- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2011


Imagine for a moment you were named the new president of National Public Radio (NPR). Your organization has just gone through several public relations disasters. They include firing respected liberal pundit Juan Williams for simply expressing his personal opinion on Fox News - and having former fundraiser Ron Schiller secretly caught on tape calling Tea Party activists “bigots” and making offensive comments about Jews. It’s come to a point where many people across the ideological divide are debating whether NPR deserves to continue receiving public funding.

What would you do? Like most sensible people, you immediately would try to repair the radio station’s shattered image by at least appearing to be more open and accommodating. Alas, Joyce Slocum, NPR’s new interim president and CEO, isn’t like most sensible people.

During an interview on NPR’s “On the Media,” co-host Bob Garfield asked Ms. Slocum if she had “the capacity to change anybody’s perceptions” if Fox News pundits Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck were brought in to host NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Here was Ms. Slocum’s answer: “Well, there are hardened critics who are never going to change their perception. But the really amazing thing that happens with a lot of people who have misperceptions about NPR, but are not hardened in those misperceptions, is all it takes for them to change that perception is to turn on their local member station and listen for a couple of hours.”

You mean, all it takes is a couple of hours of listening to NPR’s soothing sounds, and those deep, dark thoughts will turn into sunshine and lollipops? Wowsers, thanks for setting us straight. And if anyone really buys this rubbish Ms. Slocum is peddling, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale, cheap.

If NPR wants to reform its public image, it would be wise to ignore Ms. Slocum’s foolish statement that it doesn’t have an image problem. It does. Intolerance led to both Mr. Williams‘ firing for holding a different opinion from that of his left-wing lords and masters and to Mr. Schiller’s bigoted rant against groups he either disliked or found to be inferior. Hence, a massive shake-up of these pervasive points of view definitely is in order.

So, why not try to bring in Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Beck? NPR has a lot to gain by doing so and surprisingly little to lose. As it happens, I wrote a column in The Washington Times last month suggesting Fox News hire Keith Olbermann. The argument for bringing this liberal pundit into enemy territory is virtually the same as for bringing in Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Beck to NPR.

First, the duo would generate heaps of controversy - and that’s a good thing. They are two pundits with strong, thought- provoking opinions who don’t typically mince their words. They’ll challenge NPR’s established orthodoxy from the get-go and light up the telephone wires at the drop of a hat. Some people will be turned off, but many, many more will be tempted to tune in. More listeners would translate into higher ratings and increased advertising revenue and set the media chattering class ablaze.

Second, they would bring completely new audiences to NPR. While some conservatives and libertarians occasionally listen to NPR, most are not regular followers. The pundits’ fan bases - which are similar but not exactly the same - surely would listen to their radio programs and might be tempted to stay a bit longer purely out of curiosity. Anything is possible.

Third, they would be diverse voices on this media outlet. That’s something NPR is severely lacking right now and needs to improve quickly. There needs to be more balance in terms of programming, political and cultural content and intellectual discourse. Bringing in these two pundits definitely would be a start in the right direction.

Naturally, I don’t think NPR is going to hire Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Beck. Based on what happened to Mr. Williams, I doubt those two gentlemen would entertain an offer, either.

But the fact that NPR’s interim CEO rejected this idea so briskly - on an NPR show, to boot - says a lot about her mindset and the organization’s future direction.

No wonder some people feel the writing is on the wall for NPR. It keeps putting it there time and time again.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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