Please Explain: NPR

Friday, March 21, 2008

NPR says that its mission is to present "fair, accurate and comprehensive information and selected cultural expressions for the benefit of, and at the service of our democracy." That's easier said than done.

Find out how NPR shapes its news and political coverage, who makes judgment calls on a daily basis, and what happens when problems arise. Alicia Shepard is NPR Ombudsman.

Weigh in: What are your comments and/or complaints about NPR's coverage of news and politics? What would you like to hear more or less of?


Alicia Shepard

Comments [39]

In Chicago

Why do small public radio stations in the middle of the country insist on playing classical music during the day? When I am adrift in Indiana and the radio dial is flooded with Christian rock, I want to hear Talk of the Nation, not someone droning on about a piece of classical music.

What are the economics of that situation?

Why classical instead of talk?

Mar. 28 2008 11:48 PM
Liz from Savannah, GA

I echo Ken and Jeffrey (16, 17 above)-- After I started listening to Democracy Now! (DN!) I realized that NPR is really very middle-of-the-road and often several days behind with reports on the same events covered on DN! (And when NPR covers those events, they give a (spoken) paragraph to cover what DN! might give half an hour to.)

Mar. 22 2008 07:09 AM

In my zeal to complain I forgot to thank Leonard for the wonderful music today. Thank you also for a consistently great show.

Mar. 21 2008 02:14 PM
Jerry Nutter from Jamaica, NY

I don't see how Alicia says NPR does 50 hours of news per week? I come up with about 27 hours of original Morning Ed and ATC. Morning Edition is only two hours long, the other two is a repeat.

Mar. 21 2008 02:14 PM
Jerry Nutter from Jamaica, NY

Yes, hats off to NPR for having an ombudsman, but why were they without for so long? And why did the last one leave so suddenly and after a short reign?

What about product placement? I've caught NPR News occasionally injecting a brand name or store into a piece for no earthly good reason. I understand placement is ILLEGAL in broadcast, unless a promotional announcement is made.

And how about this business of NPR getting a kickback from Amazon when a listener buys a song they heard on NPR? Is that reverse-payola?

Mar. 21 2008 02:07 PM
Jerry Nutter from Jamaica, NY

I would like to address the ethic of the underwriters themselves: Should NPR and it's affiliates accept money from corporations that violate human rights or gosh, actual US law? Companies like ADM, K-Mart, Walmart, etc... If not, then would you accept underwriting from PACs, lobbyists, money launderers?

PS: I don't remember the Colt ads, Lenny and I've been listening since 1984.

Mar. 21 2008 02:03 PM
Claudia from NJ

Leonard -- loved the Easter Gospel music. Would love to hear more. Thanks as always for a great show.

Ombudswoman -- Why are you asking callers to redundently write to you as well? Why put the burden on the them? Aren't you able to address their concerns based on the comments made to you on the air?

Whenever someone takes this tack, it leaves the rest of us feeling that you're opting for bureacuracy rather than taking action.

Why are there so many instances in this segment ("pro-life" discussion just one example) of your saying that you're not really sure that the things listeners call about necessarily have merit?

Hats off to NPR for having a news ombudsman in the first place. This listener (and member) is left thinking that in practice there's more deflection than action going on here.

Mar. 21 2008 01:59 PM
Jerry Nutter from Jamaica, NY

"During the run up to the Iraq War, NPR had an 8 minute report on some guy throwing a potato in a minor league game in the 70's."

Hilariously true! NPR does seem to have an ostrich mentality, especially on breaking news, which they either ignore or give scant attention to.

NPR's half-hour news formula seems to consist of:

5 minutes of headlines
2 hard features (often both from Capitol Hill or the White House)
1 story completely unrelated to the day's news
1 commentator in a reflective or humourous style
5 minutes of underwriting and local breaks

How this evolved is anyone's guess.

