NPR Believes Corporate Money Skews the News, Except When It Doesn’t

Posted on by nohope and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

When NPR does on-air campaigning for listener donations, they make much of the fact that NPR is “independent” and non-profit. They distinguish themselves from for-profit news outlets, and imply that corporate money causes news to be biased in favor of the businesses who sponsor the reporting.

It’s a common premise among the left: If a news outlet is owned by a corporate interest, or relies on advertising from corporate sponsors, you have good reason to be skeptical about the purported objectivity of their reporting.

Except, NPR could not possibly, SINCERELY, believe this to be true.

NPR itself receives money from insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, banks and auto manufacturers, to name a few. If NPR were any other news outlet, these funding sources would make anyone wary about the objectivity of their reporting on healthcare, finance, or the environment.

I’m not trying to say, “Watch out for NPR, they’re just as suspect as the private for-profit newsmedia.” All media outlets have biases. The problem is that NPR pushes the Money = Bias theory in bad faith. They could not sincerely believe that money inescapably leads to bias, or else they would refuse to take corporate money at all, the way Consumer Reports magazine doesn’t sell ad space. No, NPR isn’t worried about the effect private money will have on them.

What NPR really DOES believe is that Money = Bias, but only when the people taking the money are conservative. They’re not warning you about the for-profit newsmedia because it’s compromised by money, they’re warning you about the for-profit newsmedia because it’s run by Republicans. Their resulting message: when Good Guys like us take corporate money, you can still trust us to be objective; but when the Bad Guys (read: right-wingers) take corporate money, watch out!

“Don’t let that guy drive you home, he’s drunk! Oh, I’m drunk, too, but I’m a very good driver…” 

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13 Responses to NPR Believes Corporate Money Skews the News, Except When It Doesn’t

  1. dimly says:

    You are conveniently forgetting to mention the biggest distinction between NPR and the other news organizations you are lumping it in with: NPR is a non-profit organization.

    • Guy Fox says:

      Focus on the Family is also non-profit but clearly and openly biased. What’s your point?

      And nohope does contrast it with ‘for profit’ news outlets, so while s/he doesn’t use the phrase ‘non-profit’, s/he did include the idea.

      • robotslave says:

        The point is that a non-profit, unlike other corporations, is insulated (to some extent) against the sort of bias or distortion that arises out of profit motive.

        You dismiss this by providing an example of a non-profit with a well-known ideological motive.

        The point, in short, is that there is a false equivalence being advanced; you have defended it by advancing another false equivalence.

        • Gary says:

          The point is that a for-profit, unlike other non-profits, is insulated (to some extent) against the sort of bias or distortion that arises out of a “good intentions” motive.

          • robotslave says:

            What?

            If I’m parsing that not-quite-English correctly, you’re saying that for-profit corporations have some degree of immunity to ideological bias? For-profit businesses such as, say, Fox News?

            And if we were to simply grant you your notion without question, what on earth would it have to do with the problematic assertion that NPR is influenced by the money it gets from donations in the same way that a for-profit company is influenced by the money it gets from its customers (i.e., advertisers)?

            Mind you, I’m not saying NPR isn’t biased– of course they’re biased. Duh. But their biases and distortions have nothing to do with their funding, and everything to do with their audience.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            I’m with robotslave on this one, just wanted to point out that ideological biases and for-profit biases aren’t mutually exclusive. (Look at the entire christian right, for example)

  2. rhizomatic says:

    And I just don’t think they make the argument you accuse them of making, at least not in the strong terms you attribute to them. They do talk about the fact that they’re non-profits, not privately owned, etc., and they do imply this makes them more trustworthy than the for-profit news media. But they certainly don’t make claims on-air like “money inescapably leads to bias” or even “If a news outlet is owned by a corporate interest, or relies on advertising from corporate sponsors, you have good reason to be skeptical about the purported objectivity of their reporting.”

    There’s a difference between operating as a non-profit and operating as a privately owned entity. That both the non-profit news media and privately owned news media take advertising dollars doesn’t mean that talking up the differences between them is insincere.

    • thecobrasnose says:

      The point is not that anybody would accuse NPR of insincerity but that their insincerity does not shield them from bias. Why should their insistence otherwise be taken with any more credibility than Fox News’s assertion that they are “fair and balanced”? Both entities have an ideological drift, why should only one be given a pass on their say-so?

      • robotslave says:

        No, that is not the point.

        The point under discussion is whether or not NPR is influenced by its funding in the same way other news organs are influenced by their revenues.

        All media outlets are influenced by a whole raft of other stuff, but that’s a) obvious, and b) irrelevant to nohope’s thesis.

        • thecobrasnose says:

          I took nohope’s thesis to be NPR’s assertion that it is uniquely immune to the influence of corporate dollars though that could not reasonably be true. Rhizomatic wrote, “That both the non-profit news media and privately owned news media take advertising dollars doesn’t mean that talking up the differences between them is insincere.” Rhizomatic gives NPR more credit for sincerity than does nohope, but I don’t think the sincerity of the news organ signifies. Why should the audience necessarily believe one and not the other when both similar sources of funding and both have a biased result?

          • rhizomatic says:

            I read nohope’s thesis to be that NPR “pushes the Money = Bias theory in bad faith” – that they’re hypocrites. I didn’t see the piece as primarily concerned with proving that NPR is biased. It explicitly notes ‘I’m not trying to say, “Watch out for NPR, they’re just as suspect as the private for-profit newsmedia”’.

            My point is that what NPR does isn’t hypocritical – despite the fact that they take corporate advertising dollars – because there are meaningful differences between them and privately funded news outlets, and it’s those differences they talk up (their donation pitch isn’t couched in some general theory about the impact of money on the media). I just think OP is wrong about the nature of the claims NPR spokespeople make.

  3. sunshinefiasco says:

    I don’t listen to NPR (and I didn’t actually listen to it much when I lived in the states either), but what exactly has NPR been saying? There aren’t any links in this post, and I’d be interested in hearing/reading more about what they’ve actually said on this subject.

    Or are we conflating NPR and “NPR liberals”?

  4. Or says:

    From what I remember reading of independent analyses of bias in news organizations, NPR leans slightly right of center. And anyway, last I heard, the prevailing wisdom is still that the for-profit news media is run by liberals, so I don’t know if NPR would be getting decent propaganda mileage by insinuating otherwise. Unless the insinuation is simply a more muted “hey, we’re not Fox News”.

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