NPR’s Conservative Bias

NPR’s Conservative Bias

A detailed analysis of political coverage by National Public Radio reveals a distinct partisan bias.  The following article provides irrefutable numeric evidence to support this conclusion.

While biased news coverage is commonplace in today’s media, most of us have come to expect better from NPR, which strives to garner paid memberships through its open-minded capacity to “consider all things” as it were.  We expect National Public Radio to make a conscious effort to provide nonpartisan news coverage.  Indeed, most people, if asked, would probably say that National Public Radio is subject to a liberal bias.  But numbers don’t lie; and the numbers say that NPR’s coverage of politics is heavily slanted in favor of the conservative viewpoint.  If you don’t believe my calculations, I invite you to visit NPR’s online archives, create a spreadsheet, and draw your own conclusions.  The data is there for anyone who wishes to parse it.

Requests for Comment

I contacted NPR’s Talk of the Nation repeatedly with requests for comment for this story, but they chose not to respond.  After several days I then went over their heads and contacted NPR’s corporate office directly; but NPR corporate likewise did not respond, much to my disappointment.

Premise

It would not have been practical to comb through every single news story on every program that NPR has aired over the past year.  For the purpose of this analysis, NPR’s overall political leanings are represented by “The Political Junkie,” a regular feature specifically dedicated to coverage of politics and the political arena.  Readers who feel that a single show about politics does not fairly represent the organization’s overall political bias (even though it features NPR’s senior political editor) may simply choose to read the following as an indictment of that particular program.

Background

National Public Radio’s two-hour call-in program Talk of the Nation airs at midday every weekday (the precise hour depends on your time zone; on the West Coast it begins at 11am).  Each Wednesday, Talk of the Nation opens with a segment called The Political Junkie.  The Political Junkie segment usually features NPR’s senior political editor Ken Rudin, although others occasionally fill in when he is away.

Ken Rudin is a controversial figure who has repeatedly called President Obama’s birth certificate into question on the air, thereby aligning himself with some of the most extreme voices in the conservative movement.  (See here and here .)[1] As related above, NPR did not even bother to decline to comment on this story; they made no response at all; but if it were possible to get a reply out of Ken Rudin, he might explain away his comments as a joke.  I for one was not laughing.

Methodology

In order to determine whether or not The Political Junkie demonstrates a political bias, I analyzed transcripts posted on NPR’s website http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5 .  I created a spreadsheet, and in it I noted all the guests who have appeared on the show for the past year, and their political affiliation where applicable.

Guests on the show included politicians, activists, journalists, pollsters, analysts, and academics.  Candidates and party officials were identified by their affiliation.  (I counted Arlen Specter as a Democrat, even though he is a recently Republican turncoat.)  Guests from think tanks were identified by their institution’s known affiliation.  Lobbyists and campaign workers were identified by political affiliation if it was stated in the piece.  Otherwise, no effort was made to determine the political affiliation of journalists, pollsters, analysts, or academics.

The only guests counted were formal guests who had been invited by the program’s producers to provide commentary.  I did not tally the individual callers or their political affiliation, although a comprehensive analysis of who gets past the screeners might also be telling.

In addition to the guests themselves, my spreadsheet noted the following:

  • Titles of the shows from the past six months
  • Specific groups who were asked to call in over the course of the past six months; for example, “Voters in Delaware, we want to hear from you, give us a call.”

Finally, I went through and counted all the political advertisements played on the show over the course of the past month.  This was very time consuming, as it requires reading each transcript in detail; but a month’s worth of shows seemed like a reasonable sample, especially since the month in question is the lead-up to an election, a time period when news outlets should be trying harder than ever to provide balanced coverage.

All source data is posted at the bottom of this article for reference.

Guests on The Political Junkie

In the past year, The Political Junkie has featured 23 guests who were either conservative or extremely conservative.  In the same time period, the show has featured 18 guests who were moderate or progressive.  The Political Junkie featured 27.8% more conservative guests in the past year. If this had been an election, it would have been a landslide.  (Incidentally, the number was skewed even more heavily towards conservatives when I began writing this piece; but the show brought another Democrat on while I was waiting for a response from NPR.)