Mar. 21 2008 01:56 PM
Burt from nyc

Just want to second the woman caller who complained about announcers talking as if to nursery kids. (Though I usually say kindergardners!) Why are they trying to put emotion where it isn't needed? Let the story speak for itself. In a related vein, they also seem loathe to upset the people, especially politicians, they interview. In both cases, NPR seems to be aping the commercial networks, when we'd be better off if you more straightforward, like the BBC.

Mar. 21 2008 01:54 PM

Sorry #25 (df)
if you are touched by my comments, hope you would respond just as articulately to any issue of substance! I see nothing else seems to get you as stimulated...Interesting!!!

Mar. 21 2008 01:47 PM
paul from nyc

why do we have to listen to promos for npr shows, such as morning edition, all day long and the same ones over and over
it is maddening.

Mar. 21 2008 01:43 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

To claim that NPR may not be influenced by underwriters because of "credibility" is a bit disingenuous. A politician could make the same statement but there is certainly a lot of people out there concerned with doing away with money in politics, nonetheless.
How would one truly be able to decide what is and what isn't credible. By checking out all other news stores? I don't know about you but I have only so much time and mental capacity to go through all the possible news sources that exist in the world.

Mar. 21 2008 01:42 PM

Why does NPR use the same journalists and commentators as the New York Times and some television shows? Doesn't the world have enough of David Brooks and the awful, dishonest Juan Ferero (who appears to do his reporting from all the best luxury hotels in Latin America)?

Mar. 21 2008 01:41 PM
sarah from williamsburg

I love your show Leonard and I think WNYC & NPR are nearly always perfect. I am constantly reminded of how "liberal" I am, thanks so much for knocking off my high horse :)

Mar. 21 2008 01:40 PM
Matt Maginley from NYC

If you have a responsibility to the audience then don't accept the underwriting from those companies that are not doing the right things.

It can be done.

Mar. 21 2008 01:38 PM

Thank you Saul. Now take your pill.

Mar. 21 2008 01:38 PM
Peter O'Griofa from Brooklyn

Why do you cover the Occupied Territories with a US correspondent based in Israel? I'd suggest you use a Palestinian, Palestinian-American, or Palestine-based reporter.


Mar. 21 2008 01:38 PM

Is running BBC rather than building a more sophisticated news dept. considered a news failure by the national office? (If not why not?)

Mar. 21 2008 01:37 PM
whoindatgarden from NYC

Would NPR ever conduct an Experiment in sending Muslim Journalists to cover events inside Israel and Jewish Journalists to cover events inside Palestinian Territories. It maybe a very good experiment to see how personal views affect the reporting.

Mar. 21 2008 01:37 PM

David (#12)

All other media including WNYC is Jewish owned and profess a sculled and shameless anti Muslim rhetoric and an uncritical cheerleader for Israel!!!

Mar. 21 2008 01:36 PM
King Emmanuel Fuentebella from Long Island City, NY

There is censorship on NPR as with PBS. You're both with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When the Exxon Valdez happened in '89, I went with my NYU student crew to film the oil spill. Our finished documentary aired on London's Channel 4 "Our Endangered Earth" and then elsewhere except of all places the USA even if there was interest from PBS. Exxon was a big financial supporter of PBS then and now. PBS didn't pick up "Living With The Spill."


Mar. 21 2008 01:34 PM
Joanie from Manhattan

WNYC always claims to be commercial free, but your breaks include website addresses, phone numbers, and what cannot be denied are advertisements for services including lawfirms, accountancies, insurance, movies and slogans for the paid spots. Please explain where you see the distinction.

Mar. 21 2008 01:34 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

For finding out about the Winter Soldiers' conference, visit WBAI's "Democracy Now".

Mar. 21 2008 01:34 PM
Ken from Upper West Side

So-called "bias" inevitably creeps into news coverage through the choice of what to cover. At 9 am I switch to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, and I'm constantly amazed about the stories she covers that NPR has ignored. The point here is that every news outlet is "biased." NPR is making choices in order to appear to have a certain non-slant, but it's still a slant.

Mar. 21 2008 01:32 PM
whoindatgarden from NYC

Could NPR deploy a Muslim Journalist in Israel and a Jewish Journalist in the Palestinian territories and see how the reporting is brought to US audiences.
i wonder if personal views maybe seen differently then.

