Friday, January 1, 2010

A Look Under The Hood At NPR

Sometimes there is a wondrous confluence of events, circumstance and character that can reveal the true nature of people or institutions.

The NPR product “All Things Considered” is, in some quarters, considered erudite, insightful and earnestly progressive. It is well known for its empathy. I, with apologies to Winston Churchill, would say that if at the age of 20 you do not find NPR compelling there is something wrong with your heart. If at the age of 40 you still find NPR compelling there is something wrong with your brain. As you can imagine, listening to NPR is a rare occasion for me, so it was pure serendipity that I heard two broadcasts in which NPR revealed itself (A) not to be the sharpest knife in the drawer (B) woefully ignorant of its own biases.

The first occasion was during a radio journalism segment in which somebody at NPR decided that chronicling a descent into Alzheimer’s with the attendant collapse of life, meaning and love was just the thing to appeal to its listeners The gentleman in question, as I recall, owned a family greenhouse business and the show traced the insidious progression of the disease. It had gotten to the point where the man could no longer run his business or help in any meaningful way and was reduced to puttering around the greenhouse. In one particular sensitive moment with the reporter reaching out in an attempt to span the gulf of illness that separated the two, he commented that at least the gentleman could find solace in spending his days in the, low stress and healing atmosphere of plants in the greenhouse. In response the guy suffering from Alzheimer’s (that is worth repeating) the guy suffering from Alzheimer’s says in astonishment something like “Healing atmosphere?? The temperature in here is over 90°F and the humidity is 100 percent, it’s a germ and mold factory!!” There you have it! A man suffering from the deleterious effects of a horrid disease was more on top of his game that the guy from NPR, at least when it comes to 7th grade science and the ability to recognize the greenhouse environment for what it actually was rather what it was imagined to be.

The other occasion took place during an interview with a legendary British explorer who was by now quite elderly. In recounting his expedition’s struggle to reach their destination, the NPR journalist remarked that it must have been somewhat romantic/exotic to travel by camel caravan. To which the aged explorer replied to the effect that “we used bloody camels because that was the only way we could get there, if helicopters were available, we’d have taken the bloody helicopter!” The failure in both these instances by the journalists to even come close to accurately assessing the issues gives one real cause for concern as to NPR’s ability to understand complex issues. Then of course there was a Saturday morning when NPR was assessing a military conflagration and one journalist remarked to the other, “When are they going to have a war in a location we can pronounce.” This remark was followed by both journalists snickering. How’s that for empathy?

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