catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Bias at America's public broadcaster?

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America’s National Public Radio regularly interviews experts from think tanks. Marty Kaplan argues that NPR has caved in to conservative mau-mauing and now puts ‘balance’ ahead of truth — treating think tank propaganda as if it were credible expert opinion. Journalists, says Kaplan, "have to inject what they know to be ideologically motivated disinformation into their stories in order to inoculate themselves from the charge that they’re not ‘balanced.’"

Recently NPR’s ombudsman Jeff Dvorkin has been fielding complaints about the use of think tank experts. "Concerned listeners say NPR regularly fails to identify the politics that motivate the think tanks and wonder why NPR seems to ignore this key fact" says Dvorkin.

Dvorkin added up the number of think tank experts who were interviewed on NPR during 2005 and found that 239 were from right wing think tanks and 141 were from left leaning think tanks. "Journalism in general — including NPR — has become overly reliant on the easily obtained offerings of the think tanks" says Dvorkin. He agrees with listeners who say NPR ought to identify think tank experts. "Putting experts in some sort of context will go a long way to allaying the suspicions of many listeners who seem convinced that NPR is trying to portray experts as neutral when in fact, they aren’t."

Kaplan thinks that Dvorkin doesn’t go far enough and accuses him of "succumbing to the pomo disease that there’s no such thing as truth, that everything is about point of view, everything is a debate, everything is he-said/she-said".

…he goes on to say this: "More importantly, NPR needs to make sure that it is presenting an appropriate range of ideas and not just from one side of the debate." By this logic, every story that mentions Darwin needs a quote from a creationist; every piece about Auschwitz needs a clip from a Holocaust denier; every global warming piece needs an oil company flack to lend balance; every cancer story needs tobacco-financed "research" study to show "the other side." Conservative think tanks manufacture debate. That’s what they do: their aim is to create controversy, even when the facts are indisputible, because they know how enslaved contemporary journalism is by the tyranny of false equivalence.

Kaplan’s argument is that journalists should try to find and report the truth — not just present a smorgasbord of attributed opinion.

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Written by Admin

December 16, 2005 at 10:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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