NPR, EWTN, and objectivity

Should news organizations simply admit that they have some biases, and then move on to report as objectively as possible?

Consider the events at NPR.

Earlier this week, conservative activist James O'Keefe released a video that showed two high-ranking NPR employees making nprdisparaging remarks about the Tea Party's influence on the Republican Party. O'Keefe, known for similar videos targeting ACORN and Planned Parenthood, and an associate disingenuously presented themselves as Islamic activists seeking to make a multi-million contribution to NPR. Ron Schiller, head of the NPR Foundation, discussed his views on the Tea Party, calling them "racist, racist people," and after clarifying that he was speaking for himself and not for NPR, laments what he described as an anti-intellectual tide sweeping across the United States.

In response to this growing distraction, the chief executive of NPR, Vivian Schiller (no relation to Ron) resigned, adding fuel to the Republican-led effort in the House of Representatives to strip the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, which gives money to local NPR stations who in turn buy programming from NPR, of all federal funding, totaling about $500 million.

Setting aside the merit of public funding for journalism, is anyone really surprised that executives at NPR lean to the left? Would anyone be shocked if Fox News employees were disparaging the Democratic party, or if it were shown that the New York Times leaned a bit left while the Boston Herald goes right? Certainly not.

News organizations are staffed by individuals, journalists and directors who not only report on the world, but who live in it as well. Should they have an opinion on current events? I would hope so. Ideally all citizens will have views that shape how they participate in a democracy, including those whose job it is to report facts. But the fact that those reporting the news and those supporting them have opinions does not make them unable to serve as effective journalists. Even organizations that sit comfortably in the far ends of the political spectrum have something to offer.

Take the Eternal Word Television Network, or EWTN. I read their stories during the day for updates on the church, its politics and place in the world. I turn to them even knowing that they don't share my political leanings, but because they offer a solid product that I believe is largely effective in presenting facts.

Today, EWTN reported on Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Catholic Democrat who signed a law abolishing the death penalty. The article offered EWTN commendations from US bishops, both in Illinois and across the nation, hailing the move as a victory for justice and the pro-life movement. The story then ended with this line:

Gov. Quinn, a Catholic who supports legalized abortion and has signed a bill legalizing homosexual civil unions, says that he sought counsel from the Bible and the writings of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.


The report was about the abolition of the death penalty and how some bishops reacted to it, but EWTN, ever vigilant against the threat posed by left-leaning Catholics, threw in this last line to insinuate that Quinn supports abortion and gay marriage because of Cardinal Bernadin's writings. Does this blatantly political zinger discount the entire story, or EWTN as an organization? Of course not. If the reader is aware of the biases of the organization, no harm done. A responsible consumer of media could look to a more left-leaning Catholic publication (where would one find such a thing?) for a different viewpoint, and come to a reasonable conclusion somewhere in the middle.

So NPR has liberals running its philanthropic arm, and perhaps its news division skews center-left as well. Its journalism is still professional and accurate, mostly objective and well-balanced. A listener can listen to a report on All Things Considered in the morning, and then read the Wall Street Journal for a different view later in the day. This is the beauty of the journalism marketplace. We should aim to stock it with a wide variety of organizations that offer different vantage points and insights. And instead of expressing indignation when people hold and express opinions, media consumers can simply turn to a couple more reports for a fuller and balanced picture.


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7 years 10 months ago
I agree those commenters who expressed that taxpayers money should not be used to fund a given political viewpoint.

I haven't heard mention of the Fairness Doctrine( recently, and while I admittedly enjoy opinionated broadcasting and have the luxury of time to be able to bounce around from station to station, website to website, blog to blog, I wonder whether the public would be better served if that law was reinstated.  

Anne Chapman
7 years 10 months ago
There is a difference that you haven't noted  - Fox, EWTN, Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Boston Herald etc are not supported with taxpayer funding and are thus free to express whatever biases they prefer.  NPR is funded partially by tax monies, and yet does not present a representative cross-section of both liberal and conservative views.  I tend to the "progressive" side of things in the church and in society. However, when it comes to taxpayer monies being used to support one side, I become quite "conservative." 
Tom Maher
7 years 10 months ago
The problems with the media today goes way beyond objectivity.  Routinely presented today are significant and even gross distortions of stories presented due to political preconceptions.  This is more than bias.  One needs to be skeptical of the basic truethfullness as well as the accuracy of a story.  Amoral, hack presentation is becoming common.  These distortions come from fundemental political and cultural differences in society that are not recognized.  We live in a very divided society.    

Even more ojectionable is media acting ??as a filter completely eliminating sto?r?i?e?s? ??o?r? ?i?m?p?o?r?t?a?n?t? ?d?e?t?a?i?l?s? ?w?i?t?h?i?n? ?a? ?s?t?o?r?y? ?t?h?a?t? ???????????????????d?o??e?s not agree with the medias political ?preconceptions??.? ? ???L?e?a?v?i?n?g? ?o?u?t? ?i?n?f?o?r?m?a?t?i?o?n? ?c?r?e?a?t?e?s? ?a????n???? ?a?l?t?e?r?n?a?t?e? ?u?n?i?v?e?r?s?e???.???????????????????????????? ???
Tom Maher
7 years 10 months ago
an alternate universe.
Leo Zanchettin
7 years 10 months ago
Thanks, Michael, for these reflections. For some reason, I always looked at EWTN with a different set of eyes than Fox News, CNBC, and the New York Times. These three are marketplace news outlets, and I would expect some biases to leak through in their reporting. Of course, EWTN is market driven as well, but they seem to be selling something other than news.

I've always looked at EWTN as more of a quasi-catechetical organization promoting the "new evangelization." This impression is reinforced by their habit of distinguishing between "orthodox" and "dissenting" Catholics and their tendency toward Ultramontanism.

So I come to EWTN with a different set of expectations. Although the word has a pejorative sense, I don't mean it that way when I say that EWTN feels more like an unofficial propaganda outlet for the Church. Not that the Church always appreciates their efforts in this regard, but that's probably for another post.

As for the political "zinger" you mentioned, I would be surprised if something like that didn't appear in that piece. It just wouldn't be EWTN without it.
John Barbieri
7 years 10 months ago
Bias in the media is so obvious that it is like going to Baskin-Robbins: your choice of thirty-one flavors. But the media, like Baskin-Robbins, is supported by our patronage: buy  the flavor you like or don't buy it at all. NPR is the the exception: it is "our dollars at work." You are certainly free not to listen to it, but you are being forced to buy it!
For myself, I don't want to listen to it and I don't want to buy it.
Stephen SCHEWE
7 years 10 months ago
I'm on my way this morning from Minnesota to visit my mother, who lives in central Missouri in a rural county with less than 10,000 people.  I'll listen to NPR almost all the way, since the primary alternatives (particularly in southern Iowa and northern Missouri) are swap meets, evangelists, and Rush Limbaugh.  Anyone who wants to cut funding for public broadcasting should spend a few days listening only to the alternatives available in rural areas before they reach for the budget scalpel.  NPR may lean left, but in some places it's the only choice to consume a regular diet of national and international news.
7 years 10 months ago
The word fairness" gets tossed around a great deal today with no clear idea of what it means.
I favor government support of NPR, PBS, etc. as they offer a more newsworthy coverage of events, however "fair" their presemtation is seen to be.
The opposition to NPR etc. comes mainly from the conservative wing which wants its views never to be disparaged and finds the push to cut govenment funding a convenient  way of doing that.
Meanwhile, Limbaush, and Beck with the support of big money folks with their special interest can carry on.
And this is labelled "balanced."
The problem is amplified by many listening to just who(or whose opinions) they want to hear.
As to EWTN, it represents the traditional Catholic perspective with its good points and bad.
What's problematic is to say that any one staion or periodical covers THE Catholic perspective.
Tom Maher
7 years 10 months ago
The Fairness Doctrine as a solution ?  You got to be kidding.  The only people advocting the return of the fairness doctrine are liberal Democrats or ultra leftist.  And their motives are definately not for "fairness" as is commonly understood but as a tool to limit media content that they do not favor. 

The firness doctrine rigidly requires that everytime someonte mentions X idea that  time,resources and effort be expended to mention anti-X whether or not anti-X  is of interest or relevance to  a braodcast audience. .  This mandatory  inclusion of opposing ideas, limits tha  time and resources avalible to present idea X which the audience may want to hear in gtreat detail due to its newness or great potential.  But the older establishment ideas known all to well must slavishly be mentioned anyway.  This is government dictating the type and proportion of programming you must hear and view  to every audience no matter how disinterested and adverse the auyitnece may be.  The government decides what is good for you.

The "Fairness Doctrine" attempt to bring broadcasting back to the good old days of the 1960s where there was only three major broadcasters and Public Broadcasting all of which had most of there programs favoring left wing ideas and tended to exclude any challenging "progressive" ideas or critical ideas of "enlightened policy".  Public braodcasting  was the firm control of liberal elites in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.

