Monday, February 21, 2011

Fan mail: No funding for lefty NPR

W.R. Engel writes me from Muncie, Indiana:

Joel, PBS, NPR should be defunded not to kill off Big Bird and friends (although I feel the world could do without Barney the big purple) but because taxpayer money should not be used to fund politically biased organizations. If you don't think there is a left-leaning bias at PBS and NPR I've a few bridges to sell you, or ask Juan Williams. Not to worry, Elmo, Bert and Ernie and all will find new homes and become millionaires.

This same issue was raised in the comments of an earlier blog post I wrote on the topic. My response, admittedly quite glib, was that NPR is "liberal" only in the sense that "informative" is somehow construed as being liberal. Less glibly, it's always tough for me to weigh these kinds of accusations: The kind of people who make these accusations seem to believe that every news organization that isn't explicitly conservative in its outlook is somehow liberal. I don't buy that.

But this kind of thing is in the eye of the beholder. To the extent we can quantify this, it's worth noting that NPR's listenership comes from all over the politicial spectrum—tilted, perhaps, ever-so-slightly to the left, but not by much. And that audience mostly believes NPR is very fair.

NPR is going to get into ideological dustups from time-to-time—like the Juan Williams imbroglio—because major news organizations can't really avoid them. I remain convinced that NPR (and, to a lesser extent, PBS) provides a profoundly good public service that the private market has shown little inclincation to provide. It is worthy of continued taxpayer funding.

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