NPR Plays Dumb: 'Nothing Terribly Ideological' About Saul Alinsky

People at National Public Radio boast about themselves as a network for the smart people. So why must they try to tell smart people that a man who writes a book called “Rules for Radicals” offered “nothing terribly ideological” in his activism?

In an attempt to "correct" Newt Gingrich on Monday night’s All Things Considered newscast, NPR correspondent Ina Jaffe became merely the latest in a line of liberal-media specialists in selling the Opposite of Reality: that Alinsky wasn’t a leftist, and that besides, the conservatives are the ones using Alinsky’s radical rules:

INA JAFFE: Barack Obama proudly talks about his days as a community organizer in Chicago. And the late Chicagoan Saul Alinsky wrote the book on community organizing. Two books actually. The most famous is "Rules For Radicals," published in 1971. Despite that title, there was really nothing terribly ideological about Saul Alinsky, says his biographer, Sanford Horwitt.

Stop. The other book is titled “Reveille for Radicals.” Could we please stop trying to imply he wasn’t a radical leftist writing to a radical audience? He wasn’t leftist, said the biographer, he just wanted to hand all the power to the lower-income people:

SANFORD HORWITT: He wanted to see especially lower income people who were getting pushed around to exercise some influence and even power over decisions that affected their lives.

JAFFE: Alinsky began that work in the 1930s and kept at it until his death 40 years ago. In an interview with the late Studs Terkel, Alinsky said he was much more concerned with the how of politics than the what.

Insisting Alinsky’s not ideological by citing Studs Terkel is like trying to claim Newt Gingrich is not ideological by citing Jonah Goldberg. Terkel was very bit as radical as Alinsky.

Like Soledad O’Brien and Melinda Henneberger, Jaffe suggested that Alinsky’s model of disrupting the powerful in their own neighborhoods is now a right-wing tactic: “The tactic is still used today and sometimes by conservatives. Opponents of abortion rights, for example, have picketed the homes of abortion providers.” How this makes Alinsky less radical is anyone’s guess.

How stupid does NPR think conservatives are? Answer: pretty stupid. Jaffe turned to Newt-phobic moderate Republican strategist Dan Schnur to suggest conservatives really don’t know this Alinsky fellow like the smart NPR people who know he’s somehow not a radical:

JAFFE: Dan Schnur, a political analyst at the University of Southern California, says when Gingrich mentions Alinsky's name, his audience doesn't know these details and doesn't particularly care. [!]

DAN SCHNUR: They know that he represents a liberal viewpoint and, from the context of Gingrich's remarks, they know that he's someone to disapprove of.

JAFFE: Schnur says Gingrich has two goals in mind when he brings up Alinsky.

SCHNUR: Not only does he get to link Obama to a noted liberal activist, but he gets to remind voters what Gingrich considers to be one of his own greatest strengths, his intellectual firepower.

JAFFE: But in a debate in Florida last week, Gingrich's claim to be the big ideas candidate was belittled as grandiose by rival Rick Santorum. Gingrich embraced the criticism.

GINGRICH: I accept the charge that I am an American, and Americans are instinctively grandiose because they believe in a bigger future. (Applause)

JAFFE: So, Gingrich took Santorum's attack and turned it into something positive for himself - a page right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.

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