a blog by Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers

Felisa Rogers
December 16
Generally, I'd rather be reading. But I am fond of arguing about dead presidents, driving vans around Mexico, and cooking. I try to create places and times that make you believe, just for a moment, that people aren't terrible and the world isn't a ghastly place.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 1, 2011 4:47PM

Nazis, muckrakers, and yellow journalism

Rate: 23 Flag

Nazis, muckrakers, and yellow journalism: Why it's wrong for Congress to eliminate NPR funding


The rival pulpiteers / Keppler

I grew up in a time before the 24 hour cable news cycle and its overt political allegiances. That said, I don’t subscribe to the hysterical assumption that America was some sort of paradise of objective journalism before Fox News came along and ruined everything. In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself employed sleazebag journalist James Callendar to slander Federalist opponents Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. An American tradition was born. In 1895 William Randolph Hearst ushered in the age of yellow journalism by using his papers to successfully rally for U.S. intervention in the Cuban Revolution. In 1906 Theodore Roosevelt coined the term muckraking to demean a group of journalists, including Upton Sinclair, who wrote sensational stories to draw the public’s attention to business corruption and perceived social ills.


President Theodore Roosevelt (LOC No known restrictions)

Just as promoting an agenda is an American (and indeed global) journalistic tradition, accusing journalists and news sources of promoting an agenda has deep roots. Not all such accusations are founded.

On February 19, the House passed H.R. 1, which eliminates federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Senate is scheduled to review the subject this week. Gutting funding for CPB will hurt National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service affiliate stations across the country, while saving the American tax payer approximately $1.43 a year. Not much, when you consider that every month more than half of the American population uses public media, which, in addition to programming, offers free distance learning programs, K-12 educational resources, professional development resources for teachers, lectures and forums, and oral history projects. Meanwhile, according to statistics from the Environmental Law Institute, American taxpayers subsidize gas and oil companies to the tune of an estimated 10 billion dollars per year; more than twenty times the amount previously allocated to CPB.

So why are Republicans in congress trying to get rid of CPB funding? Maybe it's because NPR has a liberal bias, according to a number of prominent Republican politicians, including Mike Huckabee. Or maybe it's because NPR is racist, an assertion talk radio host Rush Limbaugh supports by citing NPR's firing of Juan Williams. Or maybe it’s really because, famously, NPR executives are actually Nazis.

Like President Obama, NPR catches hell from both sides of the political spectrum. For example, after my dad’s death, my mother gave up on NPR and started listening to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!.“You know what NPR stands for?” she asked one day. “Nice Polite Republicans!” she finished triumphantly.

I’ve heard that one before,” I muttered. And “at least they’re polite.”
I tried to tell my mom that I didn’t think that NPR was supporting a Republican agenda. I mentioned that some of my Republican in-laws think that NPR is a blatantly liberal mouthpiece for the socialist regime of the Democratic Party. I didn’t mention that her hero, Amy Goodman (whom my mom refers to as “Amy”. As in “You should have heard what Amy said about the climate change conference!”) depresses the hell out of me.

While I respect Goodman for her willingness to pursue stories other media sources (including NPR) are ignoring, I enjoy NPR’s less accusatory approach to reporting. I don’t turn on the news in the morning for a dose of hysteria, which is also why I don’t watch Fox News much either. NPR programming tells textured stories via real voices and multiple perspectives. Hearing strangers on StoryCorps divulge long-held truths and secrets makes me look closer at the people I pass on the street. But even when NPR correspondents are covering world events, they provide a level of detail that’s impossible when a story is being manhandled to fit a message or agenda. It’s interesting that when Mike Huckabee denounces NPR’s liberal bias, in the same blog post he admits that he enjoyed appearing on NPR programs and was ‘treated fairly and objectively.

This year, the diversity of NPR programming has reminded me of the spectacular gamut of human existence: John Barry’s thought processes in composing the music for Goldfinger, first-hand accounts from the streets of Egypt, and a young female soldier’s reluctance to accept the mantle of hero. As far as I can tell, these stories don’t reflect ideologies specific to Republicans or Democrats, but rather an interest in human experience, which is what draws us to the news in the first place.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting was established in 1967 with the mission to “complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States.” The idea was to facilitate a free way for all citizens, regardless of income level and location, to stay informed. So far, the American public has been receptive: about a quarter of funding for CPB affiliate stations comes from listeners; schools and universities, state and local governments, businesses, foundations, and CPB provide the rest.

