This all began when Ira Glass challenged Brooke and Bob to answer the question of liberal bias. So, this week, we invited Ira on to discuss the findings and the lessons learned.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Our whole exploration of this question of bias began with Ira Glass, host of This American Life, when he first implored us two weeks ago to take on the question, does NPR have a liberal bias. He was so sure the answer would be no. Then last week, not so sure. Well, Ira, now you've heard everything that everyone else has heard, so how do you feel, better or worse?
IRA GLASS: I do feel better. In the last few weeks I've been thinking a lot, based on these conversations, about the things that conservatives say, where they say, okay, when you get into an individual story it’s fair and it’s objective and all that, but the question is the story selection. You know, you, like if you tend to certain – certain topics. And I thought if there were any bias, perhaps it would be there. But the data that we just heard seems to indicate that NPR isn't different from anyplace else. So I come out of this feeling this is as unbiased as I think you could hope for in a news organization.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Would you say that if you knew that what follows this is a historic look at the media coverage of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire?
IRA GLASS: That would actually blow it for me, yeah. That’s – is that what you’re doing, your [LAUGHS] pro-union agenda?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] ‘Fraid so. The thing that many listeners seemed to respond to was your vehemence, how you were so sure there was no bias when, when you came on the show a couple of weeks ago.
IRA GLASS: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This exercise we've been through the last few weeks, do you think it'll change anything that you do?
IRA GLASS: I have to say I do think it will. I feel like talking to and exchanging emails with a, a bunch of our conservative listeners. I feel way more sensitive to how they are hearing things, and even things that I think often are not intended in the way that they're being taken. And I understand that although, by all the numbers that you can measure it, we seem to be about as unbiased as you can be, I understand that around the edges of things, our conservative listeners get a whiff, they hear a tone. They are hearing things that make them wince. And, you know, some of those things, like Michele Norris asking, can the country afford it, I understand why the conservatives hear it the way they do. But I would ask them, can you honestly imagine that same question coming from one of the FOX News people in the same situation, or a conservative journalist or a blogger, and wouldn't it feel different to you because of who’s asking it? But, that said, I feel like the listeners are hearing something that’s like making them wince, and I feel like we don't need to make them wince. We just don't.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here’s where I come out on this: I come out of it with a sense that we just have to do the best we can and not pay attention to the wincing. When I heard the objection to Michele Norris’ question, can the country afford to do this right now, I realize that this is a mountain that we will never reach the top of.
IRA GLASS: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And if even consciousness of it stops us from asking an appropriate question, then it’s having the wrong effect. So I think you just have to keep asking the questions and, and accept that some listeners will keep listening, even as they wince.
IRA GLASS: Like, I would imagine that Michele Norris would have asked the same question if she had a liberal on, saying that they wanted to spend some government money on some big program. You know what I mean? Like, I understand how that made them wince and how it feeds into a feeling that they have about public radio and about, about Democrats and, and taxation. But I, I think it is in the eye of the beholder, that kind of thing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that any of this will change anybody’s mind?
IRA GLASS: Well, I don't think people are, are turning on the radio to have their minds changed. Let's just start with that. So, so [LAUGHS], so I think the chances - are probably not. But, you know, like it- it may, you know, nudge people a little bit, and – I don't know. Like no, actually, no. Now that I say that, the answer is no.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] In a weird way I was sort of hoping that we would determine that the news programs were biased.
IRA GLASS: [LAUGHING] Why is that?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because then our credibility [LAUGHS] as a program would be so much higher.
IRA GLASS: You mean, as the people looking into it?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm.
IRA GLASS: I mean, yes, it’s good for On the Media, sure.
[BROOKE LAUGHS] That’s great. That’s great for you, for you and your little show [BROOKE LAUGHS], for you and Bob. That’s great. You guys can be the one fair-minded people [BROOKE LAUGHS] in public radio. That’s great.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Ira, thanks so much. It’s been great having you here the last three weeks.
IRA GLASS: It’s been great being here, and it’s been fascinating seeing what you guys have come up with.