- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 20, 2004

The signal from National Public Radio is about to get a lot louder.

NPR plans a $15 million expansion of its news operations over the next three years, adding 45 reporters and producers, beefing up local and global coverage, chasing down breaking news and augmenting the staffs of magazine shows such as “All Things Considered.”

The expansion will make only a small dent in the $225 million bequest that NPR received last October from Joan B. Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc — an amount that constitutes the largest monetary gift ever received by an American cultural institution.

NPR’s president, Kevin Klose, rejects the notion that a bigger, feistier NPR serves to amplify the liberal agenda.

The charge that NPR is liberal-leaning is “an urban myth,” Mr. Klose said, noting that Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a liberal media-watchdog group, recently accused NPR of actually showcasing too many conservatives.

“What we have found to be important is substantive interviewing. People of all political views come to NPR. We can cite Vice President Richard Cheney, and go right through the Bush administration, listing who has been on NPR,” he said.

The organization seeks to be “even-handed and respect the intellect, intelligence and diverse interest of listeners,” said Mr. Klose, adding that NPR will emphasize news that is “in-depth and top-quality … at a time when other news organizations are retreating from the presentation of serious and thoughtful content.”

But NPR has an embarrassment of riches. The new expansion is, in fact, partially funded by the interest alone on Mrs. Kroc’s bequest.

“If NPR had some integrity, they’d use those funds to return the money that taxpayers have given them over the years — like a refund,” Brent Baker of the conservative Media Research Center said Thursday.

“Those are the people who helped NPR survive the lean years. Now its broadcasting and online operations are state of the art. It’s a huge corporation out to advance the cause of the liberal agenda,” Mr. Baker said. “Nobody can match them. The scope of it is beyond the imagination of even commercial enterprises, like CBS or ABC.”

The organization’s operating budget this year is $106 million, with $42 million earmarked for news coverage. NPR also is scheduled to receive $86 million from the congressionally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting this year.

The funding structure itself is complex.

“Mrs. Kroc’s bequest was placed in the NPR Endowment Fund for Excellence, bringing total endowment gifts and pledges to $225 million, and in the operating reserves for NPR Inc., bringing that amount to $50 million,” a statement said.

NPR also plans to use $2.4 million of money made on interest in “ameliorating program-fee increases for the majority of its member stations.”

The organization has doubled its American audience in the past decade, from 11.5 million weekly listeners in 1994 to 22 million in 2004 on 770 public radio stations. Programming also is heard internationally on cable, satellite and short-wave services.

Meanwhile, NPR’s ideological identity remains a source of discussion for listeners.

“To whom should NPR turn to interview those on the right of the Republican Party?” asked NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin in his online column Thursday. “Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell are two who come to mind … but some listeners on all sides of the political spectrum might find that very un-NPR-like.”

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