Some Republican politicians argue that times have changed since the establishment of CPB and that the Web now negates the need for public radio and television. As Representative Doug Lamborn (Colorado-R) states, "With 500 cable TV channels, Internet on people's cell phones, satellite radio, we have so many sources of media that we don't need a government-subsidized source of media.” Lamborn is missing the point. None of the news sources he lists are free. (Yes, libraries provide Internet service, but making a special trip to the library every day to read the news takes a chunk of time that most people can’t spare. NPR allows citizens to stay informed while cleaning, commuting to work, taking care of kids or engaging in a thousand other essential activities.)

During the five years I spent teaching elementary and middle school kids, I found the PBS Web site to be a treasure trove of games and activities, none of which were skewed toward a political agenda. Regardless of your opinion about the objectivity of CPB sponsored news programming, for $1.43 NPR and PBS provides citizens with nonpartisan cultural and educational resources. Resources that are safe for kids in a way that the Web at large is not. Kids who grow up listening to NPR and watching PBS learn basic and essential information about science, civics, language, and history.

To me, the Morning Edition theme song, punctuated by the whir of a coffee grinder and the hiss of a kettle, is the sound of morning. This dates back to my rural childhood when we lived out of television reception range and an hour from the nearest newsstand or library; Oregon Public Broadcasting was a lifeline. My dad was always up before dawn, puttering in the kitchen while outside the dark woods creaked into morning. I’d sit across from him at the oilcloth-covered table and eat breakfast, listening for the roar of the school bus on the gravel road, comforted by his bear-like presence and Cokie Roberts reporting the news of the world

While I think you can argue that muckraking has its place, I’m just grateful that in my lifetime, NPR has provided a more measured and, yes, polite alternative.







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I still cannot believe this. Canada still supports CBC television and radio. The problem here is they do not want alternatives. That is what I think. Sometimes I think they want everyone to think the same.
rated with hugs
Some of them certainly do, unfortunately. Thanks for commenting! Good to see you again.
Biased and naive. Funding for leftist broadcasting is being stopped. Hooray. Now we face various reincarnations of the fairness doctrine to supress right-leaning broadcasting. Not so hooray.

Moral of story: keep the government the hell out of the airwaves. No propping up of public broadcasting and no restrictions on the private kind.

Let freedom ring and let collectivist ideology sink or swim depending on a free markietplace.
Taking down CPB has long been a cherished dream of the Republicans. To the detriment of polite, civilized society one day they might succeed.
Felisa, I wish I could rate this more than once. I am hoping that Emily finds this and puts it on the Open Salon cover, where it certainly belongs.
Thanks, Catherine! Your kind words couldn't come at a better time...
NPR became a lot more "middle of the road" over the years (unless I moved left so it seems that way) but they still have those long respectful interviews that allow you to form your own opinions. I haven't discovered a "free market" station that does that.
PBS is America's most trusted news source. I won't entertain the comments of conservatives on this issue, as they are delusional, and insist their obvious propaganda outlets represent journalism.

NRP/PBS are for intelligent people, not for the collectivist-thinking clucking conservative aparatchickens.
I support PBS from Canada. So glad this is on the cover. Congratulations for excellence in writing.
Congrats on a great article. NPR is practically the only radio station I listen to, since its the only intelligent radio available in my area.

What a huge loss it would be to lose NPR (or PBS for that matter). If NPR goes off the air, we will be left with neo-conservative blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and shock jocks.

If that happens, I'm giving my radio away. No point in even turning it on.

The republicons want to eliminate NPR and PBS because they actually present a balanced view of both sides of an issue, rather than the propaganda a station like republican controlled FOX Opinion promotes as "news."

Excellent article. Rated.
Your living in the past. You talk about your childhood memories and how things were when CPB was started. You're older and so is broadcasting.

You mention Fox News. You don't talk about the leanings of MSNBC, CNN and the major networks. There is not a point of view you can't find. If you want it, it's out there. According to Neilsen the average house has 2.73 TVs and 2.55 people. With TVs now in buses, restaurants, and even bathrooms it's not hard to see a TV.

Radio is everywhere. In 1999 there were over 10,000 public radio stations and 99% of households had a radio. In fact the average was 5. Today, you still have the radios but add to that streaming radio via the internet and satellite with Siriusxm. The newest is radio over your cell phone with the rise in smartphones.

