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Is NPR In The Grips Of (Checks Notes) White Supremacy?

Several prominent on-air personalities of color have left the national broadcaster recently. Is it ... RACISM?
Is NPR In The Grips Of (Checks Notes) White Supremacy?

I mentioned this in a post yesterday, but I want to explore it more: National Public Radio is reportedly in a crisis because so many people of color are resigning and taking other jobs. Excerpt:

Celeste Headlee, who has hosted several public radio programs and written extensively about race in the industry, said she couldn’t speak to the specific reasons individual hosts have left but called the departures concerning. “It’s so common for companies to put resources into recruiting people of color and then put no resources into really retaining them or supporting them in the roles they have so that they will continue with the organization.”

She said she regularly hears from public-radio staffers of color who say they deal with daily slights and resistance to their ideas, despite a sense they got their jobs to help expand the audience.

But Headlee — who founded a nonprofit for minority public-radio employees — credited John Lansing, NPR’s president and chief executive, for being “dead serious about solving these issues.” She added: “If there ever was a chance for our industry to move forward, now is the time.”

NPR employees raised questions about the exodus of women of color during an all-staff meeting last month headed by Lansing, who is generally well-regarded within the organization. But he received a cool reception when he told employees that turnover was common in the news media and that NPR couldn’t stand in the way of staffers seeking greater opportunities elsewhere, according to one participant.

The WaPo piece quoted this tweet from last September by NPR’s Sam Sanders:

And this, from All Things Considered’s co-host:

Oh, please. You know which employees “from marginalized backgrounds” NPR doesn’t give a rat’s rear end about recruiting? Working class white people. Evangelicals. I am neither, but from listening to NPR over the years, I know that those people are invisible to many of NPR’s reporters, except as a menace.

Of all the reasons why NPR is losing so many on-air hosts of color, the idea that NPR is hostile to them and their ideas is the most risible, at least from the outside. Of course I don’t know what happens inside NPR, but judging from the content of the programming, whenever I turn in, NPR has become so unlistenable because it seems to care only for the so-called “marginalized” — LGBT, POCs, et al. — who are centered in NPR’s overall coverage. If what we hear on NPR is the product of a newsroom that is hostile to minorities, what on earth would an NPR deemed friendly and supportive to minorities sound like?

Over the past 20 years, NPR has developed but ended three separate programs focusing on black audiences. Tavis Smiley left NPR back in 2004, and the other two shows (“News & Notes” and “Tell Me More”) were cancelled during funding cutbacks, when management had to let go of the lower-rated programs. It’s not the fault of NPR management when programs aimed at a narrow demographic don’t succeed. I used to listen to Tavis Smiley’s show, because though I wasn’t the target audience, I felt that his program gave me an insight into the things some black Americans cared about. Besides which, he was interesting, if at times exasperating. But I would turn off the radio for those other shows, because they were so insular and uninviting.

In the network’s defense, an NPR spokeswoman said that NPR can’t help it when its employees get better offers from other companies — private ones that can pay better salaries. She has a point. I don’t know about the public radio business, but the market for print journalists of color is very much a seller’s market. You have deep-pocketed employers fighting for the same limited number of job candidates. A journalist of color with a successful track record can pretty much write his or her own ticket in the business — especially because journalism is so liberal. Any conservative who has worked in the mainstream media, especially religious conservatives, can tell you that there is less than zero concern among newsroom management to diversify its staff by viewpoint.

I am sure the business has changed a lot since I left newspapers 11 years ago, but I was in management for a couple of years, and I remember sitting in on planning sessions in which newsroom leaders agonized over how to hire more minorities. One piece of research data stood out so strongly that I still recall it today: most people who go into print journalism come from households where families read newspapers and magazines. For whatever reason, back when this research was done (first decade of this century), whites were far more likely to read newspapers than blacks and Hispanics.

