Media reporter Michael Calderone at The Upshot reported on Thursday that National Public Radio officials were surprised the outpouring of attention they drew with a memo insisting reporters shouldn't attend the liberal Comedy Central rallies of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When Calderone asked NPR senior vice president Dana Davis Rehm why there was no memo for the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally or the recent liberal One Nation event, she explained that NPR felt "it was obvious to everyone that these were overtly political events" and staff would surely know not to attend. "It's different with the Colbert and Stewart rallies; they are ambiguous," she continued. "But their rallies will be perceived as political by many, whatever we think. As such, they are off limits except for those covering the events."
Calderone asked other media outlets if they had a policy on the Stewart-Colbert event. ABC said it would follow a similar policy to NPR, to be present only as journalists and observers. An NBC News spokeswoman responded in a statement: "NBC News prohibits employees who function in an editorial role from participating at partisan events, however on a case by case basis we have permitted MSNBC hosts to participate in such events."
The Washington Post sent out a similar-sounding memo to staff about being observers, not participants:
"Events, like those organized by Glenn Beck or involving Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, are political, and therefore Post newsroom employees may not participate. By participate, we mean that Post newsroom employees cannot in any way put themselves in a position that could be construed as supporting (or opposing) that cause. That means no T-shirts, buttons, marching, chanting, etc. This guideline does not prohibit Post newsroom employees from observing—that is, watching and listening from the sidelines. The important thing is that it should be evident to anyone that you are observing, as journalists do, not participating, whether you are covering the event or not."
Meanwhile, the commenters to Rehm's additional statement on the blog This Is NPR demonstrate that their liberal fans are unhappy. Check out some of the complaints:
Nathan Gibbs: Are NPR journalists prohibited from attending Catholic mass if the church is anti-abortion?
Paul I: NPR's Mara Liasson is a regular on Foxnews! What, is that a private act? As Harry Shearer wrote yesterday, NPR's guidelines are just a convenient fig leaf. They pick and choose when they want to be ethical or not.
Mark S: I think your decision stinks. Both Stewart and Colbert report on the follies of both parties. It's comedy from comedians. Why don't you just contribute to the Tea Party.
Dan Duprey: NPR is forbidding attendance because someone, somewhere might consider these events to be political? Or just too darn centrist? This is really sad.
But this is the loopiest:
Deb Lawley: This kind of hypocrisy is the reason I stopped contributing to your network. Your news reporting is so biased towards the right as to be a joke. Mara Liasson fawned over George Bush and can't conceal her disgust that Obama won. Your commentaries are always skewed right, and your so-called experts are usually drawn from right-wing think tanks. What is beyond my understanding however is this. Your beloved conservatives cut your funding and forced you to cut back on programming, yet you still follow them like obedient pups, and require your staff to publicly lie about their personal beliefs if they contradict your conservative masters. And you call that ethics.