NPR Ombudsman 'Loved' to Discover Republicans Get More 'Fiscal Cliff' Soundbites Than Democrats

December 13th, 2012 2:03 PM

NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos has demonstrated he's not interested in the argument that NPR has a liberal bias. But he has repeatedly addressed listeners who are angry NPR favors Republicans too much, or fails to pounce immediately on leftist PR stunts like Occupy Wall Street.

On Wednesday, his post began: "Arthur Price of New York City asked this provocative question: 'Is it my imagination or is NPR featuring an excessive number of Republican voices when it comes to the so-called 'fiscal cliff'?' I didn't know, but I loved the issue he raised." Their internal count of stories from November 7 to December 6 said yes, Republicans were more quoted:

The aggregate number, however, indeed favors the GOP. Schwartz found 94 voices that clearly were Republicans — they were usually introduced as such — versus 77 clear Democrats.

Over the course of the month measured, this amounted to one more Republican voice every two days or so. Is this significant? And does it prove that NPR listeners are hearing from an "excessive" proportion of Republicans, as Mr. Price alleged? I don't think so. The difference was additionally diluted by 68 voices we classified as "other" because they were introduced either as nonpartisan or there was doubt as to each person's political affiliation.

So NPR isn't counting people their own journalists didn't classify. So let's take economist Alan Blinder, with four soundbites in a December 5 All Things Considered story. Blinder served on President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors (January 1993 to June 1994), and was appointed by Clinton to be Vice Chairman at the Federal Reserve (June 1994 to January 1996). But he wasn't counted as a "clear Democrat," because that due diligence might just balance out the soundbites.

Schumacher-Matos also tried to explain his manufactured Republican tilt this way, that Republicans are the newsworthy ones, because they're going to have to cave in:

There could be many justifications based on news value, moreover, for the slight imbalance. The Democrats are united behind President Obama, for example, but the Republicans are divided. And they are under the greatest public pressure in polls to compromise, making them more newsworthy to follow. In fact, the major political question at the moment appears to be how much Republicans eventually will concede to the president.

We also didn't look at which Republicans and Democrats were quoted on air and where they fell on the ideological spectrum. [Italics his.]  In particular, many progressive Democrats to the left of Obama and outside Congress complain about not being heard in the current debate. Far-right Republicans are strongly represented in Congress, and so their voices are prominent, if not always heeded these days.

You have to be slightly amused at labeling bias inside the ombudsman's articles on bias.

In fact, it matters how Republicans are used inside these reports. For example, the GOP's "advantage" was partially caused by a December 6 All Things Considered story headlined "Boehner Faces Conservative Backlash Over 'Fiscal Cliff' Talks." Six Republicans (and no Democrats) were quoted, most of them making pained expressions that they don't hate Boehner. Republicans were on the defensive throughout.

In another story on the December 5 Morning Edition that only carried one soundbite -- a Republican -- there was a similar air of doom:

TAMARA KEITH: And Republicans, even conservatives in the House conference, realize they're in a tough spot. I want to play a piece of tape from James Langford. He's a freshman from Oklahoma and this is how he summed up the GOP bargaining position yesterday.

JAMES LANGFORD: It's a terrible position because by default the Democrats get what they want. They get spending decreases in defense on a very significant level and they get tax rates to go up to the Clinton level, that they all, over and over again, say we like that Clinton tax rates. They get that by default.

TAMARA KEITH: He basically said that all they can do now is argue their position on tax rates, hope for the best and try to get this over as soon as possible.

So dream on, Arthur Price of New York City, with your "imagination" that NPR is pro-Republican.