The astute reader may note that for the September 29 air date, I included two show titles.  The Political Junkie show itself varies in length but often lasts 45 minutes.  The September 29 show was the only Political Junkie show in the entire year to follow an initial half-hour segment with a fifteen minute “Op-Ed” piece.  Since the Op-Ed piece was specifically about politics, I considered it a continuation of The Political Junkie, which was how it sounded when I originally heard it aired live.

A year’s worth of Political Junkie guests are listed here.

Political Junkie Show Subjects in the Past Six Months

In the past six months, there were 11 shows that were specifically dedicated to discussion of the Tea Party or to various Republican races. During the same time there were just 5 shows specifically covering Democrats and Democratic issues.  The remaining 12 shows during this period were not specifically related to a given political affiliation.

The Political Junkie aired 120% more shows covering conservative issues. That’s right: more than twice as many.

Of the relatively few shows that did discuss Democrats specifically, 3 of them were highly critical.  By comparison, of the much larger number of shows that discussed the Tea Party and Republicans, none of them were critical: none at all.

Show topics are listed here.

Voter Groups Whose Input Was Requested in the Past Six Months

In the past six months, The Political Junkie has twice specifically asked for Republicans to call in (May 12 and April 14).  Within this same time period the show has never specifically asked for Democrats to call in.  (On several other occasions, voters from a specific state were asked to call in, usually in connection with a primary race featuring a Tea Party candidate, although on those occasions the show’s host did not name a particular political party when asking callers to pick up the phone.)

Political Advertisements Played on The Political Junkie in the Past Month

The number of political ads played on The Political Junkie in the past month is a crucial metric for several reasons.  The time period considered here is essential, because it is the lead-up to an important election.  By playing these ads, the radio show is communicating the messages contained within the advertisements to NPR’s listening audience.  The groups involved get the benefit of having their message rebroadcast to a much larger audience at no additional cost.  As long as there is some balance between the number of advertisements for each faction, it is reasonable to argue that the advertisements are presented for discussion.  However, any imbalance amounts to free political advertising.

The imbalance is staggering.  In the past month, The Political Junkie has aired 9 Republican advertisements (either ads for a Republican, or ads against a Democrat).  In the same time period, the show aired only 3 ads from the other side (either for a Democrat or against a Republican).  The show played three times as many Republican advertisements. This single statistic alone blows any question of balance out of the water.

The simple fact is that Talk of the Nation’s Political Junkie show, and by extension National Public Radio itself, is overtly promoting the Republican agenda.

Political advertisements aired by The Political Junkie in the past month are listed here.

Conclusion

NPR has become Fox News for the radio. There is no semblance of balance in their coverage of politics.

Political Advertisements Aired by The Political Junkie

10/6/2010 ad by Meg Whitman, Republican
10/6/2010 ad by Jerry Brown, Democrat
10/6/2010 ad by Rand Paul, nutcase
9/29/2010 ad by Meg Whitman, Republican
9/29/2010 ad AGAINST Michael Bennet, Democrat
9/29/2010 ad AGAINST Daniel Webster, Republican
9/29/2010 ad by Harry Reid, Democrat
9/29/2010 ad AGAINST John Boehner, Republican
9/29/2010 ad AGAINST Nancy Pelosi, Democrat
9/29/2010 ad AGAINST Obama and Democrats in general
9/29/2010 ad by Carly Fiorina, Republican
9/22/2010 ad by Lisa Murkowski, Republican

