Magazine | April 4, 2011, Issue

TO: All Remaining NPR Employees

TO: All Remaining NPR Employees

FROM: Public Relations and Community Outreach

IN RE: A Teachable Moment

Dear Remaining Employees:

As you all know, it’s been a very trying few weeks for those of us who believe that public radio is an important cultural resource. We’ve been under fire from a variety of directions, and we thought it was a good time to reach out to you and share some significant learnings we’ve all gleaned over the past troublesome days. All of us in public radio are passionate, lifelong learners, and we never want to let a teachable moment go to waste!

Here’s What We’ve Learned:

1. Racists Are Touchy!

We all have the classic image of the typical American racist: obese, loud, Republican, etc. That turns out to be somewhat mistaken. American racists — especially of the tea-party variety — are remarkably sensitive about their beliefs and feelings. Easily insulted, these American racists tend to bristle when categorized, and are quick to take offense. These are not your father’s racists! (Or your mother’s, or your guardian’s, or of your family of origin.)

2. Cameras Are Tiny!

These days, we all have to be mindful of the new technologies in video and audio recording. Handbags, briefcases, even lapel pins can contain sensitive and delicate recording devices. It pays, whenever you’re involved in a conversation with any unknown, outside-public-radio individual, to assume a camera is on and rolling even if you can’t see it.

3. Jesus Is a Special Deity

Jesus — sometimes referred to as “Our Savior,” “God,” “Christ,” “The Christ,” and the “Redeemer” — is a remarkably resilient deity very popular in the United States, especially those states untouched by ocean waters. (See accompanying Map.) He is oft-invoked by Americans when in crisis, but just as often called-upon in everyday situations, for guidance and help and support. It’s important, in all conversations — no matter where or with whom! — to maintain a blank, non-judgmental expression when Jesus is mentioned. It’s considered bad manners by many American taxpayers (especially tea-party members) to roll your eyes or otherwise express an “Are you serious?” attitude.

4. Americans Are Divided on Taxes!

It’s easy for those of us who are educated to grasp why public radio is a crucial and irreplaceable national resource. It’s the best way to reach — and teach — an American public that may not be at our level of world awareness about the events of the day. But for many Americans, taxes represent a financial hardship — a burden, in fact — and they resent, irrationally, any expenditure by the federal government, even if it’s expressly designed to help them, educate them, and make them aware of the world around them. What we’ve learned over the past few days is that our mission is most effective when it’s described more along the lines of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and A Prairie Home Companion than All Things Considered or a six-part series entitled “Bush’s War-Crimes Tribunal: A Theatrical Fantasia.” (The latter program has now been canceled.)

#page#5. High-Speed Rail Isn’t a Ratings Bonanza!

Admittedly, this piece of learning isn’t necessarily connected to our recent crises, but it bears repeating: High-speed rail, despite being featured in 1,932 public-radio pieces since last Thursday, just doesn’t generate the kind of enthusiasm and interest that it should, or that we expected. To that end, we recommend limiting pieces on high-speed rail, and its benefits, to six or seven per week.

6. Non-Coastal Americans Are Not as Harmlessly Colorful as We Thought!

After listening to and analyzing hours and hours of public-radio broadcasts from the past twelve months, it’s clear that we have been guilty of portraying most Americans who live in zones untouched by ocean waters as colorful eccentrics, folks who enjoy fatty, hyper-palatable foods, gunplay, and religious activities. This, as we all now know, has been a grave misconception. NC Americans on the whole can be pleasantly and charmingly childlike — unconcerned with issues of environmental disasters, citizens without health care, or appearing bigoted — but beneath that bland exterior often lies a sharper, more aggressive set of characteristics. Under no circumstances is it wise to engage this group in difficult or nuanced conversation. An indulgent chuckle will suffice. When compiling audio-interview clips, highlighting oddly accented words, hilarious malapropisms, and folkloric traditions (See #2, “Jesus Is a Special Deity”) is a safer, less controversial choice.

7. Until Further Notice, All Outside Lunches Are Canceled!

Please reschedule all outside meetings, lunches, or conferences to take place within the NPR offices. Please contact a member of our staff to accompany you to all meetings, conferences, teleconferences, or webinars. Your Public Relations and Community Outreach staff is here to help you as you encounter members of the public, and to guide your discussions. In the future, every public-radio employee will undergo training in countersurveillance techniques, disguise detection, and audio-recording-distorting tools. There’s such a thing as being too “public,” even for public radio!

We know you’ll appreciate the significant learnings we’ve gleaned. For more information, or for further research, please feel free to download our just-released PDF, “America! A Guide!” which is available on our webpage.

We’re confident that with a renewed attention to our work, and with careful review of this teachable moment, public radio will not just survive but thrive!

Rob Long — Rob Long, Hollywood writer and producer, started his career as a screenwriter for the TV show Cheers. He is a regular writer for National Review, Newsweek International, and the Los ...

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