NPR Honors Hitchens the Scabrous Nun-Basher As 'International Sensation' of Atheism

National Public Radio is a playground for all the factions of the liberal base, including the atheists. That was clear on Friday with the passing of atheist author Christopher Hitchens. NPR didn't shrink from noticing that Hitchens viciously bashed the globally beloved nun Mother Teresa of Calcutta. They even reran a quote saying "Here's how he trashed her right after she died." (Obviously, the words were a little different, but not the politeness).

Everyone who insists that the media's obituaries should be kind and generous never met the NPR people who wanted to make sure Hitchens was slinging mud from their taxpayer-supported mudpit at Mother Teresa when she died. From the Morning Edition profile by David Folkenflik:

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Let's first pause simply to acknowledge the broad range of subjects that drew Christopher Hitchens's  caustic attention over the years. The list includes Henry Kissinger, Prince Charles, Bob Hope, Michael Moore, the Dalai Lama, and oh yes, this one.

GRAYDON CARTER: If you're at Vanity Fair and you're talking about some of the things that Christopher has taken on, at the very top of the list is going to be Mother Teresa.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Graydon Carter, editor at Vanity Fair and a longtime friend. In 1994, Hitchens co-wrote and narrated a documentary on her called "Hell's Angel."

HITCHENS (from "Hell's Angel"): This profane marriage between tawdry media hype and medieval superstition gave birth to an icon, which few have since had the poor taste to question.

FOLKENFLIK: Hitchens wrote about her for the magazine too. Carter says it didn't go over so well.

CARTER: That's a tough subject to go after, and it was quite negative. And we had hundreds of subscription cancellations, including some from our own staff.

Notice that NPR will acknowledge that's an unpopular position, but they don't seek out anyone who's truly critical of Hitchens, and certainly no one as mean-spirited as he was. They sought out friends and colleagues. This means that Mother Teresa received much meaner treatment than her meanest critic. And in a sense, it is both right to remember his Mother-bashing as a prominent theme, and perverse that at his death, she gets trashed all over again as a profane fraud,  while he does not.

On Friday's All Things Considered, religion reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty's piece also cited his "Hell's Angel" documentary. (No one wonders if that title better applied to Hitchens than his prey.) Hagerty oddly dated Hitchens rhetorically savaging the Muslims to 1979 and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and left out all that recent criticism of al-Qaeda:

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: It was not merely Islamic fundamentalism that worried Hitchens. He viewed all believers as deluded at best and fanatical at worst, even the saints. And so in typical Hitchens fashion, his next target was an icon.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS (soundbite of  "Hell's Angel"): What makes Teresa of Calcutta so divine?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: In his documentary about Mother Teresa and his 1995 book entitled "Missionary Position," Hitchens reviled the diminutive nun as an ambitious self-promoter who took money from dictators and criminals. Here's how he described her to NPR shortly after her death.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mother Teresa is a very important figure, it seemed to me, to expose as what she was: a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud. She was someone whose net effect was to make more people more poor and more miserable and more wretched.

NPR thought this was funny, not worth balancing.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: You know... (laughter) ...a lot of us were sort of like, yeah, Mother Teresa - it's Mother Teresa, leave her alone. What are you going to do?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Jeffrey Goldberg was a close friend and colleague.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG: When that Mother Teresa book came out, I thought, who next? The Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, God?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Yes, God. With his 2007 book "God Is Not Great," Hitchens became a voice for a growing atheist movement. He delighted crowds like this one at a book signing in Washington, D.C., ridiculing believers for rejoicing in an omniscient, omnipotent God, when he said the reign of this supposed God is akin to North Korea.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS (archive): An absolutely impermeable dictatorship that couldn't even be criticized, let alone overthrown, that went on forever, that supervised and invigilated your every waking moment and would not stop torturing you even after you were dead. To wish this to be true is to wish to be a slave.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: "God Is Not Great" became an instant bestseller and catapulted Hitchens from a highly regarded intellectual to an international sensation.'

So in a nutshell, this was NPR's Friday verdict. Hitchens, "highly regarded intellectual and international sensation." Mother Teresa, "a fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud." And God is Kim Jong-Il. Paid for with your tax dollars to your local NPR station.

It should be acknowledged that NPR would insist it's fair and balanced because it brought in his Christian debating partner, Dinesh D'Souza. But again notice how they did not bring D'Souza on NPR's air to do to Hitchens what he did to nuns. D'Souza is brought on as just another fan:

DINESH D'SOUZA: I would say that Hitchens became the most well-known atheist in America.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Dinesh D'Souza, president of the evangelical King's College in New York, was one of a few religious believers who dared to debate Hitchens. By all accounts, Hitchens was a devastating debater, seizing on logical weaknesses and often dominating the conversation with his words and his Oxford accent. Listen to this exchange at the University of Colorado in 2009, when D'Souza was trying to explain the difference between Christian and Islamic views of morality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED DEBATE)

DINESH D'SOUZA: In Christianity, you have the idea, for example, that morality is intentional. If you've contemplated to sin, Christ says in a sense you've committed it.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Thoughtcrime.

DINESH D'SOUZA: One second. The (unintelligible)...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Thoughtcrime. Totalitarianism again. Thoughtcrime.

DINESH D'SOUZA: Oh. Whether it is or not...

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: We know what you're thinking, and we can punish you for it. Totalitarianism defined.

DINESH D'SOUZA: He was sort of a bomb thrower, and he relied, you know, in a sense on shoot-from-the-hip type of arguments.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: But D'Souza says he's debated a lot of atheists, and Hitchens was his favorite.

DINESH D'SOUZA: His joie de vivre made him stand out among atheists. He was a happy atheist. So he was able somehow to communicate both that effervescence and at the same time to convey a certain depth that underneath it all he was a serious man.

If someone wants to insist that there was criticism in there -- that Hitchens shot from the hip -- then why would he be one's favorite foe? He had a way with a winning cheap shot? The NPR religion reporter ended by noting that Hitchens truly feared being turned into a fraud as he died: that someone would say he went soft and religious at death's door. So back we go to the buddies: 

HITCHENS: Under no persuasion could I be made to believe that a human sacrifice several thousand years ago vicariously redeems me from sin. Nothing could persuade me that that was true - or moral, by the way. It's white noise to me.

HAGERTY: Jeffrey Goldberg says, as Hitchens' health failed, he made a preemptive strike against those who might claim he had a deathbed conversion.

GOLDBERG: One of the things he said to me and other people was: If I lose my faculties, defend my reputation as an atheist. Basically, he said, if - God forbid - I say something about believing in God, will you please go out there and say, look, this is the medication, this is dementia, this is not the Hitchens that we know?

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The Hitchens he knew, Goldberg says, loved wine and friendship and debating the existential questions. As to his early death, Hitchens once said, I've been dealt a good hand by the cosmos, which doesn't know I'm here and won't know when I'm gone. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

NPR didn't go soft and air Rock of Ages at the obituary's end, as it did for radical feminist theologian Mary Daly. They also skipped "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis