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NPR listeners rankled by segments on right

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National Public Radio listeners who tuned in to "Morning Edition" during the last four days of February found some atypical programming around 6:30 a.m. during the broadcasts.

"Conversations with Conservatives" was heard during morning-drive time with host Steve Inskeep and a conservative of the day with much on his mind.

The roster consisted of the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform; talk-radio host Glenn Beck; and David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Each man had his own focus — Mr. Land addressed the status of evangelical voters; Mr. Norquist the spectrum of fiscal policies that most appealed to Republican voters; Mr. Beck with ideas about conservative core values; and Mr. Keene on challenges faced by Sen. John McCain, saying the Arizona Republican must prove to the conservative base that he is, indeed, a conservative.

NPR Morning Edition listeners — there are 13 million a week — were not especially pleased in the aftermath of the broadcast segments, which lasted about seven minutes each.

According to NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, more than 60 angry e-mails and phone calls arrived at the network, calling the programming "shameful" and a "lovefest with radical, right-wing nuts." There were only a few, she said, that praised the series as "refreshing" and "articulate," among other things.

"Our basic motivation was to get a sense of where the GOP is heading, and where conservatives want to be. You can never get every viewpoint, but we wanted a sampling of opinion," Mr. Inskeep said.

"In the course of it, I learned just how carefully people were watching John McCain," he recalled. "It was David Keene, for example, who pointed out the positioning of liberal and conservative officials onstage at the McCain victory speech in the Virginia primaries. That's something I wouldn't have noticed."

Mr. Inskeep is philosophical about his vexed audience.

"We did annoy our listeners, but if we do our job right, we function as a personal intelligence agency for them. Hopefully, they hear allies and enemies and everybody in between. We have to learn from a wide range of people," he said.

Ms. Shepard, meanwhile, had her own recommendations for future chats, suggesting the addition of a "minority or female voice."

She suggested Thomas Sowell, Janice Shaw-Crouse, Shelby Steele and the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr. as possible guests.

"There are dozens of diverse conservative voices, but NPR and all news organizations need to work much harder to bring them into the conversation," Ms. Shepard noted.

Do we trust radio, meanwhile? A Harris Poll of 2,300 adults conducted Jan. 15-22 and released Thursday found that radio trumped television, Internet-based news sites and journalists in general — with 44 percent of the respondents saying they trusted radio. Online sources came next with 41 percent, followed by TV with 36 percent and the overall "press" with 30 percent.

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