NPR will be "fair to the truth"

NPR's guidelines promise an end to "he said, she said" journalism that tries to be fair to both sides of an issue. From now on, the network will ask its reporters to be fair to the truth: "In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth."


    1. By most accounts that I have read, the burning of the books themselves was intentional (as part of controlling exchange of information between prisoners and the outside world), but the burning specifically of Korans was an unintentional byproduct of their activity. I wouldn’t call the “inadvertent” tag non-factual.

      1. Burning books was an unintentional byproduct of burning books, therefore it was inadvertent? The tautology club must be the tautology club today. 

        1. It’s really not that difficult a concept. The burning of the Koran was inadvertent to the intended burning of non-Koran books. No tautology there at all. 

          Of course this is predicated on the truth of the Pentagon line. 

      2. By most accounts that I have read, the US claims they did not intend to offend. Which I take as a surprising statement, since we’ve had a military force in that country for over a decade. We’re supposed to believe the US military still has no sense of the cultural impact of certain actions. And that book burning is a routine practice.

        Regardless, hearing reporters issuing unqualified statements about the motivation of others strikes me as non-factual reporting.

        1. It makes it sound as though they wouldn’t have burned the Qurans if they had known that they were in the pile of OTHER books they were planning on torching. You’d think we’d never desecrated a Quran before. 

          1. Yes, because the biggest problem is the word “inadvertent”, instead of people losing their shit over a fairy tale book. That’s the real reason why we should leave this place.

          2. Guys, the books were simply thrown into the trash, which, in accordance with standard procedure for disposing of trash, was then burned.

            I suspect that no one really thinking much of it, the same way someone might throw away the pocket bibles that will get handed out on street corners. (somehow i doubt these afghan organizations were handing out wonderfully high quality copys) It was stupid and problematic but there is no need to ascribe motives to anyone.

  1. I wonder if the BBC could be convinced to do the same? They’ve been repeatedly criticised for boiling arguments down to childish two-sided bunfights. ‘Balance’ is no longer a term for journalistic even-handedness but a fetish for avoiding criticism.

  2. Part of me wants to applaud the sentiment.

    Most of me thinks that’s the equivalent of praising a houseguest for not shitting all over your carpet.  If you’ve reached a point where that is something you actually consider praiseworthy instead of a bare minimum of expected behavior, then there is something seriously wrong with your houseguest.

    1. Yeah, but if you invite the shitter back the very next day, he can only conclude that you’re into that sort of thing.  News programs see themselves as entertainment.  As long as we keep watching they will interpret that as confirmation that we are entertained.

    2.  I believe the point is that they realize their reporting style has strayed down a bad path, and are taking measures to improve it. They’re not praising themselves – they’re actively admitting that their reporting has often been a little ridiculous in the past few years, which is the opposite of praising themselves.

      They typically have tried to give equal weight to all sides of an issue, even when one side is ridiculous and everyone knows it. I bet some journalists at NPR have wanted to shoot themselves after running some of the stories they did that I’ve heard, because they know how outrageous one of the sides is but they had to give it equal time anyway.

      If this means they’ll take a better approach, not giving equal time to loonies and bigots, then that’s excellent news. It’ll be interesting to see how the ideology (perceived) will shift. I suspect that it will veer left, because they won’t be giving equal time to people on the right (unless their arguments are valid), and that the perception that many have that NPR is mildly right-wing will change – and the perception that right-wingers have that NPR is far-left communist will certainly change as well (how much further left they can go in the far-right opinion, I’m not sure).

      I can’t help but wonder if the timing of this change has anything to do with a Talk of the Nation show from last week. In a segment discussing same-sex marriage in the black community, they had on a black bishop strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, and the stuff he (and some of the callers) were saying was infuriatingly outrageous – and the host only challenged one of the more outrageous things the one guy said, and it was a rather mild challenge at that. I had to turn it off because it felt like I was listening to right-wing talk radio.

  3. I just wait for the day when a reporter does not give some schmuck the chance to make his ridiculous story sound legitimate, and instead points out how full of shit they are.

  4. It’s a noble sentiment, but shouldn’t journalists already be doing this? Maybe these aren’t new guidelines, but for NPR to say, “Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth” implies that this hasn’t been a priority in the past.

    And I will admit to being a regular NPR listener, but I haven’t been a member for some time. I feel slightly guilty about that, but at the same time the people who work at my local NPR affiliate seem to be big supporters of eliminating funding for public broadcasting. Since they’re saying “We don’t need public money” I don’t see why they need a contribution from a member of the public like me.

    1.  Lately it hasn’t seemed like a priority.  I don’t know if it’s overcompensating for all the unwarranted bellowing from the far right or what.  It wouldn’t kill Robert Siegel to just tell some politician that something they’re saying is outright false.  I also think it’s funny that they feel the need to include the views of far right “think tanks” (propaganda mills) in order to appear “balanced”.  Is it really necessary to have some tool from Heritage on again telling us that tax cuts for the wealthy will fix the economy.  They don’t have to offer equal time to debunked lies just because there’s a demographic that *feels* something is true.

      Listen to (news flagship) All Things Considered vs. “On the Media” to see the contrast in how these hosts handle guest’s truthy-isms.  Like night and day.

    2. you’re misinterpreting what they are saying about “public funding”. they are referring to federal distribution of tax revenue to public broadcasting. whether or not they are right is another story, but either way, there will be zero public broadcasting in the US if individuals and governments all stop funding it.

      1. If I could bypass my local affiliate and fund the main NPR office I would. And in fact I just might look for a way to do that.

