[Notice to Readers: Check the update at the end of the article.]
The problem, incidentally, is not that NPR has a liberal bias, but that it so emphatically dishonest about it. Despite the Juan Williams fiasco, when the publicly funded radio network’s only Africa-American contributor was fired for politically incorrect truth-telling, despite the cover-up, when his boss twisted the Code of Ethics to justify the action (and violated it herself in the process)—despite the James O’Keefe embarrassment, with an NPR board member being recorded while sounding like a Saturday Night Live parody of a biased media leader—-and despite a spate of naval-gazing within the organization to find ways to show the oddly deluded public that NPR is really and truly “fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest”… leaving “no question about [their] independence and fairness” —I’m sorry; I had a fit of the giggles there for a second—-National Public Radio can’t help itself. In the matters of bias, integrity, double standards, conflicts of interest and fairness, its ethics alarms were either never installed or have turned to cheese.
Tell Juan Williams about this: National Public Radio’s Lisa Simeone, who hosts NPR’s nationally syndicated “World of Opera” program as well as “SoundPrint,” a program that airs on NPR’s WAMU affiliate in Washington, D.C., has served as a spokeswoman for the Occupy Wall Street spin-off group, “October 2011,” which is currently occupying Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and making all the same contradictory, vague and impossible progressive/ leftist/anarchist demands that its parent is. Simeone has been interviewed by journalists and has spoken out on behalf of the group, spouting revolutionary cant like, “Our main focus is that we are against corporatism and militarism… this is not the end, but only the beginning.”
Here are provisions in NPR’s Code of Ethics that this would seem to nick, break, or stomp all over:
IV. Conflicts of interest
1. Conducting ourselves in a manner that inspires confidence in us as independent and fair means avoiding actual and apparent conflicts of interest or engaging in outside activities, public comment or writing that calls into question our ability to report fairly on a subject….
V. Outside work, freelancing, speaking engagements
3. NPR journalists may not engage in public relations work, paid or unpaid. Exceptions may be made for certain volunteer nonprofit, nonpartisan activities, such as participating in the work of a church, synagogue or other institution of worship, or a charitable organization, so long as this would not conflict with the interests of NPR in reporting on activities related to that institution or organization. When in doubt, employees should consult their supervisor…
7. NPR journalists may only accept speaking fees from educational or nonprofit groups not engaged in significant lobbying or political activity. Determining whether a group engages in significant lobbying or political activity is the responsibility of the NPR journalist seeking permission, and all information must be fully disclosed to the journalist’s supervisor.
8. NPR journalists may not speak to groups where the appearance might put in question NPR’s impartiality. Such instances include situations where the employee’s appearance may appear to endorse the agenda of a group or organization. This would include participation in some political debates and forums where the sponsoring group(s) or other participants are identified with a particular perspective on an issue or issues and NPR journalist’s participation might put into question NPR’s impartiality.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
Now I know that there are enough loopholes and exceptions and weasel words in these provisions for a Zeuglodon* to swim through. If “our” doesn’t mean “NPR” but just the one reporter, then maybe it’s OK for an identifiable NPR voice to turn up advocating the overthrow of the capitalist system. Maybe someone at NPR made “an exception” to the public relations prohibition. And look: the Code only prohibits speaking TO groups engaging in political advocacy, not speaking ON BEHALF OF such groups, although the latter is clearly more suspect and damaging to any appearance of objectivity than the former. Besides, Simeone isn’t a journalist, she’s a host...or maybe a freelancer. NPR has all sorts of different definitions like these to allow them to explain why it is permissible, for example, for Nina Totenberg to regularly join the liberals in ganging up on Charles Krauthammer on “Inside Washington,” but Juan Williams was out of line appearing on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly.
Fine. NPR isn’t fooling anyone, are they? The fact is that allowing an NPR host to be closely identified with Occupy Wall Street compromises NPR’s integrity and appearance of objectivity, but because the staff and the leadership are so left-biased down to their very nucleotides, they don’t see it, or quite possibly don’t care, since NPR ‘s audience is mostly just like them. Does anyone seriously believe that Simeone or anyone else with her visibility would have been allowed give interviews, just to pick a wild example out of the air, on behalf of a Tea Party group?
I’m sorry…I just got the giggles again.
UPDATE (10/20): NPR has fired Simeone. My guess: it fired her because she had not recieved any waiver or permission, and the conservative media—and the ethics media!—were calling them out on the obvious double standard. Too bad they didn’t do it weeks ago, when it would have meant something.
[Correction: In an earlier version of this post, I said that Simeone had appeared on television in a spokesperson capacity. This was in error; I misinterpreted a source. Simeone was interviewed by name as an informal spokesperson for the group, but did not appear on TV. I apologize for the error. My thanks to commenter Peter, who flagged the error]
* Zeuglodon: A prehistoric carnivorous whale that has always scared the hell out of me. See the illustration.