‘P’ for Public or Propaganda? How NPR Morphed Into a Voice for the ‘Elite Establishment’

by Michael Nevradakis, Ph.D., Childrens Health Defense:

National Public Radio originated as a publicly funded voice for all Americans, but media critics allege the shift to more private, corporate funding has led the station to become a voice exclusively for elite leftists.

In an August 2022 discussion on the New York Radio Message Board (NYRMB), an online gathering board for radio professionals and fans, a spirited debate took place over National Public Radio’s (NPR) political biases, real or perceived.

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During the debate, one commenter wrote: “NPR broadcasts far-left agenda-driven radio to suit those who fund them, everyone knows this. NPR is tailor-made left-wing propaganda, follow the $$$.”

Another commenter posted this counterargument: “For every segment that covers one side of an issue, there’s another that covers the other side. If you or anyone else disagrees, the company has an independent ombudsman to whom you can direct your complaint. Name a similar person in conservative talk radio.”

The debate proceeded along these lines, with each side attempting to convince the other that NPR was either wholly biased or wholly unbiased on a myriad of issues, ranging from COVID-19 restrictions to abortion.

The NYRMB attracts primarily a niche audience of radio professionals and fans. However, the comments reflected wider debates over NPR’s politics and biases — namely, whether NPR’s programming and perspectives are a breath of fresh air (pun intended, this is the name of a popular NPR program) in a commercialized media landscape or a soothing, soft-spoken variation of mainstream news media.

Numerous polls, and sentiments among groups ranging from conservative Republicans to the far left, argue that NPR’s programming is permeated by a liberal bias, as part of a feedback loop encompassing its corporate underwriters, connections to the Beltway establishment and the liberal leanings of much of its staff and audience.

Such criticisms have grown in tone and number ever since NPR, in July 2022, launched its “Disinformation Reporting Team,” based on what NPR chooses to classify as “disinformation.”

Others point to NPR’s embrace of so-called “woke” narratives catering to a small liberal elite or to a longstanding bias toward “authoritative” voices.

And, despite the “public” in NPR’s name, experts who spoke to The Defender described a culture of bias and censorship at NPR, and the shutting out of non-approved narratives.

A ‘propaganda tool of the COVID regime?’

NPR’s coverage of COVID-19-related topics provides insights into what some experts and listeners believe is a prevalent bias in its reporting.

For example, despite claims to the contrary, NPR frequently took clear positions on issues such as mask mandates.

NPR’s ethics handbook states: “Fair, accurate, impartial reporting is the foundation of NPR news coverage.” It also states: “We avoid loaded words preferred by a particular side in a debate. We write and speak in ways that will illuminate issues, not inflame them.”

Despite these statements, on Sept. 12, 2021, NPR tweeted:

The tweet accompanied a story with the far-from-impartial headline, “Yes, Gov. DeSantis, Studies Do Show Masks Curb COVID-19 In Schools.”

The article, which referred to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ opposition to school mask mandates, claimed that the “still raging” debate over such mandates ignores the “scientific consensus” on the efficacy of masks.

In January 2022, NPR stood by a report claiming that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch refused a request by Chief Justice John Roberts, allegedly made on behalf of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that he wear a mask on the bench. NPR defended its report, even though the three justices disputed the story.

In another COVID-19-related instance, in June 2021, NPR did a “complete about-face” on the “lab leak theory” regarding the origins of COVID-19, airing an interview with a Vanity Fair journalist who had recently written about the issue.

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