Government has no constuctive role to play in deciding what American audiences should hear or view.  The First Amendment prohibition of government involvemnt with the press needs to be carried over to broadcasting and other modern media.  No law should be enacted abridging the freedom of broadcasting or the press.  Governments should not decide the contents of broadcasts in the same way that government do not decide the contents or production of books or other printed media.
Marie Rehbein
7 years 10 months ago
In my opinion, NPR has valuable programming that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.  It would be a great loss if NPR were unfunded and at the mercy of commercial interests.  Car Talk, Mountain Stage, Prairie Home Companion would all be gone.  Furthermore, if public television were unfunded, NOVA, Nature, American Experience, Masterpiece Theater/Mystery/Classics, to name a few, would be gone.  Maybe some people think politics is the be all and end all of life, but I don't.
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
Personally, I find NPR to have trended more to the center in recent years-I remember when they had Michael Harrington as a news commentator.

How do they stack up against other major radio & t.v. networks? According to a 2009 Roper Survey they did quite well: NPR was more likely than commercial outlets to be perceived as "mostly fair" in its coverage (
Tom Maher
7 years 10 months ago
PBS for forty years was a home for liberal Democrats or ultrras left wing reporters and commentators.  Few if any independent or conservative commentator existed for any lenght of time over its forty year history. 

Bill Moyers was Presdient Johnson;s press secretary.  As soon as PBS cam into exisance in the 1960s he had a lifetime job with his "Bill Moyers Journal" a pronouncely left wing commentary until just a few years ago. 

Daniel Shaw was fired from CBS for his personal  political infolvement in stories he reported on came over to PBS for life at the expense of the taxpayers who got to hear his ultra left wing reporting and commentating.  

Nina Tottenburg actively participated in the politcs of Clarence Thomas appointment to the Supreme Court.  She has a pattern as a left wing activist and then distort the events she is involved in to favor her left wing point of view.  No one has ever found the Clarence Thomas she described in such a negative light mostly because her reporting was false.  Her misinformation was an attempt to prevent Clarence Thomas appointment to the Supreme Court.

PBS "Front Line" program for decades is left wing "documnetary' p[resented as the only way to view a topic.

PBS reporter recently wildly speculated that the Tea party desire for "Constitutional government" was somehow a racist code word thereby crossing the ;ine from reporting the news to making up the news.  It is very strange to indetify the observance of U.S. Constitution the supreme law of the land as somehow sinister for the sake of denigrating a politcal movement not in favor at PBS. 

Yes PBS abd NPR play favorites due to their organization wide devotion to their left wing political ideology.  Let their left wing audience support PBS and NPR not hte taxpayers who are not represented in the PBS and NPR culture.  
Helen Smith
7 years 10 months ago
I am very cautious when I listen to or view EWTN.  There is an obvious political agenda with some of the presenters and many times that agenda has nothing to do with Catholic teachings. (Last fall, I heard one of the priests refer to President Obama as a “narcissist.“  Please, what place does that kind of comment have on a Catholic station?)          
Raymond Arroyo is the worst. After the 2008 election he had a monologue at the beginning of the program, “The World Over” (à la Johnny Carson monologue).  He made snitty remarks about the Obama children. His interview questions almost always are a doubled edged sword with a personal agenda and little asides, e.g., a recent snide remark about Cardinal Bernadin’s seamless garment idea on Catholic Social Teaching.  Thankfully, the interviewee did not let him get away with it.  
Robert Burke
7 years 10 months ago
To those who claim that NPR is "leftist":

I dare say you haven't been listening to NPR lately. Or even over the last decade. Fox News and the right-wing echo chamber have succeeded in twisting the ideological midpoint off-center.

To those who say that the "Tea Party" or other Republican groups are above criticism, who cannot be called crazy or irrational:

I would be quoted in the NY Times as responding with a barnyard epithet, in particular the one a Princeton professor wrote a clever monograph on.
7 years 10 months ago
Mr. Maher's "ultra" coment marks him as an "ultra."
I think there is broad support for public broadcasting and the atacks against it don't reflect ":fairnes" but political ideology.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago
There is no spectrum in American Broadcasting.  99% of the media broadcasts the same news with the same shallow commentary and obsession with celebrities' wrecking their lives..  They are owned by a few megacorps so the object is to package sewage as cheaply as possible (close down those expensive foreign news offices) for the masses.  Also, don't offend the rich and powerful.  Fox goes down to another level by coating the sewage with a thick layer of Repub propaganda.  So now I watch Democracy Now and Al Jazeera with the considerable side benefit of learning nothing about Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods and Lindsay Lohan (farewell and I wish them all the best).  I can learn about real people and their real problems.