Mar. 21 2008 01:31 PM
Jaime from Queens

Is it not time for a National Code of Professional Responsibility and Code of Ethics' for the News Media? Should not those standards be applied to articles published by all media to provide a rating on veracity and facts. The problem today is that the public has lost the ability to distinguish news from entertainment. Gossip has infiltrated news. Corporate controlled news media competes with sitcoms. Profit is now the motivation of News division now, not a return of public service for the right to make profit on other shows presented.

The result is that the product is presented is simplified, like a commercial. Twenty four hour news services are more concerned with being an identifiable product then intellectually honest. The New York Times lays off hundreds of researchers. Like lemmings running over a cliff, the fourth estate is burnning.

Mar. 21 2008 01:27 PM
Nicholas P. Vessio from Sea Cliff, N.Y.

Leonard, are you kidding... Ethics at the N.Y. Times ala Jason Blair They desperately
need an ombudsman maybe even an Inspector General. The Time readership is dwindling directly because of their shoddy journalism.
Leonard, keep up the good work ... I enjoy your program and NPR. Sincerely, Nick Vessio

Mar. 21 2008 01:19 PM
David from NYC

NPR also known as "National Palestinian Radio"

check this link for examples of NPR's fair and accurate reporting

Mar. 21 2008 12:37 PM
jeff from Manhattan

Boy, great comments so far. Slightly better than Howard Stern.

OK, these are things that all media does, but I'd like to have available a little more info on:
1) I often seem to find smaller stories that appear to be copied from other media. For the obviously quirky local wire stores sometimes they'll often mention how it came to their attention, but if they're just repeating a story idea from the Wall Street Journal, I'd like to know.

2) Getting back to the controversial stuff - "On The Media" type "inside journalism" stories sometimes mention the dirty secret that when covering places like the PA territories, journalists are often given access to sources by the government censors or authorities, or they exercise censorship over the reporters by threatening to cut off their access (or even the threat of retaliatory violence against the reporter who publishes an unapproved story). If reporters are obligated to mention when they are reporting on an underwriter or parent company because it *might* be seen an influencing their reporting, when reporters are being outright led/censored by the authorities where they are reporting, shouldn't that be disclosed?

3) When a correspondent goes out to a field location (either domestically or abroad) it seems like diner workers and taxi drivers are disproportionately often the local interviewed by the reporter. Are these two professions the thought leaders, or just the most convenient when on a deadline?

Mar. 21 2008 12:18 PM

I find a lack of reporting of alternative political parties and on the antiwar right. There are conservatives who lean libertarian who hated and were against the war from the inception. It would be nice to hear more voices from the right who are against the war.

Mar. 21 2008 11:44 AM
Al from Lisbon, Portugal

I fail to understand the point of Mr. Jack Sprat's rather rude comment. You describe those two occurances in US history as embarassing. I find it disturbing that you would consider both Brooke Gladstone and Seymour Hirsh to be "genetic misfits" but wouldn't say the same of the powers that be that decided to go through or did close to nothing to prevent those two — and you are correct here — embarassing occurances.

Should "embarassing" situations not be reported? Should they be not be told? Is it your opinion that no lessons should be drawn from past mistakes? Or are you naïve enough to believe that those actions would have been punished had they not been reported or that lessons would have been learnt regardless?

Mar. 21 2008 11:32 AM
Jason from New York, New York

It is the height of absurdity to discuss the deficiency of National Public Radio, network, and portray WNYC as some qualitative alternative! This could not be farther from the truth!

Mar. 21 2008 10:57 AM
Larry from Ct.

I have a few questions.
1. How much do the underwriters influence your coverage of what's going on in the world?
2. How do you respond to people who claim that your news coverage is to the left politically?
3. Why are you insisting that stations upgrade to a technology i.e. HD radio that most people are not interested in and the receivers to hear this technology are not perfected yet?

