Monday, August 10, 2009

Lack of Diversity at NPR

As I've mentioned before, I have a part-time courier job that requires me to drive long hours a few times a month. Today is one of those days, and I'm between routes at the moment.  When I drive I often listen to NPR, which has extensive news coverage and interesting programming. Although politically it slants liberal, it can still be very informative and worth listening to, even if I may disagree with a particular line of analysis. Being left-of-center, NPR is always talking about diversity, and the last program I listened to earlier was about diversity in journalism and how that has been affected by the economy. But ideological diversity on its programs is sometimes lacking -- often for no good reason.

Today I listened to a two-hour show called Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. The first hour was an in-depth look at North Korea and the issues surrounding it, exactly the kind of topic I find interesting. There were two guests, a former Clinton administration diplomat turned academic, and a representative of Human Rights Watch. Both were highly knowledgeable about North Korea, and the discussion wasn't overtly political. So what was the problem? The Clinton guy was asked why relations are so bad between the U.S. and North Korea. Naturally he calmly explained that things were going pretty well under the Clinton administration until Bush fouled everything up. The HRW woman didn't get into the past, but they both agreed that more "engagement" and outreach to North Korea was the way to go. Anyone listening who was unaware of foreign policy debates might think that these views were some sort of general consensus. It's a type of bias by omission, and reflects a lack of ideological diversity. 

How hard would it have been to get a former Bush administration official on to give a contrasting perspective and a little bit of balance? I'm sure there are some Republican diplomats-turned academics that could have been tapped. It wouldn't be necessary to have a big name like John Bolton, just any differing voice would have been nice.


  1. You've touched on my biggest complaint about NPR. I can only assume they purposely never (or rarely) invite guests who might disagree with the standard NPR position on issues, in order to create the illusion that there are no other viewpoints worth hearing. A close second to that is the frustratingly softball way they question guests. Say what you want about the BBC, but their interviewers ask the hard questions and don't tolerate doublespeak.

  2. The NPR station I listen to has BBC newshour and yeah, those interviewers are pretty hardcore.

    I've heard some fairly contentious debates on NPR, but it's pretty rare. I'm sure they don't want to put on political shouting matches, but they do tend to go overboard in the other direction. Although I appreciate the civilized tone, the false consensus like I mentioned in the post can get really irritating.