If you think about it, this makes sense. It was certainly the case with me, and, I believe, with most of my friends in journalism school. As much as I crack on NPR for not caring about viewpoint diversity, I concede that it would be hard to find conservatives interested in a career in public radio journalism, because so few conservatives grow up listening to public radio. (We are such a family, or were until NPR went super-woke, and my youngest kid dreamed for a while about becoming a public radio journalist.) All of this is to say that if public radio staffs are disproportionately white and liberal, the fact that NPR attracts a white liberal audience has a lot to do with it.

But does it have everything to do with it? In 2015, an analysis of NPR’s demographics found:

  • From a political standpoint, the NPR demographics are equally split into thirds when identifying as a conservative, moderate, or liberal.

My guess is that those numbers have shifted to favor liberals, simply because when the Great Awokening conquered NPR, turning it from liberal to woke, many conservatives (like me) abandoned it. And yes, if I seem like I obsess over what has happened to NPR, it’s because I used to care about NPR a lot, and I miss it greatly, but there’s not much there anymore for people like me, except cultural hostility and contempt for us. Granted, I don’t know precisely what POCs leaving NPR think the problem is there, and for all I know, they have a point; we won’t be able to judge it fairly until they start speaking in specifics. But again, judging from what is on the air, the idea that NPR is under the boot of white supremacy is the kind of idiotic claim that only someone who has gotten high on their woke supply can make.

Earlier this morning I did a Zoom session with a group of PhD candidates at a conservative Evangelical seminary. They wanted to talk about Live Not By Lies, which they had read. I told them that one of the biggest challenges facing pastors and other leaders of conservative churches is getting their congregations to see the world as it is, not as they wish it were. Conservative congregations, especially those dominated by older people, can easily be locked into a rigid framework where they assume that their very particular way of seeing the world is normative. For example, Southern Baptist congregations are known for nationalistic special services, like First Baptist Dallas’s annual Freedom Sunday service:

 

Many people like this are so committed to their worldview that they don’t want to hear the news about the Great Awokening having captured the senior leadership of the US Armed Forces. As you readers know, I regularly hear from active duty and recently retired service members who say they now discourage traditional Christians and political conservatives from military service, saying that the Pentagon brass are politicizing the Armed Forces strongly to the cultural Left — such that conservative and conservative Christian service members might have to face the question of whether to violate their own conscience, or disobey an order and destroy their military careers. This kind of thing is very hard for normie conservatives in the pews to grasp. I recall back in 2002, when I was at National Review, interviewing a Catholic seminarian who told me that when he came home from his first semester at seminary, and told his conservative Texas parents that the seminary was controlled by sexually active gay men, and that the seminary had hosted a BDSM-themed Halloween party for seminarians, the parents refused to believe it. It was easier for them to call their own son a liar than to accept what he was telling them about an institution they trusted. Talking to that young man — who had transferred to a solid seminary — helped me to understand that bad people like those who administered his former seminary got away with so much because of normies on the outside who refused to comprehend what was really going on.

I wonder if the culture within NPR is such that many of its people simply cannot grasp how they look and sound to those outside the bubble of wokeness. Admittedly my listening to NPR is not as frequent as it used to be, but it was (and no doubt still is) rare to listen to NPR shows and think that the network has any interest in people not like themselves. The controversy over whether or not NPR is in the grips of white supremacy sounds as ridiculous as, say, the faculty of Oberlin College tying itself up into knots over the same question. This is a deeply intra-progressive controversy, and the fact that it exists at all is, I think, a sign of how far gone down an ideological rabbit hole National Public Radio has gone. If they hadn’t driven off Garrison Keillor over #MeToo allegations, they would probably be ready to carpet-bomb Lake Wobegon for being too white. I’m serious. Can you imagine doing a show today about Lake Wobegon? NPR’s internal commissars would raise hell about the tiny rural Minnesota town not reflecting the diversity of America (while at the same time not giving a damn about the fact that NPR’s news and programming ignores America’s diversity too, just not in a way that satisfies liberal priors).

