How NPR went ‘Off the Rails’ to knee-jerk liberalism–according to a current top editor

I grew up thinking of journalism as a dogged, flawed, yet unmistakable search for the truth.

That may have been wrong, but at least people could (mostly) agree that the media provided a common set of core facts.

Well, that’s all vanished. The rise of social media, while generally a healthy thing, means anyone can post anything, true or false.

The increasingly bitter and outrageous polarization in our politics and society brings unrelenting meanness to the discourse, each side demonizing the other as evil. 

The growing embrace of conspiracy theories, no matter how ludicrous, poisons the dialogue.

People on all sides have sorted themselves into silos, seeking out only media outlets and commentators who reinforce what they already believe.
It’s an ugly picture, no question about it.

And then there’s Donald Trump.

He didn’t create the politics of division, but is a master practitioner. Trump told me he sometimes uses incendiary language to drive media coverage of his issues. So he creates some of his own bad press.

But look at what’s happened to my business. In 2015 and 2016, the press opposed Trump but didn’t think he could win. During his presidency, journalists increasingly denounced most of what he did.

And on Jan. 6, they blamed him for the Capitol riot – understandably, because he summoned his supporters to Washington after months of insisting the election had been stolen, which the press came to call the Big Lie.

But they figured he was washed up in politics. Except now he’s got the nomination and is leading Joe Biden in most swing-state polls, although the president has gained some ground in recent weeks.

Trump was indicted in four criminal cases, the first of which starts Monday. The pundits who said that would sink him now acknowledge the charges wound up helping him by deepening the certainty of his supporters that he is being unfairly persecuted.

Can anyone look at the major newspapers and networks now and deny that, with few exceptions, they are doing everything they can to defeat Trump as a danger to democracy?

Uri Berliner, senior business editor at NPR, says his radio network has gone off the rails in opposing Trump. He has the cojones to do that, while still working there, in an essay for the Free Press and interview with founder Bari Weiss, who left the New York Times as an opinion editor after being harassed by colleagues for being insufficiently liberal.

‘It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent,’ Berliner says, ‘but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding. 

‘In recent years, however, that has changed. Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population. 

‘If you are conservative, you will read this and say, duh, it’s always been this way.

‘But it hasn’t.

‘For decades, since its founding in 1970, a wide swath of America tuned in to NPR for reliable journalism and gorgeous audio pieces with birds singing in the Amazon…No image generated more pride within NPR than the farmer listening to Morning Edition from his or her tractor at sunrise… 

‘By 2023, the picture was completely different: only 11 percent described themselves as very or somewhat conservative, 21 percent as middle of the road, and 67 percent of listeners said they were very or somewhat liberal. We weren’t just losing conservatives; we were also losing moderates and traditional liberals.’

I am quoting this at length because Berliner makes such a strong case.

‘An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America.’ 

That wouldn’t be a problem for an openly polemical news outlet serving a niche audience. But for NPR, which purports to consider all things, it’s devastating both for its journalism and its business model. 

‘Like many unfortunate things, the rise of advocacy took off with Donald Trump. As in many newsrooms, his election in 2016 was greeted at NPR with a mixture of disbelief, anger, and despair. (Just to note, I eagerly voted against Trump twice but felt we were obliged to cover him fairly.) But what began as tough, straightforward coverage of a belligerent, truth-impaired president veered toward efforts to damage or topple Trump’s presidency. 

‘Persistent rumors that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia over the election became the catnip that drove reporting. At NPR, we hitched our wagon to Trump’s most visible antagonist, Representative Adam Schiff. 

‘Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.

‘But when the Mueller report found no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.’

While making a huge mistake is bad enough, ‘what’s worse is to pretend it never happened, to move on with no mea culpas, no self-reflection. Especially when you expect high standards of transparency from public figures and institutions, but don’t practice those standards yourself. That’s what shatters trust and engenders cynicism about the media… 

‘In October 2020, the New York Post published the explosive report  about the laptop Hunter Biden abandoned at a Delaware computer shop containing emails about his sordid business dealings. With the election only weeks away, NPR turned a blind eye. Here’s how NPR’s managing editor for news at the time explained the thinking: ‘We don’t want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don’t want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.’

I vividly remember that quote from Terence Samuel, jumped all over it and have never forgotten it. He was later promoted to vice president and executive editor, and is now editor-in-chief of USA Today.


Berliner says the laptop, later confirmed by major news outlets, ‘was newsworthy. But the timeless journalistic instinct of following a hot story lead was being squelched. During a meeting with colleagues, I listened as one of NPR’s best and most fair-minded journalists said it was good we weren’t following the laptop story because it could help Trump.’

NPR carries ‘one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad, and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.’ 

When NPR boasted that it had a higher trustworthy score than CNN or the New York Times, that was the judgment of only 3 in 10 familiar with the network, responding to a poll.

Late yesterday, NPR Editor-in-Chief Edith Chapin told her staff in a memo that she strongly disagrees with the criticism. 

But, she added, ‘With all this said, none of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole, fostering a culture of conversation that breaks down the silos that we sometimes end up retreating to. 

In Berliner’s view,NPR has two choices: ‘We can keep doing what we’re doing, hoping it will all work out. Or we could start over, with the basic building blocks of journalism. We could face up to where we’ve gone wrong. News organizations don’t go in for that kind of reckoning. But there’s a good reason for NPR to be the first: we’re the ones with the word public in our name.’ 

And yet NPR is hardly alone in this respect. 

The New York Times fired Editorial Page Editor James Bennet for daring to run an online column by GOP Senator Tom Cotton after a revolt by the woke newsroom.

Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said in a book that the paper’s news pages had become ‘unmistakably anti-Trump.’

An on-air revolt by MSNBC’s liberal hosts, denouncing their NBC bosses, forced them to fire Ronna McDaniel four days after giving her a $600,000 contributor contract. While the ousted RNC chief may have been a poor choice because of her efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the larger reason is Rachel Maddow and the MSNBC rebels didn’t want to hear her pro-Trump views on what Nicolle Wallace called their ‘sacred airwaves.’

MSNBC boasts that it refuses to carry many Trump speeches, even on primary victory night, because, well, he’s only going to lie anyway.

This is the most disturbing trend in journalism – and it’s only getting worse.

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