It’s Sunday evening and I am listening to NPR while driving home. I am neither apologizing for this nor confessing. I listen to FM stations that carry NPR for their music programs. I listen to NPR itself for the story-telling show, “This American Life,” and for “A Prairie Home Companion.” I even listen to political programs that are locally produced and carried by NPR affiliates because it’s good for me to know what the enemy is thinking. The day of the week matters in this story because I am pretty sure the Sunday spots don’t go to stars. I should know, I have a Sunday spot on AM radio myself. (“Facts Matter,” 11 am to 1 pm on KSCO Santa Cruz, 1080AM.) The presenter, whose name I did not catch, is interviewing on air another NPR person, a reporter who did and investigation on the topic: Does NPR have a left-wing bias? Imagine!
The presenter snickers at the sound of the name of the investigation. The reporter reports in some detail on the results of his inquiry. It turns out NPR does not have a left-wing bias at all. In fact, it’s to the right of the Wall Street Journal on some issues, he asserts. The presenter snickers.
I don’t have much of an opinion on the investigation itself. I did not hear much about the methods used except that they involved both self-identified liberals and conservatives keeping a journal. I don’t have much against this soft methodology. It’s used all the time. It’s known to be soft; it does not make it useless. I am a little perplexed by the findings because, of course, I am convinced NPR has a left-wing bias. Yet, it’s not the job of research, it should not be the job of research, to comfort our received ideas. One of the ways you know good research in the social sciences, in fact, is that it shakes trees and allows rotten fruits to fall to the ground.
The reporter asks to put on air an oral interview he had with one of his subjects who had declared unambiguously that NPR had a pro-liberal bias. The presenter snickers but agrees to it. The cultured voice of a very calm man comes on air. The reporter asks him for an example of liberal bias at NPR. The man, I will call the subject, does not hesitate. Now, pay attention. It sounds complicated but it’s not. He recalls an NPR interview of the CEO of Hewlett Packard on the current economic bad times in America with a special attention to high unemployment. Now my own disclaimer: I don’t think that CEOs have any special claim to knowing what should be done at the national level to improve the economy. Some do, others who are not CEOs do too or better.
According to the subject, the HP CEO stated very clearly that if it were his decision, he would give a broad tax vacation for five years to anyone creating a new plant. The presenter snickers. Now, the idea is not new, it’s familiar. You can sometimes induce new business, and therefore, new employment, by offering tax advantages to new employers. The underlying reasoning is simple: Set up shop “here,” rather than say in Brazil, or in Germany, or wherever, because you will save on taxes in the short term. It’s nor clear how often this strategy is effective in creating new jobs but European countries, including Ireland, and some American states, have been using it for years. On the face of it, it’s not absurd. HP CEO, ads several times that this strategy costs nothing. Of course, it does not because you cannot lose revenue from businesses that do not exist. Plants that have not been built and put to work generate neither jobs nor taxes. I think it’s obvious.
Now, I have to introduce a fifth character in this little drama. There is the NPR presenter in charge of the show who snickers, there is the NPR reporter who did the investigation, there is the conservative subject who alleges that NPR is biased; the fourth person is the HP CEO who makes a suggestion to improve employment. The fifth person is the lady reporterette who interviews the conservative subject. The reporterette mindlessly responds to the HP CEO: “But can the country afford it?” On the show, twice removed from the action in place and time, the presenter who hears this snickers.
The subject repeats the HP CEO’s assertion, “This strategy costs nothing.” The presenter snickers. The reporter who is on-air with the presenter makes a slight noise with his throat as if he were embarrassed, bless his heart! He is not so embarrassed however that he intervenes to point out the obvious to her. After all, non-profit, liberal organization care a great deal about hierarchy. (There are good reasons for this I will only go into if someone asks me.) Again, the reporter on air with the snickerer, does not state the obvious: Trying something that is free does not cost anything and therefore, the answer is that yes, “the country” can afford it.
The show ends with the presenter snickering. Obviously, she closes without ever catching a glance of her own illogicality.
So, here, we have it: NPR is a liberal network. It irritates many people because it snickers all the effing time, or almost. Not all liberals, just many, many, many snicker. Second, although capable of interviewing individuals who are knowledgeable about economics, including distinguished economists, NPR is staffed on a day-to-day basis with Liberal Arts graduates who do not understand the first week of Econ 101. They ask stupid questions of talent and when talent gives intelligent answers, it goes right over their heads. Third, NPR staffers are so full of liberal ideology that it makes them deaf and dumb (I mean the metaphorical dumb, not unable to speak). Given an interesting research topic, given good questions within a good research design and well chosen subjects who respond clearly, NPR still does not get it. Or NPR people get it almost never. NPR does promote or cause to happen interesting interviews but it, the entity NPR, learns nothing from them.
Oops, I almost forgot: What excuse is there for a nation-wide broadcast system that receives any government subsidy at all and directed at free American citizens? I ask because the potential for abuse of our democracy with this arrangement is so obvious. NPR liberal supporters of government funding are so certain of their intellectual superiority it turns them into cretins. Like cretins, they never ask the obvious: What would happen at an NPR dependent in any measure on the good will of Congress if the country experienced twelve solid years under a conservative Republican president working with conservative Republican majorities in both houses?