Another saga in my ongoing campaign against media bias.
I didn’t start it.
There I was, minding my own business, when a local public radio station sent me an e-mail to inform me that my opinion does not matter to them.
No, really! It was the strangest thing. Usually, if you don’t care about someone’s opinion, you just ignore them; but apparently my local public radio station really, really wanted me to know just how much they don’t care what I think, and they went out of their way to tell me so. I found this to be quite rude of them, so naturally I sent a response. Well, they hadn’t wanted my opinion in the first place, so the fact that I expressed one made them really angry. Our exchange follows.
Now, to be fair, the initial e-mail, the one that I found so provoking, was not just directed at me personally. It was the public radio version of a spam bomb, sent out to something called the Public Insight Network. How I got on this list, I have no idea. I am fairly certain that I never gave my personal contact information to my local station for this purpose. I know this is the first time they’ve contacted me in this manner. It’s possible that I may have once given my e-mail address to an NPR affiliate in another city, many years ago, before I moved here, and that station has been sharing my contact information without my permission. Or, perhaps more likely, either the local station or NPR corporate added me to the list when I submitted a comment online some time ago, in which I was complaining about the bias of their programming.
The e-mail I received was a request for comment on several issues, apparently for background information in support of stories under development. I’ll only include the relevant bit:
It’s an election year. Republicans are picking their nominee for president and we at Kxxx would like to know more conservatives. So I’m asking you for your conservative views – or if you have none I’m asking you to share our questions with friends who might. Another option would be to click on the form and use the tools to put it up in Facebook, if you’re into that sort of thing. That way your friends might decide to help build the common fund of understanding. We want to know if conservatives feel represented. We want to know what life experience conservative values come from.
Really? You think the conservative viewpoint is so under-represented in the media that you want to do a story about it? And you honestly can’t find sources for your story about the conservative viewpoint? So you’re spamming the Public Insight Network to solicit opinions, but you only want to hear from conservatives, not the actual “public.” Why don’t you just ask your neighbors? Or your parents? Or, since this already sounds like an opinion piece, why don’t you just state your own conservative opinion and leave the rest of us alone?
So I hit reply and said,
Conservative views are extremely over-represented in the media.
Media sources repeat conservative talking points constantly. Progressive views are given substantially less airtime. See my link below for an example.
Thanks so much for going out of your way to seek out more conservative views in our already conservative dominated society.
It is my hope that one of these years your organization will begin to show some interest in presenting a balanced view, instead.
Author, Principles for a Self-Directed Society
I assumed that this message would be ignored, as every other message I’ve sent to various NPR member stations about programming bias has always gone ignored. But apparently I touched a nerve, because I received a very annoyed sounding response from someone who used the title, “Journalist” in her e-mail signature line. Now, I’m not trying to destroy her career, so I’m not going to use her full name, or reveal which station she works for. I will even X out the station’s call letters and location, when it comes up in this conversation. She’s probably young; maybe she’s an intern for all I know. I think a more experienced journalist would not have spammed the Public Insight Network to find sources for a story like this. I think a more experienced journalist would probably be able to think of something more important to write a story about. Most significantly, I think a more experienced journalist would have ignored my message. Everyone else always does.
But not Carolyn! She got mad, and fired back this response. For brevity and clarity, I’m interspersing my reactions within the body of her message.
NPR is a radio production house in Washington DC. Kxxx is public radio station located in xxxx. We buy content from NPR, but then again we buy content from many production houses, including the one that gives us Alternative Radio.
I’m vaguely aware that this program exists, but in all the years I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never once heard it. It reminds me of a Zen koan about a tree falling in the woods:
“If a program is broadcast during hours when there is no listening audience, does anybody care?”
So the first problem with what you said was that you cast judgment on my organization because of your view of another organization.
She misunderstood me. (She’s hardly the first.) I never said she worked for NPR. I referred to “the media,” and sent a link to a post on my blog, which discussed an NPR program that is broadcast by the station that she works for. Since her station broadcasts the program in question, I maintain that this is a fair association.
The second is that you are equating maintaining openness to repeating talking points.
Openness would be served if the talking points of both sides were given more or less equal coverage. My entire point is that one side is hugely, outlandishly, consistently favored. In the example that I cited, conservative viewpoints (as measured by show topics) outweighed moderate or progressive views by more than two to one. This is clear favoritism. When the media only discusses one side’s perspective, the media loses any right to claim neutrality. The media has, in fact, become the mouthpiece of one perspective, and has taken sides against any other perspective.
