- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2002

If you think National Public Radio is prepared to give conservatives a fair shake, we might just have a couple of major bridges for sale. Last month, the station aired a slanderous "report" suggesting that the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) may have been involved in sending anthrax-tainted letters to two Democratic senators, Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Washington Times reported Jan. 8 that NPR reporter David Kestenbaum had telephoned the TVC asking if the group had been contacted by the FBI about the letters. When asked why anyone suspected that the TVC may have somehow been involved with the anthrax scare, Mr. Kestenbaum replied that he'd seen a coalition press release that was critical of both senators for seeking to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the oath administered to individuals testifying at Senate hearings. "I was really shocked," said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the TVC.

When the story aired Jan. 22 on NPR's "Morning Edition," Mr. Kestenbaum continued the mendacious effort to link the anthrax letters and the TVC, saying that the group was one which "had a gripe with Messrs. Daschle and Leahy" over the "so help me God" phrase. While FBI agents wouldn't discuss the case, Planned Parenthood officials were glad to talk to NPR about problems they had had with hoaxers sending white powder to them in the mail. And Mr. Kestenbaum helpfully included in his report an interview with a former postal inspector about the Unabomber investigation. In essence, the TVC had its name dragged through the mud, together with anthrax hoaxers and a serial killer, based on nothing more than the fact that it put out a press release criticizing two senators.

None of this occurs in a vacuum. TVC Executive Director Andrea Lafferty points out that the anthrax smear dovetails with a Democratic Party bid to liken Republicans and religious conservatives to the Taliban. Newsweek's Howard Fineman reported late last year that Democrats are "planning a daring assault on the most critical turf in politics: the cultural mainstream. The theory goes like this. Our enemy in Afghanistan is religious extremism and intolerance. It's therefore more important than ever to honor the ideals of tolerance religious, sexual, racial, reproductive at home. The GOP is out of the mainstream, some Democrats will argue next year [2002], because it's too dependent upon an intolerant 'religious right.' "

Also interesting is the fact that all this has happened as the TVC, which argues that NPR is functioning as an appendage of the Democratic Party, has begun a campaign to defund the agency, which will receive upwards of $50 million from taxpayers in fiscal 2002. That's more than $50 million too much. With a dizzying array of choices available to radio listeners, it's time that NPR began to fend for itself in the marketplace and stopped smearing its critics.

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