Media Criticism Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: Eight Things NPR Should Do Right Now

A few weeks into 2022, here are some New Year's resolutions National Public Radio should consider working towards.
[Alyson Hurt / CC BY-NC 2.0]

By Ralph Nader

The reasons Congress created NPR (National Public Radio) under the Nixon Administration was to fill the yawning gaps of commercial radio in local, national, and international news coverage and to give voice to the people, without ads. It was to be publicly funded by taxpayers. Almost 51 years later, NPR is now funded heavily by national corporations, with its local affiliates soliciting local business advertisements.

Resolution One: Apart from excellent features around the country and the world, NPR should give voice to what civic groups are doing to improve our country locally and nationally. NPR is heavy on entertainment and entertainers and needs to fill some of that airtime with news of the bedrock civic community in America. The imbalance is serious from the national to the local.

Resolution Two: NPR features many reports and interviews on Race, but needs far more focus on Class. Class exploitation by the rich and powerful corporate supremacists feeds into racial discrimination. The euphemism used is “inequality,” but corporate-bred crime, fraud, and abuse affects all people indiscriminately, which often disproportionately harms minorities. A result of the gross imbalance of time devoted to race and not to class is that indiscriminate injustice is mostly ignored.

Over sixty million very poor whites in our country, if they even bothered to listen to NPR, might ask: “What About Us?”

Focusing on racial plights, without going to its sources in commercial greed, redlining, exploited tenants, lower pay and poverty, substandard health care, rampant overcharging of the poor (recall the book, The Poor Pay More: Consumer Practices of Low-Income Families by David Caplovitz), greater difficulty getting loans, and discrimination against upward mobility to corporate executive ranks, are some examples of systemic commercialism fueling systemic racism.

NPR’s collateral benefit from this inattention is that business advertisers large and small love NPR and its affiliates. This is especially the case for corporations with bad records. NPR should reject ads from disreputable or criminal corporations.

Resolution Three: Stop mimicking commercial radio. NPR’s three-minute news segments on the hour often don’t even match the quality of CBS Radio’s choice of topics. For example, why is tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa problems in Australia at the top of NPR news day after day? As for commercials, NPR stretches the envelope, airing, with its affiliates, as many as 30 ads per hour! Imagine the audience irritation. How many times do we have to hear each hour “NPR is supported by this station…”? NPR gives abundant repetitive ad time to the same few advertisers—Progressive Insurance, C3.AI, etc., that one wonders whether they are assured of exclusivity vis-à-vis competitors. Moreover, NPR starts the evening program Marketplace with ads, which the commercial networks do not do.

Your listeners want you to decongest your ads and some may want to know why you have given up on reversing the relative decline of congressional appropriations. You give ample time to loud right-wingers and right-wing causes. Why aren’t you gaining bipartisan support for more congressional funding?

Resolution Four: Compress the weather forecasts. Back in 1970-1971, Congress knew that commercial radio stations gave plenty of time to weather, traffic, sports, and music. That is still true. So why does WAMC in Albany, an NPR local affiliate, have such lengthy forecasts, some starting with the west coast, with ludicrous repetition for adjacent areas? WAMC is above average in covering local and state governments and candidates for public office with full-time staff.

Resolution Five: NPR should re-evaluate its music policy. NPR takes its weekends seriously, so much so that they take off right at 6:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday evenings. “Let them hear music,” for the rest of the time, as if the world stops then. Also, musical intervals are often too long, inappropriate for their context, and foolishly interjected. NPR’s evening program Marketplace, anchored by jumping-jack Kai Ryssdal, illustrates these observations. Even while he is rapidly giving the stock market numbers, there is background music loud enough to be considered foreground.

Resolution Six: Reconsider the uniform formulaics shackling your reporters. They respond to the anchor’s inquiry with a zigzag between their sound bites and corroborating sound bites from consulting firms, think tanks, and academic commentators. This model has a tedious staccato ring to it, especially since the reporters often, by way of their introduction, repeat what the interviewees are going to say.

Resolution Seven: Correct or explain your major faux pas. NPR staff need tutorials on the constitutional authority of Congress. NPR needs to explain to its listeners why, with all that staff in Washington D.C., it took about 90 minutes (or until about 3:30 pm) to start telling its affiliates about the Jan. 6 violent assault on Congress. Commercial CNN and other commercial media started reporting no later than 2:00 pm that fateful day. “And that’s not the only time NPR has messed up,” said one reporter for WAMC (that annually pays NPR a million dollars for NPR programming).

Resolution Eight: Give your Public Editor, Kelly McBride, a regular public time slot to discuss her insights, presently communicated mostly internally, and to address serious feedback from your listeners about NPR’s broadcasting flaws. (Local affiliates invite political opinions, personal development, and ‘how to’ questions on related shows).

