR but I am not pleased with the execution of it.
Members have also urged me to listen to Pacifica's programming. This has resulted in the focus shifting to public radio beyond NPR. If there is a program you enjoy, on Pacifica or NPR, please e-mail the site and C.I. will pass on your e-mails. I have a long list that I am working from. I had hoped to do a review for my grandson of a program he and three members enjoy but it did not air this week due to special programming on Pacifica.
If you missed Pacifica's special programming of the John Roberts' hearings, you missed a great deal. Along with airing the hearings live, something NPR did not do, Pacifica offered interviews, commentary and took calls from listeners during their coverage. Deepa Fernandes (WBAI's Wake Up Call), Mitch Jesserich (Free Speech Radio News) and Larry Bensky (national affairs correspondent for Pacifica) anchored the coverage. Each brought unique traits to the coverage.
Ms. Fernandes regularly voiced points that otherwise would not have been raised, Mr. Jesserich brought a laid back, amused style and Mr. Bensky brought a wealth of information that made me regret that this week was the first time I had heard him.
This was not coverage in the tradition of "I agree, Cokie!" where anchors all echo the same point and then throw out a useless factoid to demonstrate that they are doing more than acting as a cheering section for one another. There were serious questions raised. Mr. Jesserich participated in those and made strong points but, as someone very frightened that Roe v. Wade may become a thing of the past as the Bully Boy attempts to appoint two Supreme Court Justices, I especially appreciated Mr. Jesserich's humor so I've chosen to note that as his strongest trait.
I did appreciate humor during this and I appreciated the interest that the three had in the proceedings. There was not an attempt to talk down to the audience. Mr. Bensky, for example, walked listeners through the FISA court in an informed, though not stuffy, manner. Among other things, we learned that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court appoints the judges on the FISA court.
Ms. Fernandes is a favorite of my granddaughter Tracey. During the special coverage, I heard why. She was not reluctant to voice an issue that a guest had avoided.
The three broadcasters brought life to the proceedings and I know from the e-mails I have read thus far that a number of members were greatly impressed with the coverage. One person did complain and I was not familiar with her so I'm unsure if she was a visitor or a member. [Note from C.I.: a visitor.]
Her complaint was that this special programming should serve as a "wake up call" to Pacifica that they needed national coverage. She meant national programming. Her feeling was that she should be able to listen to any Pacifica station and hear the exact programming on all stations. She listed a number of shows on one station that she did not enjoy. One of which I have praised here and do enjoy.
I will disagree with her point of view. As someone who has followed NPR since it's inception, my own feelings are that one of the biggest mistakes has been the packaging of programs. Many members have written to complain about, for instance, All Things Considered and Morning Edition which they feel cover the same stories in the same manner and yet they lose out on local programming from their community's NPR because both shows are broadcast.
I believe the special programming was strong broadcasting. However, as I work through my list of programs that members enjoy and have asked me to listen to, I find voices that are unique and that are heard nowhere else. There are programs that I have sampled and thought weren't to my tastes. For example, if I am going to listen to music, I will usually listen to my own collection of music. But even not being a big fan of a program devoted solely to music, I have heard voices and opinions that added to my understanding. Someone else might feel that news programming was something they would rather skip.
Public radio is supposed to serve the listenership so those are decisions that should come from the local community. The programming should reflect the communities interest and my desire for news should not trump someone else's desire for music. All the programming, whether news, talk show, music, comedy or rebroadcasts of classic radio is about serving the needs of the community.
The alternative is that you end up with a situation Billie has written about where there is only one local radio program airing during the week on her NPR station. They broadcast Morning Edition twice in the morning and Fresh Air twice (once in the morning and once at night). Her community is largely served by nothing more than news breaks.
There must be something comforting for some in standardization otherwise a road trip would not result in the exact same fast food places up and down the highway. Standardization would probably result in the range of voices being greatly reduced.
