The recently announced upcoming departure of NPR CEO Gary Knell serves as a useful time to look at the history of NPR leadership. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, NPR insists that it doesn’t play favorites in its news coverage of political parties. One indication of NPR’s actual commitment to being nonpartisan in its news coverage is its choice of President/CEO. Just from what is publicly known about NPR’s nine leaders over the past 42 years, most were known to be devoted Democrats before being hired. None were known to be Republicans (even liberal Republicans).
NPR’s first two leaders had no public history of partisan activity. The NPR board can’t take much credit for that, though. The first leader, Don Quayle, was picked before NPR was even broadcasting. The second leader, Lee Frischknecht, a life-long friend of Quayle’s and already second in command at NPR, was hand-picked by Quayle to take over at NPR, so that he could move on to another job. Those were unique cases.
But on Monday, 20 months later, Knell announced his decision to join the National Geographic Society as its president and CEO, even though that meant leaving NPR, which he said "is and will always bea beacon of journalistic integrity, commitment, and courage,” a claim NewsBusters has repeatedly demonstrated as false.
From October 25 – October 27, 2011, NPR’s investigative correspondent Laura Sullivan and NPR West producer Amy Walters made sensational charges against the state of South Dakota on NPR’s two largest news shows. They claimed that the state forcibly removed American Indian children from their families and placed them in white families for the purpose of receiving additional revenue from the U.S. government.
The series soon came under withering scrutiny by John Hinderaker at Power Line (see links below to his 6-part 2011 examination). Unbeknownst to Hinderaker and about everyone else, NPR’s independent ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos began his own inquiry into the series about the same time. He spent 22 months examining the reporting of the series and actually went back and re-reported what Sullivan and Walters had reported. The result is a stinging 80-page rebuke of Sullivan, Walters and their editors August 9, in which he characterized the series as “an injustice.” Here is an extended excerpt of Schumacher-Matos’ report summary (emphasis mine):
New York Times media reporter Elizabeth Jensen reported on new NPR CEO Gary Knell on Monday without devoting one word to conservative NPR critics in a piece loaded with public-broadcasting officialdom. The Times is clearly reporting from inside the NPR tank.
But Jensen did find time to quote the radical-left Noam Chomsky lovers at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) from October 7: "The media watchdog group...criticized Mr. Knell earlier when he said he wanted to 'depoliticize' the public broadcasting debate. The group has called such efforts 'code for appeasing public broadcasting’s conservative enemies by adding more right-wing content and censoring things they may not like.'” Jensen also sounded the tinny arf of a lapdog by utterly avoiding any mention of the Project Veritas "Muslim Brotherhood" video sting as she discussed people getting fired (for what?):
New NPR President Gary Knell made an appearance on their afternoon talk show Talk of the Nation on Friday (his first day) to give the appearance of transparency and responsiveness and to build morale after scandals such as the Juan Williams firing and the deeply embarrassing Muslim Brotherhood sting video, which led to several firings.
Knell just strained credulity beyond the breaking point by claiming NPR is not an advocacy organization, but a network of "fairness and accuracy and honesty," and it's "probably barred by our charter." It's correct that the founding Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 called for objectivity and balance in "all programming of a controversial nature," but NPR has followed that legal language about as seriously as Bill Clinton has upheld his marital vows. One might say this is a promising rhetorical start -- until you listen daily to the product right now.
Incoming NPR president Gary Knell smugly dismissed NPR critics in an interview with James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times. "If you listen over a period of time you hear voices from all ends of the political spectrum on NPR," Knell argued. "I think a lot of the critics, by what they say, don't even listen to the service." (Dear Mr. Smug: read the NPR section of NewsBusters, with links to your transcripts.)
That's not the only smug echo among the NPR rookies. Another line is that conservatives (or people who agree there's a liberal tilt) aren't the "real listeners," the "core audience" of NPR -- even if they're "core" funders through taxes. That's what new NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos said in an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation on October 11: