I did NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, my interview being the counterpoint to one with Jose Antonio Vargas, the illegal alien Pulitzer Prize winner who used the NYT magazine to announce that he was illegal and launch his pro–Dream Act organization. Host Terry Gross is very liberal, obviously, but she was both professional and charming and the whole interview was a pleasant experience.
But the reaction from some NPR listeners was hilarious. Of course they disagreed with me, for the most part — that’s why we have political debate. But like that medical condition that causes excruciating pain from the merest touch on your skin, some NPR listeners were appalled at even being made to hear a dissenting view. In response to the online excerpts, one commenter wrote “I couldn’t read this entire article because it made me sick in my stomach . . . Shame on NPR for posting it.” And another: “Sorry, but this interview with Mr.Kirkorian really doesn’t qualify as another point of view since ignorance certainly shouldn’t count as another point of view.” And more: “What a pathetic supremacist person. This guy should not even have the opportunity to come on the show.”
The reporters and producers at NPR really have tried to put out a less biased product over the past couple of years — not just because of defunding threats but because they really do take seriously the reporter’s duty to present the news fairly. (Don’t snicker — I know a lot of them and, sure, they’re lefties marinated in a lefty environment like fish that don’t know they’re wet, but I think a lot of them have come to realize that their parochial view of things is not all there is in the world and they’re honestly, if often imperfectly, acting on that.)
But despite such efforts, NPR has a big problem with its listenership. A big part of it doesn’t want to hear anything ideologically jarring — they tune in to NPR for the same reason conservatives listen to Rush Limbaugh. And I think that puts NPR in a bind — as it tries to move away from government subsidies, its paying customers may increasingly demand it give up trying to dispassionately report the news and just go back to being a classier version of Keith Olbermann. I’m obviously not arguing for subsidies — they should all be zeroed out tomorrow. But if NPR did end up moving back in that direction, it would be a loss.