Let’s end the list there.
Oh, well that’s a bummer! I was still waiting for her to have a good point.
I know a lot of people think their views represent Truth, so the other side’s must represent lies or falsity. The only cure I’ve found for this is travel.
Well, that’s just pure elitism; but if she really wants to get into a pissing match about travel experience, I’m willing to bet that I’ve been to more countries and spent more time overseas than she has.
So, she’s objecting to the fact that I have an opinion? But in her first message, she was specifically looking for people who have an opinion! Oh, but I have a different opinion; and different opinions should be mocked as dogmatism. Thanks for enlightening me.
Obviously I couldn’t just sit there and let her get away with making those kinds of statements, not when she uses the title of “Journalist” in her e-mail signature line.
So I wrote her again, and said:
I know what station you represent, and I’ve traveled extensively. The judgment I expressed was based entirely on the message that you sent me, and the link I provided was just one example… as was your reply, in which you apparently claim that you’re pursuing openness.
In the message you sent me on the 3rd, you’re explicitly NOT pursuing a meaningful dialogue which is inclusive of multiple perspectives: you are ONLY asking for the opinions of conservatives.
I quote from your original message:
“I’m asking you for your conservative views – or if you have none I’m asking you to share our questions with friends who might.”
Not, “or if you’re not a conservative, share whatever views you have.” Just, “if you’re not a conservative, help us find one, because they’re the only people we want to hear from!”
This is the definition of one-sided journalism, and it is absolutely the opposite of the openness you profess to pursue. You cannot tell me that you want to pursue a dialogue that invites multiple perspectives, because you don’t get that kind of dialogue by only inviting input from one single viewpoint. That’s what’s called “one-sided.”
I think we’ll both be happiest if you remove my email address from your future e-mail blasts. Thank you.
Again, I didn’t expect a response from her; and by this time, I didn’t even want one. But she sent me one anyway!
It is not hard to find xxxx-area liberals who feel inclined to share their life experience with a public radio station. The reverse is less true. I am redressing an imbalance. A shame that we cannot agree.
Well, at least she wasn’t nasty; but in every material respect, she is quite simply wrong.
I continue to completely, wholeheartedly disagree that the imbalance in question favors the liberal perspective. Every time I turn on the radio, watch the television, look at a newspaper, or visit a mainstream news website, I am treated to the conservative viewpoint. There is no shortage of conservative viewpoints in the media. Quite the opposite is true. The conservative perspective dominates every major media outlet in America; and Carolyn is only helping them to make the conservative domination of public radio more massive.
The media is tasked with the awesome responsibility of informing the public about the major issues that face us all. Unfortunately, the coverage provided by the major news outlets is woefully one-sided, and only getting more so, thanks to liberal-hating “journalists” who go out of their way to represent the dominant viewpoint, all the while complaining that the dominant viewpoint does not receive enough coverage. The media consistently, repeatedly fails to ask the hard questions. Where was the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq? They were trumpeting the line about the weapons of mass destruction. That was the moment I lost faith in public radio, and I don’t see my faith getting restored this decade; not while public radio continues to intentionally favor the conservative over what might otherwise be a balanced perspective.
Well, this whole project of Carolyn’s was research in preparation for a show that aired on Friday. I chose not to listen. Why would I want to? It’s not as though I actually had to listen to it, to know what it was going to say. It said the same thing that every other show says, all day, every day, day after day, and hardly anyone ever complains about it.
Maybe someday the media will experiment with unbiased programming. Maybe. But it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
If you’ve read this all the way through, I highly recommend that you take a moment to contact your public radio station and tell them they need to start representing both sides of the debate over public policy in modern society.
Repeating what Mitt Romney says about President Obama, versus what Rick Santorum says about President Obama, does not count as both sides of the debate.
Anytime an extremist from the far-right American Enterprise Institute is featured as a guest on any public radio show, there should be a socialist to balance them out. But the statements of the American Enterprise Institute guests are almost never challenged; and that’s because public radio exhibits blatant favoritism for the conservative perspective.
This kind of biased media coverage is what helped the Tea Party win the House of Representatives in 2010; and if NPR gets its way, public radio will usher a Republican into the White House in 2012.
If you agree that public radio should change its ways and start presenting balanced coverage, then please contact your local station. Contact them soon, and contact them repeatedly. Let them know that the public does not want public radio to just be a Fox News for the FM airwaves.