        I do have problems with the main NPR office, but at least the national level journalists aren’t a mouthpiece for certain political and business interests, which is not something I think is true of the local journalists.

        1.  It’s set up so that the main NPR studios are funded largely (entirely?) by the local stations, who pay most of their local membership income to buy access to the national NPR shows.

          What you can do if you don’t like your local affiliate is to pay for a membership at a better station somewhere else. I like KPCC in SoCal (or of course the more music-focused KCRW) and if I were to become a member I’d do it through KPCC even though I don’t live there anymore. Or you might prefer WNYC, or the one in Chicago that does This American Life and other shows, or whatever. One of the big ones.

  5. Is that going to be the real truth, the perceived truth, the manufactured truth or the hoped-for truth? And will it be your truth, my truth, their truth, or someone else’s? I’ll reserve judgment until I make sure that the truth they show is the truth I want to believe.

  6. That’s great, he-said she-said journalism isn’t terribly useful and it gives false credibility to lies.

    in the same spirit NPR should focus on education above entertainment.  For instance instead of reporting poll results NPR could report on candidates’ records and beliefs. I’ve heard more about the “race” than about the policy implications of the race.

      1. Yeah I switch channels when they invite Cokie on, why her bloviating counts as news I don’t know.  Although the same could be said for Frank Deford who is awesome. 

  7. NPR has been listening to their own show, On The Media, where they’ve been talking about this issue and exemplifying the right way to do it for years.

  8. Oh, so I guess this means they’ll do actual journalism? Too little too late. They still pay David Brooks for his blather …

    1. That’s what makes this so sad and noteworthy.  One of the better news outlets has to change because they are so extremely far from being truthful or fair.

  9. “The Truth”

    So…they’ve decided to only air unedited recordings with zero commentary and no headlines?

    Despite 5000 years of recorded history, the closest anyone in journalism has ever gotten to the truth is “you will die, eventually”.

  10. The “two sides” are usually only two sides of an extremely limited section on the opinion plane, so that’s not in any way “balanced” to begin with. Unless the “one side” in political coverage, for instance, turns out to be someone like Noam Chomsky… but such opinions are mostly just plain pushed out of sight.

  11. Well, good for NPR, but it’s just a start.  (Now we need to get them to stop the five minute spots with three minutes of intro and outtro.

    I’ve called the CBC News on the same kind of reporting.
    I’ve used as example: “Man says a Flying Saucer landed in his back yard.”  Perfectly factual, but barely worthy of the News of the World.

  12. The more they are “fair to the truth,” the closer Republicans get to cutting off their funding as a result.

  13. There was a Daily Show clip a few years ago, when the LHC was just getting going, about a guy who was suing to stop it because it might destroy the earth. At one point in the story he was asked what he thought the actual chances of that were. His answer? 50%. His reasoning? Well…it could create a black hole that would grow uncontrollably until it devoured the entire earth…or it couldn’t. Since those are the only two possibilities, that means there is a 50/50 chance of it happening.

    The reason I mention that clip is because it’s the same kind of reasoning that seems to be used by many in the media these days. Death Panels? They may or may not be part of the health care bill, which means a 50/50 chance, so we should report both sides equally. Climate change? It may or may not be happening, which means a 50/50 chance, so we should report both sides equally.

    Perhaps it’s simply a response to market forces. After all, if a political entity makes a claim that is demonstrably false, pointing it out runs the risk of pushing away any true believers of that claim. In hyper-partisan times like these that could mean a good chunk of your audience.

    On the other hand, it could be argued that such hyper-partisanship is actually the RESULT of this type of reporting. After all, if your views are given legitimate consideration independent of any factual basis, you might lose the inhibitions associated with being challenged and feel ever more justified in pushing your own beliefs as actual facts.

  14. “An archived clip of different Congressional hearings exposes the fact that the CIA directly plants stories in the media, both in the United States and the rest of the world.

    Question: Do you have any people being paid by the CIA who are contributing to a major circulation journal?
    Answer: We do have people who submit pieces to American journals.
    Question: Do you have any people paid by the CIA who are working for television networks?
    Answer: This I think gets into the details id like
    to get into in executive session. (so the public doesn’t hear how we
    control all the networks)

    Considering that this was going on in the 1950s, it is highly likely that this is happening now and at a much larger extent. The CIA and other government agencies literally control the corporate controlled media.

    Anytime you hear a story on the major networks that has any implication in US foreign or domestic policy rest assured that it was, at the very least, vetted by the CIA before being released.”

  15. Reading the comments on this bothers me. They are trying folks. And NEWSFLASH: You can’t please everyone… EVER! No matter how hard they try to not cross lines, they are human and it will happen. They aren’t swearing to be perfect in EVERYONE’S opinion 100% of the time. Just that they will TRY their best to aim for the truth, and not opinion. At least they are putting effort into it. Can’t they even get a few points for effort. Most news channels don’t even kinda try. I say… Good on ya NPR! I live in the deep south and flipping through radio channels all I hear is hate, hate, hate. People attacking others, so filled with VERY intentional venom. They allow people with differing view points on, only to cut them off mid sentence, insult them & make fun of them… and never actually even TRY to listen to a word they say. And this is on BOTH sides of the party. Channel after channel of pointing fingers and slinging mud. Everyone acting superior, and doing it with smug grin. It got to the point, I barely wanted to turn my radio on. Then, I found NPR. I’m not saying they are perfect… but  I hear them trying to be fair. And what I don’t hear if hate filled venom, cruelty and a smug intolerance for all view points that aren’t their own. Thank you NPR! 

    1. NEWSFLASH: You can’t please everyone

      Then why did they try to do just that at the expense of their integrity?

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