Again, I await more details about what precise criticisms these disaffected NPR hosts have about NPR. It is possible that their complaints have substance, but can’t be perceived from the outside. From what we know at this point, though, it seems that NPR’s senior management is caught in a bind that a number of news and information organizations are. Their core people are so ideologically committed that they won’t be satisfied with anything that strikes them as half-measures, even if doing what they want alienates a lot of people who would normally be their allies. We see on the Right now some obnoxious people imposing purity tests as a way to achieve power within conservative circles, while simultaneously making it more difficult to build a conservative movement capable of achieving something in the real world. I’m seeing this happen right now in my broader circles, and I wonder if that’s what this NPR controversy is about: activist types trying to impose their own narrow vision on an organization, even if it makes it harder for the organization to fulfill its mission because it alienates people who normally would join up.

Religions need to draw clear boundaries and defend them, because religions speak of Ultimate Truth. Political parties and media organizations cannot be run like religions, and media organizations that aspire to be non-partisan and even-handed cannot be run like political parties.

Finally, check out this post from Tara Henley on why she resigned from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It’s very powerful. Excerpts:

For months now, I’ve been getting complaints about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where I’ve worked as a TV and radio producer, and occasional on-air columnist, for much of the past decade.

People want to know why, for example, non-binary Filipinos concerned about a lack of LGBT terms in Tagalog is an editorial priority for the CBC, when local issues of broad concern go unreported. Or why our pop culture radio show’s coverage of the Dave Chappelle Netflix special failed to include any of the legions of fans, or comics, that did not find it offensive. Or why, exactly, taxpayers should be funding articles that scold Canadians for using words such as “brainstorm” and “lame.”

Everyone asks the same thing: What is going on at the CBC?

More:

Those of us on the inside know just how swiftly — and how dramatically — the politics of the public broadcaster have shifted.

It used to be that I was the one furthest to the left in any newsroom, occasionally causing strain in story meetings with my views on issues like the housing crisis. I am now easily the most conservative, frequently sparking tension by questioning identity politics. This happened in the span of about 18 months. My own politics did not change.

To work at the CBC in the current climate is to embrace cognitive dissonance and to abandon journalistic integrity.

It is to sign on, enthusiastically, to a radical political agenda that originated on Ivy League campuses in the United States and spread through American social media platforms that monetize outrage and stoke societal divisions. It is to pretend that the “woke” worldview is near universal — even if it is far from popular with those you know, and speak to, and interview, and read.

To work at the CBC now is to accept the idea that race is the most significant thing about a person, and that some races are more relevant to the public conversation than others. It is, in my newsroom, to fill out racial profile forms for every guest you book; to actively book more people of some races and less of others.

To work at the CBC is to submit to job interviews that are not about qualifications or experience — but instead demand the parroting of orthodoxies, the demonstration of fealty to dogma.

It is to become less adversarial to government and corporations and more hostile to ordinary people with ideas that Twitter doesn’t like.

It is to endlessly document microaggressions but pay little attention to evictions; to spotlight company’s political platitudes but have little interest in wages or working conditions. It is to allow sweeping societal changes like lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and school closures to roll out — with little debate. To see billionaires amass extraordinary wealth and bureaucrats amass enormous power — with little scrutiny. And to watch the most vulnerable among us die of drug overdoses — with little comment.

It is to consent to the idea that a growing list of subjects are off the table, that dialogue itself can be harmful. That the big issues of our time are all already settled.

It is to capitulate to certainty, to shut down critical thinking, to stamp out curiosity. To keep one’s mouth shut, to not ask questions, to not rock the boat.

This, while the world burns.

Read it all. It’s very good. Henley is talking about the death of journalism within progressive-run journalistic institutions. Is there anybody within NPR who thinks this way? I would like to hear from them if so. E-mail me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. I will not publish anything without your permission, and will respect privacy.

I’ll leave you all with this below. It’s talking about journalism, but it could be talking about the Left in general. It still likes to think of itself as outsider, but in fact it defends the institutional status quo. As far as the Left is concerned, Big Business can do whatever it wants to do as long as it checks off the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity list.

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