Thursday, December 15, 2005


In terms of news sources, the two are becoming closer to indistinguishable. Right now, as I see it, the two biggest differences between NPR and Fox are:
  1. the latter is much more shrill
  2. NPR's listeners are smart enough to know when they're being subjected to the rightwing spin machine
As Atrios points out, NPR features commentators from ideologically Republican think tanks about twice as much as those of ideologically Democratic think tanks. Furthermore, the so-called "liberal" think tanks are the likes of the Brookings Institution which is in truth moderate in much of its analyses and nonpartisan in its affiliation.

Fortunately, some of NPR's listeners are catching on, though their ombudsman is either obtuse or disingenuous. One listener questions NPRs heavy reliance on think tanks, as they should. As she puts it:
I think that it's time for NPR to give its listeners a full disclosure. Yesterday (December 1) on "All Things Considered," I heard yet another report in which a representative from the American Enterprise Institute gave us, your listeners, his opinion about why there were plenty of reasons to go to war in Iraq and take down Saddam Hussein's regime. I have been hoping that your reporters would spare us from such information from biased groups, such as the American Enterprise Institute, without full disclosure. Does your average listener, for example, know much about the American Enterprise Institute, or what their mission is, or why this institute has worked so hard to get its information fed to the news media, such that it can influence policies in the USA and beyond?

NPR's ombudsman seems all too willing, however, to justify nondisclosure by suggesting that they are conforming to the practice of other news organizations and that they had a spokesperson from a "more liberal institution" on anyhow. A few problems with this justification:
  1. The rationale that "everyone else is doing it" is never a good rationale on its own, especially as other mainstream news outfits are hardly worth aspiring to. For instance, with all of the resources the mainstream print, radio, and television news organizations have, none of them were able to reveal the weapons of mass destruction justification for going to Iraq-- the sole justification of the time--as the farce that we now know it to be.
  2. The conservative think tanks which NPR gets their commentators from are much more ideologically right-wing than their counterparts like the Brookings Institution. For instance, the American Enterprise Institute's resident scholars are people who embrace deregulation of all sorts. This is a highly ideological viewpoint. The Brookings Institution aims simply to analyze public policy. Ideological totality is a centerpiece of AEI and many other conservative organizations like the also visible Heritage Foundation, which proclaims that its "mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense." Empirical fact-finding is not their purpose: promoting conservative policy is. It is therefore questionable whether one should even equate an institution like Brookings with AEI or Heritage Foundation as ideological counterpats, as NPR's ombudsman does, as the groups have a very different mission.
  3. Furthermore, as noted by the Washington Monthly, a conservative think tank such as the American Enterprise Institute--by virtue of its desire to be an alternative from the mainstream--allows its fellows immunity from penalties for bad scholarship, which, like the mainstream academy, is by no means foreign to the AEI. However, there are strict enforcement measures along with the compelling specter of a shamed reputation in the mainstream academy. Not so at AEI, despite that its scholarship has been oft-challenged (see again the Washington Monthly article).
Hopefully, this has given some insight into the problems with NPRs steady reliance on conservative think tanks. Although NPR is not a wholly-owned subsidiary of Republican interests, it is still important for its listeners and contributors to know where the station is getting its information, and to exercise the power of the purse if they disagree with these methods.


william t nelson said...

Slightly different topic:

A few days ago I had some beers and watched Outfoxed over at my friend's house. Then last night I saw their Christmas bumper on Fox News. The whole network is a troll, so there is no use in getting upset about it.

Colbert's RĂ©port is redundant, because Fox News is itself a parody. If I needed the money, I might work for them, because it's just a crazy game.

Elaine said...

See, I disagree with that. The reason why Fox should be taken seriously (and also mocked, as Colbert hilariously does) is because a lot of their language and ideas (if you can call them that) are bandied about in the mainstream media. Furthermore, Fox "news" shows count among its guests Democratic as well as Republican politicans and liberal as well as conservative pundits.
If I were a politician or a prominent pundit, I would boycott Fox and encourage others to do so (a la O'Reilly's boycott of France). Its tactics do not deserve to be encouraged, basically.
Aditonally, if you have a conversation with a Republican today, you will find their viewpoints are well informed by the type of information dispelled on Fox News because it is such a visible and loud media outlet. I would like to believe like you do that Fox is a parody, and I know that a man like O'Reilly does what he does not so much because he believes in it (I don't think he believes in anything), but because he is an attention-hungry meglomaniac, but lots of people take what he says seriously. The fact that NPR uses the same sources as Fox does, like the AEI, does not help.

william t nelson said...

Essentially I agree with you, and here's why:

The Center and the Left, including reporters, should boycott the network. The problem is that second and third tier idiots go on [to get on TV?] and become straw man opponents for O'Reilly [Outfoxed describes this]. Probably some campaign should be organized against these people. In contrast, if someone does writing for their Right-wing guys, they aren't really doing anything unethical, because any idiot who takes a ten-week rhetoric course can write lies.

My number one reason for making the original post is that the Christmas story got bigger when newspapers and other networks started covering it. Even if coverage is critical of O'Reilly, he can use it to claim that everyone is out to get him for being so brilliant; Colbert describes this strategy in his interview on NPR last week. His ratings will rise as people tune in to find out what the hell its about. It makes more sense to just wait it out, because presumably this story will die after the New Year [only to be revived for Orthodox Christmas]

It is true that the network is dangerous; I lived with an asshole lawyer from an elite family in my downtown apartment who exclusively watched Fox News. However, if people get too riled up by their tactics, they may end up fanning the fires and "feeding the trolls."

People should definitely stop treating them like a real news network, because they aren't one. There should definitely be some consensus about how to move forward, and probably coordination within the DNC

Elaine said...

Thanks for the very well-thought out answer, Will. I wouldn't take Fox seriously if others did not, but I think one thing can be said for sure: it is 100% useless for anyone of a so-called liberal or even moderate persuasion to appear on that network.