Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Updating an Icon: NPR Achieves Balance

SWNID has been a devoted listener to NPR news programming since the 1980s. We endured countless Thanksgiving recitations of Susan Stamberg's mother-in-law's recipe for cranberry relish, listened to hundreds of pro-Daniel-Ortega pieces extolling the virtues of Nicaraguan socialism during the "Radio Free Sandinista" period, listened to Bob Edwards' tar-and-nicotine baritone through countless mornings, and heard who knows how many puzzlers from Will Shortz.

So we say with some degree of conviction that we have witnessed an impressive transformation in NPR's news coverage over the last decade. NPR is now, we believe, one of the most balanced sources of politically related news in the present market.

For examples we cite two recent stories. One concerned the possible transformation of the United States into a European-style social welfare state. The story centered on a German couple who quite openly celebrated their no-direct-cost birth of their first child, supported with "Kindergeld" payments of 170 Euros per month and the guarantee of 2/3 salary for one year's maternity leave. But then it quite frankly noted the cost: taxes equal to 50% of the wife's salary and discouragements to businesses and new employment that drive business away from the husband's computer industry employer. Nothing was lauded one way or the other; both sides of the economic equation were utterly clear.

The second was NPR's coverage of today's big story: Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea yielding the pardoning of the two American journalists recently sentenced to hard labor by that benighted regime. NPR got straight to the point: this was no fancy move on Clinton's part but a negotiated, orchestrated move that doubtless serves needs of Kim's dictatorship. Acknowledged along the way--from a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, no less--was the moral hazard involved in such transactions: having got what they wanted, the NoKos may well simply arrest more Westerners whenever they find themselves in need. One could have hoped for more consideration of North Korean racketeering-style behavior, but there was hardly a wasted moment in the report--and no ecomium for Clinton, Obama or other actors in the pantomime.*

Yes, we know that NPR keeps Daniel Schorr on its payroll, despite his inability to say anything of insight or anything outside of his 1970s McGovernite templates. Yes, we know that Nina Totenberg is still around, still trying to match her activist journalistic impact in bringing Anita Hill to the public eye. Yes, we know that much NPR secondary programming simply panders to its Subaru-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, Chardonnay-swilling, Gore-worshiping listeners. Much of the old NPR endures. But the substance has largely changed, and for the good.

As so-called "conservative" talk radio becomes increasingly shrill, angry, and even demagogic, thoughtful folk on the right side of issues will wonder where to tune their wireless sets. We recommend Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

*WSJ's opinion piece posted this evening for tomorrow's paper lays out the issues nicely. Kim doesn't trade for free.


rustypants said...

i still miss bob edwards on morning edition.

heck, i still miss jerry galvin and myron bennett doing talktalk on sunday nights.

but i still love NPR.

Anonymous said...

Nobody enunciates like the people on NPR (except maybe for the hosts on classical music stations). That's why I like NPR.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Terri Gross on Fresh Air for great interviews. And This American Life (actually it is PRI but carried on NPR) for a great great story.

Anthony said...

No need to throw a hateful jab towards Birkenstocks...Proud owner of a single pair for 7 years and counting!