Sat. May 25th, 2024

NPR reels from editor’s public rebuke, allegations of liberal bias  

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May23,2024

NPR is reeling from an ugly and contentious internal fight after an editor offered a scathing public criticism of his newsroom, saying left-wing bias threatened to erode trust with its listeners.  

The editor, Uri Berliner, resigned just days after many of his furious colleagues expressed outrage that his public attacks on the outlet were not only wrong and self-serving but also deeply unfair. 

Longtime critics of NPR in the Republican Party, meanwhile, have piled on, saying the criticism from Berliner and the newsroom’s reaction to it confirm their long-held views of the outlet.  

Berliner’s public lambasting of his own outlet, brief suspension and then swift resignation created a spiraling mess for NPR’s newly hired leadership.

Those executives now find themselves in the crosshairs of their employees as they try to solidify trust inside the company and fend off a steady stream of attacks coming daily from the political right in the wake of Berliner’s essay.  

Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who focuses on the media, said it was clear Berliner was going to have to go.

“The problem is many at NPR consider him a traitor while he sees himself, not so much as a whistleblower, but as someone who wants the company to take a look at themselves and assess what they are doing right and wrong,” said Berkovitz.

Berliner, a senior editor for NPR’s business desk who has worked at the public broadcast service for more than two decades, argued in his controversial op-ed that the outlet has skewed disproportionately to the left and alienated a broader audience in the process.  

“It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent, but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding,” Berliner wrote, adding the outlet was increasingly only providing its audience with “the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population.”  

The piece’s publication last week sent NPR’s newsroom into a frenzy while leading conservatives to praise Berliner’s rebuke. Staffers have said the op-ed poses a threat to them and undermines their work.

“NO MORE FUNDING FOR NPR, A TOTAL SCAM! EDITOR SAID THEY HAVE NO REPUBLICANS, AND IS ONLY USED TO ‘DAMAGE TRUMP,’” former President Trump exclaimed in one social media post about the essay.  

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) renewed a call for Congress to “defund NPR.”  

Former GOP presidential candidate and commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, meanwhile, posted a video online calling Berliner “admirable” for his decision to “defect” from the outlet.   

NPR for years has been on the receiving end of attacks from right-wing antagonists targeting its funding. Last year, the outlet stopped posting its journalism on the social platform X after owner Elon Musk attached an official “state media” label to its account.  

The majority of NPR’s funding comes from private sponsorships and user contributions; it also receives a smaller portion of its financing from the federal government and member stations.  

Berliner, in his resignation letter to NPR leadership, said he does not support calls to “defund” the outlet, but stands by the assertions about its political leanings and news-gathering processes.  

“I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” he said. “But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

After Berliner’s op-ed was published, Katherine Maher, the former head of Wikimedia who took over as the outlet’s CEO in March, alluded to the piece in a note to staff.  

“Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning,” she said.  

Adding fuel to the fire has been a stream of years-old social media posts from Maher resurfaced by conservative activists that show her praising Democrats and promoting progressive ideas before she took over at the company.  

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik said this week during an appearance on cable news channel NewsNation that the drama Berliner’s piece sparked had amounted to a legitimate crisis for the outlet.  

“He said he was actually at peace. He’s hoping to, he says engender a conversation and a debate and introspection inside NPR. He has, I think, to some extent done that,” Folkenflik said about his conversations with Berliner. “He has also engendered a lot of dismay and discouragement from colleagues who feel that he has unfairly represented their journalism, unfairly represented their judgment and unfairly represented why they were hired at the network itself.” 

In a statement to The Hill after Berliner was suspended, NPR said it “does not comment on individual personnel matters, including discipline,” but noted it “expect[s] all of our employees to comply with NPR policies and procedures.”

The outlet did not respond to questions about how its leaders planned to deal specifically with the fallout of the Berliner episode internally.  

There are signs, however, that the network is using the Berliner episode as an opportunity to review its editorial practices.  

Maher told staff in her memo she will be implementing quarterly network-wide editorial planning and review meetings, tapping interim Chief Content Officer Edith Chapin to establish “a broad-based, rotating group” that will meet monthly to review coverage across all platforms.

“Our values are a direct outgrowth of this moment: the independence of a public trust, the responsibility to capture the voice and spirit of a nation, a willingness to push boundaries to tell the stories that matter,” Maher wrote.  

But many on NPR’s staff want to see a more forceful condemnation of Berliner’s assertions from its leadership.  

In a letter to Maher and Chapin this week, which was signed by more than four dozen staffers, NPR’s journalists called on the two top leaders to “publicly and directly call out [Berliner’s] factual inaccuracies and elisions.”  

“Clearer communication and response to these concerns would go a long way toward helping restore some sense of collective morale that has eroded within the last week,” the staffers wrote, according to The New York Times.  

But to some observers, the damage to NPR’s brand has already been done, and the Berliner episode further underscores the increasing partisan divide across much of the media. 

“If this is about NPR being on the left, I don’t think that’s a big surprise to anyone,” Juan Williams, a Fox News contributor who worked for a decade at the public broadcaster, told The Hill. “Everyone in this polarized media landscape is trying to figure out the difference between catering to an audience and pandering to an audience.”  

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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2 thoughts on “NPR reels from editor’s public rebuke, allegations of liberal bias  ”
  1. Do you think the criticism of liberal bias at NPR will have a lasting impact on the trust of its listeners?

  2. As a journalist, I believe it’s essential for news outlets to maintain objectivity and transparency. The recent controversy at NPR highlights the importance of addressing internal biases to ensure trust and credibility with the audience. It’s a challenging situation, but necessary for journalistic integrity.

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