“R” stands for religion?

NPR logoToo much religion reporting? How is that possible, one might ask? A couple of National Public Radio listeners feel that way, along with its ombudsman, Jeffrey A. Dvorkin. Since I rarely listen to NPR — I bike to work — it would be difficult for me judge whether NPR covers too much news of a religious nature. I can say that I think Dvorkin fails to give credible statistics regarding the radio network’s coverage and generalizes on the subject.

NPR listener Terri Dziekonski weighs in on Dvorkin’s column:

I have lately come to believe that the “R” in NPR stands for religion. Why do we have to have a comment from a conservative minister on almost every news item reported? And, why does everything that goes on of a religious bent have to be reported in great detail[?] The coverage of the Pope’s death was not the only incidence of this. There seems to me to be a distinctly right leaning to the reporting on NPR these days and I, for one, am not happy with it.

Followed by Jo Sullivan:

I did not write last week, but I too am dismayed and disgusted by the outpouring of religion that you have put on your programs in recent months. I do not listen to NPR to be proselytized. Christians have their own stations, and spend billions to get their message out. Why give them a free venue? Are you catering the current administration?

Dvorkin fails to address the obvious ignorance in both of these statements. Clearly religious issues need to be reported thoroughly. The issues are complex and if it’s true that the network gives religious issues thorough coverage, it should be commended, not criticized. I need a clear example of a reporter going overboard to be convinced on this account. Second, Sullivan’s comment is ridiculous. Proselytizing on NPR?

That said, it’s not the first time this claim has been raised in the ombudsman’s column. This accusation receives a rebuttal from Dvorkin via senior producer Walter Watson, but Dvorkin goes onto agree with the “many listeners” who feel that the network has given too much play to religious issues.

But the sheer volume of stories about religion is overwhelming many listeners. Perhaps NPR News should monitor the overall amount of airtime devoted to this one subject.

Now it’s up for you all to decide — especially NPR listeners — whether public radio has given too much attention to religion. And please check out NPR’s religion page. Other news websites should take note of this.

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  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    Oh, boy. Here we go again. Slow around the office, fellas?

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Why is the idea of proselytizing on NPR ridiculous? You youself admit that you rarely listen to NPR, so how would you know? (Me too, so how would I know?)

    Sullivan’s comment is ridiculous, but for other reasons. Mere reporting on religious issues doesn’t constitute proselytizing, for one thing. And the whole “Christians have their own stations” thing — most of the Christians I know don’t listen to Christian radio stations, and don’t want to. I’m not sure why, since I don’t listen to them either, but I’m guessing that a whole lot of “Christian” radio is actually right-wing Dispensationalist radio, and that has little appeal for centrist, liberal, and leftist, non-Dispensationalist Christians.

  • Jill

    NPR = national public radio, right? Some of the public is Christian and/or religious. Why shouldn’t some of NPR’s news coverage be about religious topics or report news stories related to religion?

    And Christian radio stations, by the way, come in all shapes and sizes — especially in metro areas. We have noncommercial, listener-supported Christian stations that are mostly teaching, (Tony Evans, Dobson, etc.) preaching, and praise & worship music, and we even have one that has an all alternative rock format (and no annoying commercials!) Then we have the 100 kajillion watts commercial station that is “safe and fun for the whole family,” which is too plain vanilla for me. Only the ones that are primarily talk radio, or teaching & preaching might be viewed as dispensationalist (or not) or “right-wing” (or not).

  • http://www.this-side-of-glory.com Grace Brooks

    I do listen to NPR, and so I can say what I think everyone else can already guess — that this is so patently untrue that it’s downright bizarre! “Why do we have to have a comment from a conservative minister on almost every news item reported?” I am dying to know where this woman is listening. There is some of the NPR programming that is changed out for local angles, though I suspect that most of that is still packaged. Still, I’m in the Kansas City, which is probably fairly conservative compared to most of their listening areas, and I can’t recall *ever* hearing a minister commenting on the news. I think it’s a bit of a giveaway that the only actual news item this woman can think of to support her claim of non-stop prosletyzing is the coverage of the Pope’s death. Two things occur to me:
    * Many liberals are so incredibly out of touch with religion and so hostile to it that if they hear two things touching on it in a week they feel like they’re being barraged.
    * There is supposedly some new thought at NPR managment about trying to balance the *liberal* (as in, NOT conservative) bent to their news, and it’s been taken very hard by those who feel like their ice floe is melting fast. Any noises from NPR that give them a chance to complain about the rampant conservatism may seem to sincere foot soldiers like a chance to put the debate on their own terms.

