LIBBY EMMONS: NPR's bias problem will only get worse

NPR has a bias problem. And somehow everyone knows it but NPR. It's no secret that NPR is lefty, hell, for listeners and readers that's half its charm. But it also had the feeling of being a reasonable publication that was open-minded enough to at least present all viewpoints fairly, even if it obviously had no intention of changing its own perspective or that of consumers. 

After an article from an NPR whistleblower, it's clear that this open-mindedness, at least since the era of Trump, has been entirely an illusion. It's not just that the outlet has a leftist bias, it's that the outlet's staff and leader believe that it is their moral obligation to have that leftwing bias. They don't feel bad about it, or that they've let their mission creep, but they nurtured it.

And they're not the only ones. NBC recently fired the sole conservative they'd hired, letting Ronna McDaniel go before she'd even been with the company a full week. The New York Times has been scolded for its incredibly leftist bias and for letting activist perspectives drive the newsroom and the opinion page. 

It's not an accident that longtime NPR reporter Uri Berliner made his revelations in the pages of The Free Press, a publication helmed by Bari Weiss. Weiss left The New York Times in the summer of 2020 after an op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton caused a revolt on the opinion page, sent Weiss off on her own, and led to years of Sturm und Drang. 

What is the most clear after these revelations is that there's probably no way to fix it—not at NPR or NBC, although I'm holding out hope for the Times. NPR's bias is not going anywhere. It will likely deepen. The outlet's leaders see no reason to change that bias, they want it. After Trump was elected, many outlets, including NPR, jumped on the activist bandwagon and proclaimed that they would "resist" anything Trump did or said, any policy put forth by his administration. 

In the aftermath of the whistleblower's article, he was suspended for five days. Now, he has resigned. And in a memo penned by their new CEO, Katherine Maher said that just questioning the newsroom and corporate bias is somehow offensive. "Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning," she said.

The more red-pilled among us might scoff at this revelation, say that it has always been thus, that it's simply old news to find that NPR is biased. But for those that trusted in our storied institutions, who believed in what used to be known as journalistic objectivity, the realization that each and every one of them was steeped in leftwing bias, animus for opposing viewpoints, and held a lack of self-awareness so strong as to be blinding has come as more than a surprise, it's been ground shaking. And it's the feeling of uncertainty that comes with shaking ground—especially for New Yorkers and the East Coast elites—that makes them so loathe to admit that the faith and trust they put in those institutions has been squandered.

I was a classic New York City liberal. I read The New York Times, The New Yorker, and listened to NPR. I believed this made me well-informed, versed on topics from politics to pop music and everything in between. I trusted these news and culture sources to deliver hard-hitting news, analysis, human interest stories, and little local anecdotes to make me feel like I knew what was going on and had empathy about it, too. I knew there was a bit of bias, but figured it was just enough to keep it honest. It wasn't. 

Turns out that little bit of bias morphed into a blind spot so big and wide that truth couldn't even stage an audition, never mind get cast in a leading role. Berliner's answer to the extreme bias problem is to "start over, with the basic building blocks of journalism." What he means by that is probably very similar to what I'd mean by that: reporting stories with all the facts one can find, as objectively as possible, without being pushed by a 24-hour news cycle that rewards bias, sensationalism, and engagement above all else. 

The facts are, however, that it is easier to hold, maintain and deepen bias in today's fast-moving climate that is nothing but sound bites, images, and clips out of context. There is no time for discourse or for deeper conversation to make it to the public sphere. As such, news people are more reliant on their biases to tell them what to believe—they seldom, if ever, take a moment to examine why they believe it.

Bias isn't really the problem, it's the refusal to examine it, to question it, to interrogate its origins, that is. What Berliner asked for, and what Maher plainly refused to do, is exactly that. He wanted a consecration, to save the NPR newsroom from becoming another ashen heap in the dustbin of historical lies. News moves so quickly that there's no reward for a nuanced view, for anything examined or thought through. 

Newsrooms don't overlook or ignore their biases, they don't pretend they don't have them, they rely on them to give them a feeling of moral superiority. And that moral superiority, like Berliner's uncovered biases, rests on no ethical precepts. It has no basis in reality, and absolutely no place in a newsroom.


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