Which side is NPR’s Diane Rehm on?

March 16, 2011

RECENTLY, NATIONAL Public Radio's (NPR) Diane Rehm Show had a special on the fight for union rights in Wisconsin--but the show failed to interview a single Wisconsin worker about what's at stake. Here is an open letter I wrote to the show:

Dear Diane Rehm and guests Major Garrett, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Chris Cillizza:

Your segment on Wisconsin this morning made me sick. How do you cover a massive struggle by the working class without engaging with any of the rank-and-file union members, any of the activists, anyone on the ground at all?

I guess what's really going on is that you take the same approach to covering this story as Scott "Hosni" Walker takes to making policy. You have participated in the union bashing, taking a top-down view of union organizing (after all, you only quoted the head of the AFL-CIO to show how many concessions the unions were willing to make, but the union bosses are just as anti-union as you are), you have assisted in trying to maintain the Republican/Democrat binary that is rapidly deteriorating and, by wondering if the uprisings across the Middle East and Northern Africa have "had any effect" on the protesters in Wisconsin at all, you are showing your complete ignorance of what international solidarity is and how it is created.

You have planted yourself firmly on the side of the capitalist class, the ruling class, the bosses. The perspective conveyed on your show today is, at best, ignorant. Rhetoric like what I heard on your show this morning is downright dangerous as workers across the country and across the world are engaged in a fight for their lives. It's time someone called you out on it.

Your show is aired on public radio stations around the country. To be sure, the listening audience is largely white, and largely middle and upper class. Despite its publicly funded origins, NPR takes funding from foundations created and run by the rich and, more devastatingly, from corporations. As you are under threat of being defunded, I have heard calls from my own NPR station, WFDD in Winston-Salem, N.C., for donors to call the station for more information about this "complex issue."

PUBLIC RADIO is a great idea, and I fully support fully funded public radio across the country. Whether public institutions should continue to be funded is only a complex issue because the stations are trying to appeal to wealthy right-wing donors that believe in austerity measures.

That being said, if we are going to have public radio, the people on it must be held accountable for the perspectives they air and the views they put forth. For all NPR claims to be unbiased, it is, at best, a moderately liberal organization that often throws its weight behind budget cuts, austerity, war and the death penalty. The refusal of NPR to present left perspectives in any regular fashion seriously undermines the institution's journalistic credibility.

There are many reporters at NPR who claim to speak truth to power, but the fact is that there are activists who do this every day of their lives and who have little to no access to any sort of media. If NPR were truly unbiased, there would be equal amounts of perspectives from the left and the right.

More importantly, though, if NPR and your show were actually to reflect the majority of public opinion, the show wouldn't be filled with budget hackers, Tea Party racist apologists and corporatists. That is certainly not a cross-section of what America really looks like. If you think it is, you've been getting all your info from Fox News.

If you want massive public support to fight the defunding of NPR, perhaps you should stand with public workers, who are facing a similar fight. They could certainly teach you some things about how to fight corporations and budget hackers, instead of apologizing for them. Once they've won back their rights, perhaps then, they can help you fight for more federal funding.

Or perhaps not.

After all, NPR still refuses to be openly critical of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the war in Pakistan. Zionist pro-apartheid rhetoric can be heard on NPR almost every day, sometimes on your show. There has been no denouncing of tax cuts for the rich, austerity for our schools, racism in police departments...do I need to keep going?

Claims of being unbiased are complete bullshit. There are too many facts to report them all. Just by who you choose to interview, which stories are covered, which order they are presented in--all of these things convey a perspective. A pro-corporatist, anti-worker, pro-occupation perspective. In that light, it seems pretty ludicrous for working class people around the country to support you as-is.

But that change can start now, by siding with the protesters--in Wisconsin and around the world.

Here's my proposal: Interview people who have actually been organizing.

Just some suggestions from Wisconsin: Robin Gee, a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 3872 and delegate to the Madison-area South Central Federation of Labor; Lee Sustar, a labor reporter from Chicago who has extensively covered the battle in Wisconsin; and Peter Rachleff, a labor historian who has solidly been defending the unions.

It's a start, and I'm willing to bet you're going to get a whole new audience.

Remember that this is how solidarity works: we fight for each other. If you want to protect your public funding, protect your public workers!
Trish Kahle, Winston-Salem, N.C.

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