  • ECJ

    What NPR Listeners want – nay, feel entitled to – is a Religion-free broadcast zone. This is ‘their’ broadcast network, doncha know. And they aren’t amused by the prospect of red-state hayseeds tracking religious ideas all over their nice, clean, respectable secular carpets. Which (as was previously mentioned) says all you need to know about the true meaning of ‘Public’ in National Public Radio.


  • Stephen A.

    I stop listening to liberal public radio for six months and look what happens – it gets converted into a right-wing Christian proselytizing network! When the heck did THAT happen?

    Actually, I seriously doubt that any such thing is really happening. I suspect instead it’s another case eerily similar to my story of the Unitarian Universalist minister who was fired for daring to mention the word “god.”

    Speaking of God in the temple of secularism is a apparently an excommunicable offense these days, too for some anti-religious bigots… oops, I meant to type anti-religious “purists.” How did that other word pop out?

  • http://revivalblog.com carl

    I listen to NPR and often have to change the channel during the abundance of new age reports. When they say they don’t want “religion,” they mean they don’t want Christianity. There are lots of Eastern nonsense that doesn’t seem to bother anyone on that station. I enjoy the alternate view of many stories but like Fox News, I filter what I take in.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I don’t listen to Papa Marx’s favorite radio station very often. But if it is like the rest of the leftist-secular media: when it comes to covering religion–no news is good news. Take the example of the controversy over the role of Pius XII during WWII. Over a thousand times-or thereabout- I have read news stories and columns quoting from John Cornwell’s sad saga “Hitler’s Pope.” However the book is full of lies, distortions, and gross misrepresentations. Not surprisiong considering Cornwell is a disgruntled Catholic and a journalist not a professional historian. I have yet to see even mentioned in the lamestream media the book :The Myth of Hitler’s Pope” by David G. Dalin. Dalin is a Rabbi and a professional historian. After cutting Cornwell’s (and a few other incompetent writers’) facts and data to shreds, Rabbi Dalin concludes by advocating Pius XII be honored as a “righteous Gentile” at Yad Vashem the Holocaust memorial in Israel. Somehow Dalin’s scholarship doesn’t fit the papal stereotype the secular media wants to promote.

  • SusanP

    As an off-and-on listener to “All Things Considered,” I must admit that I have noticed an increase, perhaps since approximately the last election, in coverage of what I would call “Red State/Blue State” dividing issues, and (of those) religious topics especially. By and large, the pieces have had what struck me as an attitude similar to that of an anthropologist going off to study some backward tribe. One I recall in particular, in a series on parents reacting to proposed sex ed. courses (in Maryland?) had even a tinge of hysteria: these sorts of people could attack your school system next!

    So for those accustomed to living in religion-free zones, for whom Sunday ritual involves a cup of coffee over the gospel reading (The New York Times, of course), I can imagine that any increased attention to a world with which they are wholly unfamiliar and of which they are equally contemptuous would be cause for concern.

  • Michael

    The specific story that was discussed in the letters was a very lengthy story–which I heard–about a Megachurch in Chicago (I think) that was sending sermons and crafting services in satellite churches. It was actually quite fascinating, although I was surprised that it was a fairly uncritical report. Little discussion of why this may not be a good direction, nothing about potential abuses, nothing about what this means about “community” when the sermon is on audiotape, nothing about the eonomics of the ministry.

    Because of the fear of being accused of being biased, it does sometimes seem that NPR backwards not to question or critically examine stories about conservative religions.

  • Ray from Minn

    I might ask a question of Mr. Dvorkin as to why events in Israel get so much coverage in the United States.

    Millions die in Africa and Asia, violently and/or from starvation and disease. Those kind of stories don’t make the news, mostly because they don’t seem to be “news” to Americans.

    I would venture to say that news stories about events in Israel far outnumber stories about deaths in Africa or Asia because listeners are interested in those stories.

    It may very well be the case that Americans, 85% nominally or more Christian, might be interesting in hearing may be interested in hearing Christian slants on the news.

  • Tom Breen

    If NPR is simultaneously drawing fire from people who claim it’s a venue for right wing Christianity and people who claim it’s a venue for Communist propaganda (I believe that Karl Marx died before broadcast radio, so his listening preferences sadly aren’t known to us), NPR is probably doing the right thing.

  • Michael

    If NPR is simultaneously drawing fire from people who claim it’s a venue for right wing Christianity and people who claim it’s a venue for Communist propaganda (I believe that Karl Marx died before broadcast radio, so his listening preferences sadly aren’t known to us), NPR is probably doing the right thing.


  • http://www.wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott Roche

    I listen to NPR quite a bit adn I have to agree with Tom. I think they strike a pretty good balance.

  • ECJ

    The idea that NPR is now or ever has been a “venue for right wing Christianity” is a self-evident joke. I defy anyone to name even one show on any Public Broadcat outlet which consistently presumes the truth of a Christian world view. Such a show just doesn’t exist.