Ms. McBride could share the program with NPR’s CEO—a position more remote from the NPR public every decade. Hear ye John Lansing! Among other benefits, you’ll get good suggestions for important, little-told news stories. (See reportersalert.org)

Congress should hold long needed public hearings in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to ascertain whether the original missions accorded public radio and public broadcasting are being pursued both qualitatively and quantitatively, and whether these networks and their affiliates have steadily strayed from those missions, due in part to the absence of mechanisms for public evaluations and congressional oversight.

There is so much to learn about NPR and PBS about their relations with American Public Media, the BBC, and other connections, to make them better and raise the expectations of their listening audience.

It’s hard not to be complacent when you have so little competition from the commercial stations that for decades have debased our publicly owned airwaves, free of charge.

19 comments

  1. Your back in fantasy land again Ralph. NPR will do whatever their corporate donors tell them to do and only what their corporate donors tell them to do. Like they have the last couple decades.

    I miss the old NPR, before it was corrupted. I miss a lot of things before they were corrupted. But what I miss the most, lost somewhere along the way and seemingly not even missed by most, I miss America’s soul….before it was corrupted.

    1. NPR has been corporatized and corrupted to the core. In fact, it’s a bore, and is not worth listening to any more! They should change their acronym to NCR, National Corporate Radio! The compromised voice of the Oligarchy! Or how about Corporate Asscrack Radio? Personally, I’d rather listen to Donald Trump breaking wind!

      1. I went on to the website of “All Things Considered” some years ago, because I wanted to send them an article I had written. There was a message — “No Unsolicited Scripts.” So much for all things considered.

    2. Neoliberal Propaganda Radio is beyond reform today. In grad school I listened to the local station (eh, during the BBC graveyard slot) to help put me to sleep. Now I get so angry at the lies I can’t listen beyond 10 or so minutes. NPR can die for all I care.

    3. What year would you say it was not corrupted?

      My knowledge of it only extends to the 90s, but it was golden mean fallacy liberal horseshit then. NPR didn’t change, I did.

  2. NPR “new reporting” and commentary is straight out of the Democratic Party’s playbook. Ralph Nader once said, “The Republican Party is fueled by greed and corruption, and the Democratic Party is compromised by greed and corruption.” What else need be said. NPR has been turned into a corporate service and is hopelessly corrupt.

  3. Nader’s first paragraph caught my experience of NPR. Way too heavy on entertainment and entertainers and too little real community based news. I cannot spend precious few dollars on supporting the likes of such.

  4. Extremely well said, Mr. Nader; WBAI was my go-to station in my young-adult Manhattan years, 1964-1970, though when I was back in the City c. 1983-1986 there was a Jersey FM station – I’ve forgotten its call letters — did a vastly superior job with the traditional folk music and its pagan-rock variants I so dearly love.

    Too bad our Masters will never allow NPR’s recovery, just as it is ever-more-obvious they have weaponized Covid as their 21st Century Zykon-B, this time for genocidally reducing the entire Working-Class-population.

    (Obviously, Mr. Nader, I’m not dead yet: and for that I surely owe you a partial thank-you, not just in the realm of vehicular safety, but for all the memorable times you nagged me about the hazards of smoking; hence I may turn 82 at the end of March [if the ever-more-potent breakthrough-bugs don’t kill my thrice-vaccinated self]; permanently quit smoking in 1995 –on the autumnal equinox to be precise — even though the loss of nicotine’s near-complete but never-more-than-temporary amelioration of [extreme] dyslexia has unavoidably reduced me to the socioeconomic uselessness that was mine before I started smoking at age 14.)

    Hope you stick around as long as possible; now that the “Democratic” (sic) Party has unequivocally revealed itself as the Republican (i.e., Nazi) Fifth Column, we need you and all courageous truth-tellers more than ever.

  5. I’ve been bemoaning NPR as “commercial radio” for a decade now, and I turn off the radio several times an hour in order to not hear those annoying sponsorship ads from the modern woman with perfect diction.. I’m sorry, but Progressive Insurance, Proctor and Gamble, C3.AI, Subaru, Geico, and the like do NOT “support” NPR… they have bought ads, to reach the millions of listeners. If they were mentioned any less, would they still support the valiant broadcasters? Does Marketplace really need to mention four sponsors to run 6 minutes of airtime?

    NPR has become a news-magazine programmer. a softer perspective on the news, afraid of saying the wrong thing, wanting to too often entertain the bourgois American consumers. I’m tired of listening in and expecting something different, but I still do… bourgeois habits are insidious. Thanks, Nader, for pointing out that good intentions can pave the way to institutionalized, corrupt media.