Show Topics on The Political Junkie

Date Show Title
10/6/2010 Boxer, Fiorina At Odds in Calif. Senate Race
9/29/2010 Op-Ed: Conservatism does not equal racism
9/29/2010 Political Attack Ads Work, But Are They True?
9/22/2010 Tea Party Victory Shakes up New York Politics
9/15/2010 Big Tuesday for Tea Party Candidates
9/8/2010 Tea Party sets sights on Delaware
9/1/2010 The Big Issues of the 2010 Elections
8/25/2010 Is There A Sarah Palin Effect?
8/18/2010 Sunshine State Political Campaigns Heating Up
8/11/2010 Remembering Sen. Stevens and Rep. Rostenkowski
8/4/2010 2010 Political Primaries Update
7/28/2010 Bennet, Romanoff Vie for Colo. Senate Seat
7/21/2010 Charged Atmosphere Surrounds Sherrod Accusation
7/14/2010 Rep. Bob Inglis on Republican "Demagoguery"
7/7/2010 Immigration Lawsuit Sends Candidates Scrambling
6/30/2010 Remembering Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator
6/23/2010 McChrystal Resigns, Obama Names Petraeus
6/16/2010 The Political Junkie Takes New Hampshire
6/9/2010 Women Won Big in Tuesday Primaries
6/9/2010 How Emotive should a president be?
6/2/2010 The 2010 Primary Season, Coast to Coast
5/26/2010 Blumenthal Taking Heat for "misstatements"
5/19/2010 Primary Voters Send Anti-Establishment Message
5/12/2010 Ky. Race for Sen. Bunning’s Seat heats up
5/5/2010 Specter the Incumbent, but not the shoo-in
4/28/2010 Ark. Candidates for Senate Look to May Vote
4/21/2010 Republican Crist May Run as Independent In Fla.
4/14/2010 Republicans: Who’s Your Candidate for 2012?
4/7/2010 Court Watchers Speculate Over Potential Vacancy

