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.
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.
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 .) 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.
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.
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.
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.
NPR has become Fox News for the radio. There is no semblance of balance in their coverage of politics.
|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|
|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|
|show date||guest||affiliation||more information|
|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.|
|8/25/2010||Tom Rath, Michael Barone, Libby Casey||reporters|
|8/18/2010||Susan MacManus and Ted Robbins||professor and reporter|
|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|
|7/7/2010||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|
|6/9/2010||Jon Ralston, Julie Rose||columnist and reporter|
|5/26/2010||John Dankosky||news director at WNPR|
|5/12/2010||Rand Paul||right-wing extremist whack job|
|5/5/2010||Arlen Specter||Benedict Arnold|
|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.|
|4/21/2010||Beth Reinhard, Janine Parry||reporter and professor|
|3/31/2010||Lou Frey||Republican||former Congressman|
|3/24/2010||Vin Weber||Republican||political strategist|
|3/17/2010||Andy Stern||presumably Democrat||president of SEIU|
|3/10/2010||Ruy Tixeira, Matt Continetti||reporters|
|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|
|1/6/2010||Dick Armey||Republican||former Majority Leader in the US House of Reps|
|12/30/2009||no political junkie segment this Wednesday|
|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||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||Mike Huckabee||Republican||former Arkansas Governor & presidential candidate|
|10/28/2009||Irene Jay Liu||reporter|
|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|
|10/7/2009||Taylor Branch||reporter||author of "the clinton tapes"|
 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.