    NPR listeners are not worried that NPR is becoming an extension of ‘Focus on the Family.’ They are angry that certain ideas are being given any airtime at all. They feel that by giving these ideas airtime, NPR is extending to them a veil of credibility which is undeserved. NPR listeners want these ideas ghettoized – where they will be unable to contaminate the ears of respectable people, and unlikely to influence the unfortunate mortals who inhabit places less enlightened than NYC.

    And NPR will listen. I could complain until Judgment day, and they wouldn’t listen. But just once let the Upper East Side snarl. A broadcaster knows his market.


  • Michael

    A broadcaster knows his market.

    Just look at Fox or the Wall Street Journal if you need proof of that.

  • Stephen A.

    ECJ hits it on the head. The squealing from the liberal elite you’re hearing isn’t that NPR is turning into Focus on the Family. No, these Left wing Ayatollahs are upset that “their” network is giving “THOSE people” (i.e. all who aren’t secular liberals) *any* coverage at all.

    We see this kind of cultural cleansing constantly. Some issues simply AREN’T up for discussion, dontcha know?

    I’m still bowled over by the reaction of the Smithsonian to that one little article by someone whose crime included the charge that he MAY have been religious.

    And yet some still have the gall to say “Gee, NPR’s pretty balanced.”

    It will take a LOT more for that propaganda arm of the Left to be seen as “balanced” than a few relatively unbiased pieces on religion.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com matt

    I listen to 5-8 hours of NPR every day. (Member of KQED-FM in San Francisco) I usually wish they would cover less political stuff and more religion stuff. But my favorite show is Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday, even if the host is belligerent toward the ID people he has on once in a blue moon.

    And the little bit of religion news they do broadcast isn’t very balanced. I think I have heard Bishop Spong 4 times on Fresh Air, but only heard D.James Kennedy once. I’ve never heard an Orthodox Christian on any NPR shows.

    And now that I think of it, even when they have a Christian on who really does believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, and reall did come back from the dead, it is only to talk about the political views of those Christians; as though politics is even in the top 5 things Chriatianity is concerned with! Arrrgh!

    In general, I think NPR’s treatment of Islam and Bhuhism is much more fair.

  • ECJ

    “Just look at Fox or the Wall Street Journal if you need proof of that.”

    How fortunate for America that we have the NY Times to keep pure and undefiled the High Priesthood of Journalism.


  • Tom Breen

    Yeah, just the other day on NPR, I heard conductor James Conlon discussing Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Die Seejungfrau,” in particular how it has its origins in the unrequited love affairs of the composer. If that isn’t the propaganda arm of Socialism at its worst, I don’t know what is.

    And let’s not even discuss those Ayatollahs of the Left, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, or, as they’re known to other members of their Bolshevist cell group, “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” I believe their Peabody Award was given for Distinguished Leninism as it applies to muffler repair.

  • Stephen A.

    To give some credit where it’s due, when I did listen to NPR, the Science Friday show was quite good, when it strayed clear of politics and religion, which I don’t remember it doing much at all.

    I’d not be surprised at all to learn that Buddhism gets a ‘pass’ on NPR since it’s the religion of the Hollywood intelligencia – though I bet most Buddhists living in Asia would barely recognize the ‘faith’ of America’s boozing, drug-using oversexed movie elite who have adopted the trendy version of their religion.

    Unfortunately, that watered-down version is what seems to get play in the MSM.

  • tmatt

    I think NPR has been making a sincere effort to (a) improve its coverage of this crucial topic and (b) feature sane, informed voices from the lifestyle right as well as the left.

    If that is ticking people off, then I think NPR can be proud of that. NPR executives can also know that they are attracting a wider audience and more diversity, too. Three cheers.

  • Kizmet

    Frederica Mathews-Green was once a commentator on All Things Considered, a paradox that I asked her about. She said it was the question she was most frequently asked at Orthodox speaking engagements (this was at least 6 years ago, come to think of it) and the incongruity of it made most people laugh.

  • Kizmet

    Also, I have to wonder if the “This I Believe” series is not being mistaken for religious coverage. Several of the segments I’ve heard have a religious tone to them. Highly appropriate, I think, considering the theme.

  • Harris

    Barbara Haggerty reports on the Morning Show. She’s an an evangelical and has turned in some interesting reports over the past year. They are sometimes feel a little *too* conservative, but then…

  • http://www.wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott Roche

    “And yet some still have the gall to say “Gee, NPR’s pretty balanced.””

    Compared to other media outlets they are.

  • Stephen A.

    Scott, in the past, NPR has not been balanced. Maybe they’ve changed.

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