NPR provides something different.  I contribute to Free Speech TV and Link TV but don't mind my tax dollars supporting public broadcasting.  It's truly an alternative. 
7 years 10 months ago
Liberals have tried time and again to create a radio network as an alternative to "talk radio".  They have one primed and ready in NPR (I agree with the poster; no one is shocked to hear what NPR execs really think about the Tea Party, etc.).  For that reason I find it odd that liberals not push harder for NPR & PBS to separate from government funding and rip off the mask.  NPR & PBS can be totally self-funded (liberals as a group represent the wealthiest in our country), as the NPR exec admitted in the tape herself.  I love PBS; if government funds were cut off, it might motivate me more to contribute and stop being such a free loader.  THe reality in today's journalism marketplace is that the notion of a government funded media, left, right, up, down, black, white, or purple, is completely absurd.  Don't get me started on the constitutional problems with such a notion!
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
What Stanley wrote is dead on.

The real discussion should be about the wholsale handing over of radio and television airwaves-owned by the public-to comglomerates who dominate our meda. It's difficult to talk about a well-informed citizenry with this reality. The Republic suffers.

But, hey, politicians have done the same with vast public lands, as well as oil & gas reserves. Talk about the real "elite."
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
It's not too late for government to break up monopolies and make things right.  As we discuss this state governments such as Pa. are handing over gas reserves to business.

I'm not certain if government should be directly involved-that's why "soft" grant $$ might be best. I certainly don't want to leave it all up to "Big Media" which has canabalized airspace.

What do other countries do? Canada and Australia have top-flight public broadcasting; their public t.v. is heaps better than the USA which is pinched between corporate sponsers and skittish program officers (the results are pretty dismal.
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
Interesting discussion. I like the idea of arts aand cultural in the civic realm, not only the corporate realm.  There is an old American tradition dating back to artisan republicanism (but it's definitely not as strong as other countries).

The government is plenty involved in broadcast & media-i.e., in giving away our public airwaves to big business.  The consolation prize is NPR & PBS.

BTW, Pacifica Radio is a nice, real alternative!
7 years 10 months ago
I have to chuckle at all this Leftie (that label ok with y'all?) sturm und drag about "corporate domination" of the airwaves, and the "un-informed" American republic - which is all a cover for the real complaint, i.e. "why don't those idiots agree with me!" and "why can't we win any elections?!"

There are literally thousands of television channels that I have access to now.  I can go weeks if I choose without ever watching a single news item, or I can watch 3 news channels at once; I can watch everything from the big bad ole Fox News to the glorious and happy MSNBC, and everything in between.  I can watch upwards of 10 different porno stations, 20 different sports channels, 8 business-oriented channels, and Lord knows my wife just loves the 10 different home and garden offerings!  Then, when I get bored, I can turn on Baroque rap music and pick up my iPad and peruse anything from that right wing rag NY Times to the true Gospel Nation, not to mention wasting hours responding to comments on any of the hundreds of blogs that appeal to my most obscure interests, not least of all Jesuit Catholic spirituality and social justice!

SO what am I missing that I need the Nanny State to supply for me, exactly?!  Give me a break!
Vince Killoran
7 years 10 months ago
I have to laugh at all those "righties"  who jabber about "liberty" and then confuse the 250  cable stations with the ability of citizens to communicate with each other with the wide range of views we all hold.  You probably think that Old Country Buffet offers all the world's cusines.

The stations are all owned by a few corporations. The real narrowing began in the early 1930s when the federal government passed legislation favoring "Big Radio."

Ron Thomski
3 years 11 months ago
It's always to have a good laugh, Vince, but you appear to be laughing at a strawman argument that conservatives never made. Conservatives see talk radio, the Internet, the blogosphere, twitter, emails, religious media, and technology generally as now providing diversity of opinion and a means whereby the liberal logjam and control of the information the public gets is finally disintegrating. I don't know of any conservative who thinks 250 cable stations = diversity of opinion (or as you butchered it, "250 cable stations = the ability of citizens to communicate with each other.")
7 years 10 months ago
"confuse the 250  cable stations with the ability of citizens to communicate with each other with the wide range of views we all hold"

Sometimes individuals themselves have to exercise responsibility for their own lives, mental and otherwise (horrid concept, I know).  My only modest suggestion is that in the current media market, we don't starve for information, and I fail to see what empowering the Nanny State will do that will force people to become more informed, i.e. agree with you.  Even assuming for the moment that your economic conspriay theory is accurate, the internet, and specifically blogs, YouTube, Hulu and a host of other such media sites are dissolving and threatening any monopolization, or at least making it increasingly expensive.


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