Mar. 21 2008 10:35 AM


Do a search on for "Global Warming" and one of the top items you get is the NPR debate "Global Warming Is Not a Crisis."

Last year a Congressional committee released documents showing Philip A Cooney, a former chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, edited government climate reports to play down the human causes of Global Warming.
Previously he was an oil lobbyist, and went right back to that upon resigning from his White House role.
Do a search at for "Philip A Cooney"
and you will find only 2 reports from 2005 reporting the "allegations."

Kivalina, an Alaskan village that is relocating due to flooding caused by the changing Arctic climate, is suing Oil companies and other corporations.

When Frank Luntz came out with his little book (not long after Frank Rich's) he was frequently on NPR not just to promote his book but also as a political commentator.
When he was brought on as a commentator no mention was made about his past, he was just simply described is a political expert with his own company.

During the run up to the Iraq War, NPR had an 8 minute report on some guy throwing a potato in a minor league game in the 70's.

Mar. 21 2008 03:46 AM
Joel Friedland from Forest Hills, NY


You report about business for at least 1 1/2 hours everyday. I hear Marketplace's 10 minute program at 50 minutes past the hour several times a day, with a slightly different report each time, hear their half-hour program each weekday, and a one hour program on weekends. Marketplace is devoted to the marketplace and investing.

You report about labor unions hardly at all.

Do you have any regular report devoted to the BENEFITS of labor unions? Is there any possibility you might regularly talk about how labor unions can benefit poorly paid and treated workers, especially white collar workers?

I do hear, as part of your regular programming, at least once a month, something negative about labor unions, usually with someone from American Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute. But I hardly ever hear anything about how labor unions benefit us all.

I earn $16.73 an hour as a unionized tour guide for Gray Line in Manhattan. Were I not unionized, I'd receive waiter's pay -- less than $5 and hour.

Please redress this inequity in your broadcasting. More than a third of workers in private industry used to be unionized, now well under 5%. That's partly because NGO's like NPR have bought into the shibboleths espoused by the Right that unions are NOT beneficial to working men and women.

Mar. 20 2008 11:47 AM

Disappointed in NPR's drawing -- in the presentation of your news -- of the moral equivalence betwn randomly fired Arab rocket attacks into Israel with Israeli attacks on military targets. Also on that, I often hear Arab soldiers referred to as militants while the Israeli soldiers are referred to as "Israelis." Both should be called soldiers given the crucial distinction between civilian and soldier in this narrative in particular.

Mar. 19 2008 12:43 PM

When there are real national "crisis" moments NPR's news dept lays over and restates the government line along with the worst of the media outlets -- time and again. I would like to at least know NPR's policy on attribution of information and how NPR's process has changed since your (and the rest of MSM) low point that led up to the Iraq invasion.

I've additionally noticed that NPR's news dept. has in the last 4 months or so become more comfortable w biased reporting. I am not inherently against this style but am curious as to whether it is the result of a new rule there or rescinding of an old one.

Mar. 19 2008 12:38 PM

How stupid and ridiculous to hear BROOKE GLADSTONE
laughter as Hirsch is retelling his story. How dumb can you be to have a broadcast of these two genetic misfits speak about occasions embarrassing to this country that we live in. MUST WE GO THROUGH THIS ALL OVER AGAIN FOREVER AND EVER TO LISTEN TO HOW THIS PIECE OF **** HIRSCH WAS POSING AS A LAWYER TO GET TO CALLEY.? HOW CLEVER OF HIM!!

Mar. 19 2008 11:21 AM
Dr. Arthur L. Friedman from Rego Park, NY

For the past 5 years, Geeorge W. Bush and his accomplices have used the term "Global War on Terror" to label their assualt on the Middle East and the constitutional rights of Americans. While the term GWOT is a fraudulent description of the actions of our government, why has NPR and its affiliated stations permitted this "spin" term to be used in many/most of its broadcast stories?

Literate people know that you cannot fight a war against a tactic. One can only battle individuals or groups of fighters. A tactic of this sort is usally perpetrated by an individual as a crime - not a war!

Mar. 18 2008 07:12 PM

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