  6. Factual details no longer – if they ever did, have any impact on the consciousness of Americans living in la-la land.

  7. Ralph missed one of the worst practices of National Government Radio – the guests they interview are always ‘inside the beltway’ generals and ex-generals, think tankers, media commentators, politicians, professors and the like, with hardly anyone outside that orbit. They promote war most of all. If the U.S. government says it, they will repeat it. They usually toe a moderate to conservative Democratic Party agenda, as ‘responsible adults’ in the room. Their voices are designed to sound reasonable and believable, in spite of what they are saying. As to the ads – the silky-toned and come-hither tone of their announcer doing her ‘sponsor’ ads has got to be the most irritating thing to listen to and know. It only reveals that they are not community supported, they are corporate funded.

  8. NPR is likely incapable of such changes. It wouldn’t serve their largest donors, and did y’all hear their report on Venezuela about 10 days ago?? Fox News would’ve been proud of that hit piece. The US’ need to be, and go further to the right is painfully on display- everyday.

  9. I like this article quite a lot. I have mixed feelings about NPR. I get it. Congress does not provide adequate funding. NPR requires corporate sponsors to survive. It all takes a toll on reporting.
    Toothbrush wars come to mind. A few years ago when Kim and Trump were threatening nuclear war, I switched on NPR to hear their take on it only to catch a special on toothbrush wars. NPR’s coverage of foreign policy issues is just as pathetic as MSNBC ‘s foreign policy coverage is — just a foul regurgitation of State and Defense Department policies. NPR also engages in the same twisting of words. When Bernie Sanders was in a presidential debate he pointedly stated he is a Democratic Socialist. The next day NPR’s site had an article about Bernie and of course they couldn’t resist having the word “socialist” in the headline, as if there is not a difference between the FDR ideals of democratic socialism and the draconian socialism of Stalin.
    NPR operates from a place of fear, fear of losing funding, fear of being fired, fear of covering progressive views of foreign policy, fear of even reporting the progressive agenda that is not about sex or race. The only way that can be fixed is for Congress to fund NPR adequately. Until then NPR can make all the New year’s resolutions it wants. Nothing will change.

  10. Thank you Mr Nader,
    They don’t cover so much that is relevant. Little coverage of the war in Yemen, never cover the trial of Julian Assange. They increasingly advertise donor corporations. Their timid management hesitate to raise or cover controversial subjects.

  11. NPR, where “journalists” become Game Show Hosts

    the few journalists left, are the old-timers whose time is almost up.
    Soon, all the educated boomers will be dead and the before-time, when America was at the fork in the road to true, humane greatness, will be forgotten.

    party on, dudes

  12. Thank you Ralph Nader. I know now that I am not the only one to have found myself bored with the same voices on NPR as well as the predictable reporting……Last time I listened, I made a game of guessing what the reporter was going to say….& bingo, I was correct…………….I have not listened in years………..

  13. Ralph, I’m right with you when it comes to class consciousness, but I can’t imagine any ruling class institution, including those philanthrocapitalist fronts of the nonprofit industrial complex like National Propaganda Radio, coming anywhere near such resolution. It’s up to us, ‘we the people’ across divide-and-conquer constructs like race, to build a better humanity in genuine opposition to the powers ruling over us.

    Maybe one thing we should do right now, if not a long time ago, is to stop paying attention, let alone money, to NPR. Just no longer listening to their smarmy voices would be by itself a great gain to the public good.

  14. Issues of Race are harped on to the exclusion of issues of Class on NPR. This is an attempt to bypass discussions of core issues critical of the neoliberalism. We can safely discuss the evils of racism , need for diversity, feminism , etc., etc but ‘Class’ is one of those things not to be mentioned. The way mainstream environmentalism has been co-opted by corporations is also not to be spoken about!

    NPR, with its swarms of commercials, mild mannered corporate propaganda and “News” is tailored to suit a particular class interest.

  15. NPR does not have a reporter to cover labor. Even thought one would think that is of importance to many tens of millions of people.

    One of my neighbors is a NPR reporter. He told me that listenership is down 40% or so since the pandemic. He blamed this on people not driving their cars. Lol. They don’t get it.

    When I said that they spend too much time on COVID he said that was what people wanted to hear! I said, “That is why your numbers are down 40%. I used to listen all the time. Now I’m down to maybe a few things on the weekend. ” Seriously, after 2 years of COVID there is no reason to spend half your time talking about it. Also, the opioid epidemic has killed about as many people as COVID yet NPR covers COVID at much higher rates per death.

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