Book by former NPR CEO expands on liberal ‘groupthink’ at network

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April Simpson/Current

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:

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.”

  • Paul Cook

    Is NPR going to review the book?

    • They don’t really have regular reviews of nonfiction. Come to think of it, I feel like I’ve heard very little fiction reviewed as well since Alan Cheuse, their regular reviewer, passed away.

  • Wazoo2u2

    I think Ina Jaffe’s tweet rivals Trump’s silliest- you can hear the ‘circle the wagons!’ in his tone. I have listened to NPR for fourty years, and it has NEVER been balanced.
    Here’s an example: in the eighties, Charlaine Hunter – Gault absolutely thrashed a Superintendent of a District in Vt., making every effort to paint him as a most vile racist. She spent about ten seconds ‘correcting’ the next day that he was in fact, one of the good guys. As White farmers were being beaten and murdered in Zimbabwe at the behest of Mugabe, Hunter -Gault was unable to keep a smirk from growing on her face. I couldn’t believe a. she was that evil, and b. she didn’t at least do another take.

    No liberal groupthink my butt.