There is no mandate for the government to be in the radio or TV business. There is plenty to choice from and it's easy to get. Since we are going broke this one is an easy cut to make.

But does that mean the cutting off of government funding will kill CPS? Not really. If people want it then they can make bigger contributions to it. If the show is that popular then it can become a commercial broadcast and it can be supported by ad dollars. It just doesn't have to be supported by tax dollars.
Catnlion: I think you present your point well. And hey, I'm not THAT old--old-fashioned, maybe. I don't think any of the cable news networks are a match for NPR and PBS in terms of story-telling ability. And I'm worried that without federal funding, we'll lose a valuable resource. Thanks for reading.
:: am cheering as I find this article on the Open Salon cover ::
I'm a public radio fan and appreciated this piece and agree with everything you say here, especially that the news as they present it is much more in depth and layered than it is anywhere else. I also am grateful to NOT have to hear about faux celebrities or listen to ads. Glad to see this made the OS cover!
This is a great, well written article! I, too, grew up listening to NPR. My whole family, Republican and Democrat alike, prefer to get our news from All Things Considered and Morning Edition. I really hope we don't lose them.
I love All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Like you, I appreciate Amy Goodman and her dedication, but she puts me to sleep. Oh well, absent NPR I guess I would listen to more of my music. I'm just glad this didn't happen during the years we relied on PBS preschool programming!
I have always loved NPR. From the early days listening on my granfathers old transistor radio in the basement to driving around 35 years later in my 13 year old car.

NPR has always been with me, always been good and has always appealed to the Radical Centrist in me.

Thank you for this post, and long live NPR!
catnliar: "Your living in the past."

You're, you idiot.

i listened to npr (boulder) everyday during my last stint in colorado (four wonderful years) and viewed a lot of pbs programs as well (the newshour was a must as it is unbeatable and at the same quality level of bbc news)

the quality and the absence of acrimony are the standards that allow the listener/viewer to reflect, during and after, on the subject(s) of the day

back in tuscany i now listen, on my ipod, to npr before going to sleep at night while also trying to remember and catch, on the internet, newshour the day after the broadcast; hopefully a way will be found to keep them going

p.s. many moons ago while on other usa assignments my son and daughter grew up on sesame street
The real problem is how the elimination of public options is that we're left with some pretty crappy alternatives that involve people yelling at each other instead of discussing issues. For some reason, a large group of people in this country think it's not news if it doesn't involve talking heads screaming at the top of their lungs to get in some kind of airtime. I have a difficult time going to breakfast on the weekends because almost every place I go to has this type of broadcast blaring through the speakers while I try to eat and read a newspaper.

You don't have to go far to find people who will yell and attack without addressing the issues. Just look up a couple of comments and you will see it's running wild here also.
Felisa, excellent article. We do need funding for the longer-form journalism and documentaries that NPR excels at. Plus, PBS is the only network that provides truly quality children's programming that is not filled with commercials. I'm very saddened by this.
Felisa, excellent article. As a long time supporter of PBS and NPR affiliates in a number of cities where I have lived I too am firmly committed to doing whatever it takes to maintain a fair and balanced reporting of the news not to mention the wealth of other programming that cannot be found anywhere else. As I'm sure you are aware this is not the first time the conservative Republicans have attempted to gut NPR and PBS along with the NEA and everything else that they abhor. It has been unsuccessful in the past and hopefully will fail again. If not, I'm betting that real Americans who value the programming will step up and contribute just as they do for the local affiliates every fund raising cycle. It would give me great pleasure to see NPR and PBS tell the Tea Party to 'Go F___ Themselves." as we no longer need your funding.
The Morning Edition theme song is indeed the sound of morning. NPR was always on in my house growing up and is now always on in my house and my sister's house. When Margarita was little she would stop crying if it came on, and now she listens to NPR in her room.

This was lovely, nerdy, and smart. As always, excellent work!
Thanks for this piece. I have a similar piece to this, but focusing on some excellent long-form journalism religion coverage that NPR, and my local station in particular, has done, which really cannot be found anywhere else:
Whoops, my URL was too long, so let me try this again:

Thanks for this piece. I have a similar piece to this, but focusing on some excellent long-form journalism religion coverage that NPR, and my local station in particular, has done, which really cannot be found anywhere else: