A New York Post op-ed by former NPR exec Ken Stern teased his new book with implications of liberal bias among public radio journalists. But in its few mentions of the network, Stern’s book comes out a bit more balanced on the subject of balance at NPR.
Stern, NPR’s CEO from 2006–08, led his Post piece by suggesting that the left-leaning views of network journalists led to “groupthink” in the newsroom. In Republican Like Me, published Tuesday by HarperCollins, Stern brings up this claim but adds that he doesn’t think it affected coverage much.
In the introduction, Stern describes Republican Like Me as “a book about what happens when a liberal sets out to look at issues from a conservative perspective.” He pursues this by documenting a year spent hanging out with Republicans at churches and NASCAR races in an effort to understand them.
He also muses about media bias, and it’s in that context that Stern says he wasn’t “overly concerned” about his colleagues’ liberal views at NPR because “… it was outweighed in my mind by the obsessiveness of the NPR newsroom to show balance and the view of all sides, which brought almost a metronome style to its reporting.”
Hold on, though: Before Stern wraps up his treatment of NPR, he again brings up “groupthink” and seems to suggest that political bias colored the network’s coverage — though he doesn’t specifically mention NPR in his indictment.
It means you get coverage that is obsessive on mass shootings, but largely absent on the defensive use of guns; it means you dedicated oceans of coverage to the looming apocalypse of climate change and find little room for the concerns of the “lukewarmers” who want to debate the policy implications of it all; it means that the media largely misses (until this year) the hollowing out of the white working class, except when it fits conveniently into the larger narrative of income inequality.
That’s nearly all Stern has to say about NPR in the 304-page book, other than mentioning in the introduction that he worked there, a bullet point in his resume of liberal bona fides. And he offers a recap of right-wing activist James O’Keefe’s sting of NPR executives, withholding any commentary.
Though NPR may come off a bit better in Republican Like Me than in the Post, that may be little comfort for the public radio journalists already snapping back at Stern. That includes North Country Public Radio’s Brian Mann, whose open letter to Stern on our site Tuesday prompted a number of “go get ’em” tweets from NPR journalists and others in public media:
This goes to show how little former NPR CEO Ken Stern understood about the organization he purported to lead. Great essay by @BriannMannADK https://t.co/3zhWOOzpTf
— Ina Jaffe (@InaJaffeNPR) October 24, 2017
— Michael Oreskes (@MichaelOreskes) October 24, 2017
— Jacki Lyden (@jackilyden) October 25, 2017
Brian Mann’s experience as a station and NPR reporter reflects hundreds of others in the field. They know; they aren’t tourists like Stern. https://t.co/oVqaewUE6C
— Kathleen Pavelko (@KPav) October 24, 2017
I'd bet the ex-NPR CEO could walk thru headquarters, and not know names or jobs of people not on the air. CEO bubble https://t.co/1JaCjtKQvu
— MyLittleBloggie (@MyLittleBloggie) October 25, 2017
— Elton Langland (@Eltonomist) October 25, 2017
— Rob Schmitz (@rob_schmitz) October 25, 2017
Ken Stern forgets that the NPR he helped run had a rural affairs correspondent nowhere near his “liberal bubble.” Me https://t.co/NQOywSkFqY
— Howard Berkes (@hberkes) October 25, 2017
Stern also expanded on his thoughts about the media’s liberal groupthink in a reply to Mann.
We asked NPR if they planned to respond to Stern’s Post op-ed. A spokesperson replied, “NPR’s response is the daily commitment to independent, fact-based, unbiased objective journalism from public radio reporters, correspondents and hosts all over the country and around the world.”