Political Junkie Guests

show date guest affiliation more information
10/6/2010 Barbara Boxer Democrat Senator
10/6/2010 Carly Fiorina Republican challenger
9/29/2010 Gerard Alexander conservative American Enterprise Institute
9/29/2010 Evan Tracey analyst Campaign Media Analysis Group
9/22/2010 Carl Paladino Tea Party gubernatorial candidate
9/15/2010 Mickey Carrol pollster director of University Polling Institute
9/15/2010 Andy Smith professor professor of political science
9/8/2010 Amy Kremer Tea Party "director of grassroots and coalitions for the Tea Party Express and… a keynote speaker at the Tea Party convention earlier this year in Nashville"
9/8/2010 Tom Ross Republican chair of the Delaware Republican Party
9/1/2010 Anna Greenberg moderate Worked on Clinton and Gore campaigns.
9/1/2010 Alex Vogel Republican lobbyist
8/25/2010 Tom Rath, Michael Barone, Libby Casey reporters
8/18/2010 Susan MacManus and Ted Robbins professor and reporter
8/11/2010 Libby Casey reporters
8/4/2010 Steve Kraske, Marcus Pohlmann reporter and professor
7/28/2010 Andrew Romanoff Democrat senatorial candidate (challenger)
7/28/2010 Michael Bennet Democrat Senator (incumbent)
7/21/2010 Donna Brazile Democrat political strategist
7/14/2010 Bob Inglis Republican Congressman from South Carolina
7/14/2010 Mark DiCamillo pollster
7/7/2010 E. J. Montini reporter
6/30/2010 Jon Ralston, Robert Rupp columnist and professor
6/23/2010 Tom Gjelten, Robert Dallek, Major General Mike Davidson, BradWarthen reporter, historian, military, political blogger 
6/16/2010 Ovide Lamontagne Republican
6/16/2010 Bill Binnie Republican
6/16/2010 Kelly Ayotte Republican
6/16/2010 Arnie Aneson reporter
6/16/2010 Josh Rogers reporter
6/9/2010 Jon Ralston, Julie Rose columnist and reporter
6/9/2010 Scott Horsley reporter
6/2/2010 Cathleen Decker reporter
5/26/2010 John Dankosky news director at WNPR
5/19/2010 Don Gonyea reporter
5/12/2010 Trey Grayson Republican
5/12/2010 Rand Paul right-wing extremist whack job
5/5/2010 Arlen Specter Benedict Arnold
5/5/2010 Joe Sestak Democrat
5/5/2010 note that they attempted to get Republican Pat Toomey on the show but he was unable to participate because his wife had a baby.
4/28/2010 Bill Halter Democrat
4/28/2010 Blanche Lincoln Democrat
4/28/2010 Mike Thompson reporter
4/21/2010 Beth Reinhard, Janine Parry reporter and professor
4/14/2010 Don Gonyea reporter
4/7/2010 Amy Howe blogger
3/31/2010 Lou Frey Republican former Congressman
3/31/2010 Scott Horsley reporter
3/24/2010 Vin Weber Republican political strategist
3/24/2010 Anna Greenberg Democrat pollster
3/17/2010 Andy Stern presumably Democrat president of SEIU
3/10/2010 Ruy Tixeira, Matt Continetti reporters
3/3/2010 Mitt Romney Republican
3/3/2010 Danny Hakim reporter
2/24/2010 Wayne Slater reporter
2/17/2010 Brian Howey analyst
2/10/2010 Rick Pearson reporter
2/3/2010 Rick Pearson reporter
1/27/2010 Peter Robinson Republican presidential speechwriter (reagan)
1/27/2010 Paul Glastris Democrat presidential speechwriter (clinton)
1/20/2010 Billy Vassiladis Democrat political strategist
1/20/2010 Dick Wadhams Republican chairman of the Colorado Republican Party
1/13/2010 John Heilmann reporter
1/6/2010 Colin McEnroe journalist
1/6/2010 Dave Thompson journalist
1/6/2010 Dick Armey Republican former Majority Leader in the US House of Reps
12/30/2009 no political junkie segment this Wednesday
12/30/2009 no guests
12/16/2009 Marc Mutty conservative former chair of Stand for Marriage Maine
12/16/2009 Joe Solmonese moderate president of Human Rights Campaign
12/16/2009 Irene Jay Liu reporter
12/9/2009 Dan Payne Democrat media consultant
12/9/2009 Faiz Shakir progressive Center for American Progress
12/2/2009 Fred Thys, Shaila Dewan, Don Gonyea reporters
11/25/2009 Fred Barbash reporter
11/25/2009 Deepak Chopra no obvious affiliation
11/18/2009 Matthew Continetti Republican nominally a reporter, but there to talk about his book, "The persecution of Palin: how the elite media tried to bring down a rising star"
11/11/2009 Nancy Keenan liberal president of NARAL Pro-Choice America
11/4/2009 Hendrik Hertzberg reporter
11/4/2009 Mike Huckabee Republican former Arkansas Governor & presidential candidate
10/28/2009 Irene Jay Liu reporter
10/28/2009 Robert Holsworth analyst
10/28/2009 Jon Corzine Democrat Governor of New Jersey
10/28/2009 Chris Daggett Independent (conservative) gubernatorial candidate
10/28/2009 Joe Kyrillos Republican Chairman of the Chris Christie for Senate campaign
10/21/2009 David Carr reporter
10/14/2009 Ezra Klein reporter
10/14/2009 Beth Reinhard reporter
10/7/2009 Taylor Branch reporter author of "the clinton tapes"

[1] Incidentally, that second Ken Rudin “birth certificate” comment cited above was made on NPR’s program Tell Me More, hosted by Michel Martin, who is the only NPR host or reporter who I have ever heard explicitly identify their own political affiliation on the air: of course she is a Republican.  If I had been cherry picking a show to demonstrate NPR’s political bias, I would have picked hers; Tell Me More does not even pretend to be a balanced program.  It is extraordinarily slanted; so much so that I won’t even bother to get into it here, other than to note that Martin regularly forces her religious views on her audience.

About Jesse S. Smith

I’m just a regular guy who happens to have had a lot of interesting experiences. I believe in self-improvement, both for the individual and for society as a whole. I’m subject to strong opinions, but I’m trying to learn to be less confrontational about the way I present them.

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One Response to NPR’s Conservative Bias

  1. I think you should send this information to the Rachel Maddow blog and also to Keith Oberman. This info needs to be public!! THanks for doing the hard work!