That has been the result of the programming on NPR. Billie was one of the first to ask me if I noted any difference between All Things Considered and Morning Edition? I honestly have not. All Things Considered usually seems to take the topics a little more seriously than the post-Bob Edwards Morning Edition but they are covering the same topics with the same sort of guests and hosts, with the same sort of opinions offered.
I believe that Democracy Now! and Free Speech Radio News air on all the Pacifica stations. Those are strong programs but, as I understand the histories of each, they are strong programs because of the people behind them and not because of a desire to create a national program. If they were aired on only one station, they would maintain their unqiue points of view. But when nationally programming is packaged, the tendency is not to have a strong, unique point of view, but instead to appeal the widest range of listeners and that appeal usually results in watered down programming that offers a very limited range of information and voices.
That is what I personally feel has happened to NPR over the years. I would hate to see that happen to Pacifica. Stations that offer an evening newscast provide an example of how important local views are because on one Pacifica station, I will hear an item that another might not cover. It may be a regional story or something that caught the attention of the staff of that station.
Whatever 'comfort' standardized programming might provide would be at the expense of local coverage and the wide range of perspective that I have enjoyed most from all the Pacifica programming I have listened to.
As much as I enjoyed the live coverage this week, I did think, when I woke up Thursday, that as a result, I would not be hearing WBAI's First Voices which always offers perspectives that I toss around in my head throughout the day.
Connect the Dots, on KPFA Monday mornings from seven to eight Pacific Time, nine to ten Central Time, and eleven to noon Easter Time, had interviews with Norman Solomon and Dennis Kucinich. This was not my first time hearing either gentleman interviewed but Lila Garrett brought her own perspective to the interviews which made them different from past interviews. [Click here to access the archive of that broadcast.]
A number of you e-mailed regarding Dahr Jamail's appearance on Alternative Radio. Alternative Radio distributes its programming on Tuesdays. Here are stations that broadcast Alternative Radio and provide the option to listen online. This is not a complete list. For a complete list you can click here. If the stations are up to date [and not pre-empted or making scheduling changes; airtimes are in the time zone they are broadcast from] you have not missed the chance to hear Dahr Jamail yet:
KTSW San Marcos, Texas - 89.9 FM - 9 a.m. Saturday http://www.ktsw.net/ Internet simulcast
KAOS Olympia, Washington - 89.3 FM - 5 p.m. Saturday www.kaosradio.org
Saturday & Sunday:
Boise Community Radio Project, Idaho - webcast only8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday www.radioboise.org
WFSS Fayetteville, North Carolina - 91.9 FM - 3 p.m. Sunday http://www.wfss.org/
KAXE Grand Rapids, Minnesota - 91.7 FM; Brainerd - 89.5 FM; Bemidji - 105.3 FM - 7 p.m. Sunday www.kaxe.org
WFHB Bloomington, Indiana - 91.3, 98.1 FM - Noon Monday www.wfhb.org
WWUH West Hartford, Connecticut - 91.3 FM - Noon Monday http://www.wwuh.org/
KMUD Redway, California - 91.1, 88.3, 88.9 FM - 9 a.m. Monday www.kmud.org
KRFC Ft Collins, Colorado - 88.9 FM - 5:30 p.m. Monday www.krfc-fm.org
Since the Report reposts on Mondays, I've included some Monday listings. Of the e-mails forwarded by C.I., Ava and Jess this week, the biggest issue was "Will special coverage of the hearings mean I miss Dahr Jamail?" Hopefully, it does not mean that.
I will also offer that Weekend Edition on NPR may have a report of interest:
"'Night Draws Near': War from the Iraqi Perspective"
Weekend Edition - Saturday, September 17, 2005 · Scott Simon talks with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Shadid about his book Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War.
Shadid, a reporter for The Washington Post who also speaks Arabic, offers an account of the first 15 months of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, as seen by Iraqis.
That report can be listened to live or online (as of one p.m. Saturday, it will be available online).
Lastly, I would encourage members to check out CounterSpin. The syndicated, weekly, half-hour program can be heard on many stations as well as online.