National Politically-correct Radio

Henry Miller Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute.
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Juan Williams’ dismissal by NPR because of supposedly inappropriate remarks he made on Bill O’Reilly’s TV program once again exposes the radio network’s hypocrisy and bias.  The real reason is clearly that NPR officials disliked Williams’ ongoing association with Fox News; they regularly permit other correspondents and analysts to get away with murder — but on other TV networks.

Well, as deranged news anchor Howard Beale memorably intoned in the film, “Network,” “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The political leanings of many of NPR’s “news” correspondents are hardly a secret.  As others have pointed out, Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, is the poster-child for NPR’s inflammatory, left-wing vitriol.  She said about Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in 1995: “I think he ought to be worried about the — about what’s going on in the good Lord’s mind, because if there’s retributive justice, he’ll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.”  That’s not so much political as just plain vile.  Totenberg also dismissed then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as “some white guy.”

Following the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had availed himself of the “Massachusetts Kennedy family exemption” from prosecution after callously leaving a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, to drown, Totenberg offered forgiveness: “He’ll be remembered as a truly Shakespearean figure: tragic, flawed; who in the end achieved redemption through greatness — both in his personal life and in his professional life, and did enormous things for millions and millions of people.”  Query to NPR’s legal affairs correspondent: Did you seek comment from the Kopechne family about Kennedy’s “redemption through greatness?”

On Oct. 10, Totenberg offered this about the Supreme Court’s decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a free-speech decision that opened up political campaign contributions and that was toxic to liberals: “Well, you know, really, this is the next scandal.  It’s the scandal in the making.  They don’t have to disclose anything. And eventually, this is the kind of thing that led to Watergate.”

It is hard to square the way that Totenberg wears her politics on her sleeve and repeatedly shows poor judgment and mean-spiritedness in her public utterances with the NPR policy on outside appearances, “NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.”  (The violation of this policy is supposedly what got Juan Williams fired: He expressed some personal discomfort at seeing people in “Muslim garb” on airplanes.)  Would Totenberg get away with wishing AIDS on a politician’s grandchildren during her reporting?

There are numerous other ways in which NPR and its affiliates show their bias — which is manifested not only by political favoritism but also by a kind of back-to-nature fundamentalism that embraces environmental myths and is systematically antagonistic to science and technology.

For example, the Diane Rehm show, whose selection of guests is a veritable case study of systematic bias, is consistently anti-science, anti-technology and pro-big government.  The reptilian Rehm considers self-interested, anti-industry, anti-capitalism NGOs to offer worthy and objective expertise, while genuinely disinterested academics are treated as shills and hucksters.

Terry Gross, the giggly host of “Fresh Air,” harbors no pretensions about being smart enough to take on science or technology but manages regularly to turn programs about the arts and the media into left-wing propaganda exercises: soft balls and cloying sycophantism to “progressive” guests; antagonism and bullying to Bill O’Reilly.

Among the worst was a series of programs on “The DNA Files” which set up a false moral equivalence by pitting the views of brilliant Princeton Professor Lee Silver against those of Margaret Mellon, long-time NGO-dweller, troglodyte and antagonist of any and all applications of biotechnology.  This pairing was a paradigm of NPR’s notion of “balance”: a mainstream, non-ideological academic versus an intransigent, anti-industry, anti-technology, know-nothing activist.

With apologies to insect-lovers, personalities like Rehm and Gross and Steve Curwood, who produces and hosts “Living on Earth” (which embraces every radical environmental myth and prejudice on, uh, Earth) are like cockroaches, which do what they do instinctively and unconsciously.  But I have bones to pick even with NPR-ers who are far more perspicacious and talented.

Over the years, I have become friendly with Michael Krasny, the polymathic host of KQED-FM’s (San Francisco) “Forum” program, which features guests from a broad spectrum of society.  Michael is a quick study and a natural interviewer but he and his producers fail to understand that there are not “two sides” to every issue.  (A discussion of research to produce novel antibiotics would not, for example, benefit from the inclusion of someone who believes that treating pneumonia or septic shock with antibiotics is interfering in God’s plan.)  They continue to offer large amounts of air time to a variety of mendacious and pernicious “celebrities” whose views lack credibility.  Recently, I appeared on the program opposite Michael Hansen, an outlier and liar from Consumers Union who, unlike me, has no credentials or credibility for discussing genetic engineering; and “Forum” often features other charlatans such as Jeremy Rifkin and Michael Pollan.  Krasny remonstrates that he invites them because they have “large followings” in the Bay Area.  My response is, “So what.  If Nazi ‘Angel of Death’ Dr. Josef Mengele were available to speak about pushing the envelope on human experimentation, would you afford him air-time on ‘Forum’ merely because large numbers of people were interested in hearing him?”

One can only hope that we’re about to get a Congress that will no longer fund a left-wing propaganda machine like NPR — or, for that matter, any other ideological advocacy organization.

Henry I. Miller is a physician, molecular biologist and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.