From coverage of the housing market meltdown to foreign war reporting, public radio and television have offered significant and groundbreaking coverage, according to top media critics and observers.
In the wake of the recent controversy over secret videotapes of top NPR officials -- and proposals to cut federal funding for NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- Media Matters asked those who cover the media and opine on it what they consider the most impactful public broadcasting offerings of the past.
David Zurawik, TV critic for The Baltimore Sun, cited the NewsHour on PBS and its overseas coverage of Egypt and other recent tragedies as notable.
"They were doing really imaginative coverage, providing context," he said of the foreign reports. He also noted PBS's Frontline: "the number of great productions I have seen on Frontline is huge."
Zurawik pointed to the February 2009 Frontline program, "Inside the Meltdown," about the housing crisis.
"It showed us the deals that were made between the government and Wall Street at the time. Frontline goes where 60 Minutes won't, into the deeply-ingrained economic problems. And Frontline is not fat and happy, they are always looking for people to partner with."
Alex S. Jones, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on The Press, Politics and Public Policy and a former media writer for The New York Times, said: "I can give you a humdinger -- Laura Sullivan's series on bail bondsmen -- absolutely spectacular."
He referred to the three-part report on NPR this past January that just won an Alfred I duPont Award from Columbia University.
"It brought something to my attention that was utterly unexpected and utterly unknown, that more than two-thirds of the population that are in jail are there because they can't afford bail," he said.
"The bail bond business does not want people to be freed on their own recognizance. They contribute mightily to the organizations that would or would not make those changes in law."
Jones also cited the "ongoing, superb reportage over the years of [senior European correspondent] Sylvia Poggioli, based in Rome. She is one of many of the jewels of NPR."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR.), founder and chairman of the Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, issued a statement Thursday slamming the proposal to stop federal funding for National Public Radio, H.R. 1076.
He also criticized James O'Keefe directly, describing his recent videos as a "dishonest hatchet job."
His statement is below:
Washington - Today Rep. Earl Blumenauer, founder and chairman of the bipartisan Congressional Public Broadcasting Caucus, condemned H.R. 1076, a bill to prohibit federal funding for National Public Radio and block local public broadcasting stations from buying any radio programming with federal funds.
"The majority is breaking its own rules on transparency to rush this bill to the floor before the American people have time to make their voices heard," said Blumenauer. "Polls show that a vast majority of Americans, including two-thirds of Republicans, want funding for public broadcasting to remain in place or even increase. This bill clearly goes against their wishes.
"What is particularly disappointing is the role being played by a dishonest, doctored video that is very clearly edited to trick viewers into thinking NPR is a partisan news outlet. James O'Keefe's dishonest hatchet job has no place in this discussion over the future of one of America's most important national treasures.
"The bill does not save a penny from the deficit, but it does hurt every single small, locally-owned public broadcasting station in America. Public broadcasting reaches over 30 million listeners a week, and now is the worst possible time to attack a successful enterprise that is growing and supports 21,000 jobs at local stations across this country. The notion that these small local stations can create their own content to replace what this bill takes away betrays a shocking lack of knowledge about the media business. No local outlet has the capacity to replicate the high-quality programming that is supported by federal funding."
Nine public radio general managers today issued a joint letter urging Congress to vote down H.R. 1076, the proposal to stop federal funding for NPR.
The letter, being sent to an undisclosed number of House members, is below:
As General Managers of Public Radio stations that serve millions of Americans in communities large and small, urban and rural and; As Producers of local, regional and national content aired by stations throughout the nation committed to telling the evolving story of America, its proud history, and its committed citizens;
We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the House legislation that would prohibit stations from using any Federal funds to pay for national programming and would eliminate CPB's Program Fund.
By prohibiting the use of Federal funds in any national programming, and in particular, by eliminating the CPB Program Fund, millions of Americans will be deprived of critical national and international news, information and cultural programming that cannot be found elsewhere. Local public radio stations will no longer reliably provide the community information and context so necessary to cities and towns challenged by change and faltering economies.
Institutions and projects at risk include:
- Radio Bilingüe's national program service, public radio's principal source of Latino programming.
- Koahnik Public Media' Native Voice 1, public radio's principal source of Native American programming.
- Youth Media, the California-based media network of young audio and video producers and a key source of a youth voice in the mass media.
- The Public Insight Network, American Public media's expanding project to bring citizen experts into public radio journalism.
- Independent producers who depend upon the Program Fund for money to support production of series such as StoryCorps and This I Believe.
- Independent organizations dedicated to innovation, training, and excellence in journalism such as the Public Radio Exchange and the Association of Independents in Radio.
The loss of the CPB Program Fund would cut producers off from a critical source of seed funding, in many cases the only source. Many projects fueled by the fund have gone on to attract large audiences, become financially self-sufficient, and represent the best in American journalism and programming.
Programs such as Radiolab, This American Life, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, The Tavis Smiley Show, Marketplace, and The World were all undertaken with the support of CPB, support that triggered other grants and funding.
Each production is, in essence, a small business in need of modest investment to ramp up on the way to fiscal independence.
Prohibiting local stations from using federal funds to acquire or produce local / national programming will interfere with the operating independence fundamental to the American's public radio system.
Removing our ability to acquire or produce programming would create a cascade effect that could ultimately undermine the entire public radio financial model.
Thousands of jobs will be eliminated and programs and entire services will be cancelled. We will lose listeners, members, and donors and the private money they contribute to keep us healthy and functioning.
These funding restrictions will devastate the public radio economy and eviscerate local stations' ability to attract audience, develop stable local revenue bases and, most importantly, continue to produce local programming including local/regional news.
David Isay, Founder and President, StoryCorps
Jeff Nelson, Managing Director, Public Strategy, Minnesota Public Radio
Torey Malatia, President and CEO, Chicago Public Media
Alisa Miller, President and CEO, Public Radio International (PRI)
Hugo Morales, Executive Director, Radio Bilingüe
Sue Schardt, Executive Director, Association of Independents in Radio, Inc. (AIR)
Jake Shapiro, CEO, Public Radio Exchange (PRX)
Laura Walker, President and CEO, New York Public Radio
Steve Yasko, General Manager, WTMD - Baltimore
Public Radio General Managers & Producers of Public Radio Programming
Public radio host Ira Glass, who has urged stations and supporters to speak out more in defense of NPR, predicted that more pushback from public radio is likely to occur soon.
Glass spoke to Media Matters during a reception prior to serving on a panel about story telling at The New School in New York City Wednesday.
He reiterated his concerns that NPR supporters are not defending themselves enough following the controversial hidden videos from James O'Keefe, adding that they are letting the de-funding fears hold them back.
"We are being attacked for having biased views and being accused of a radical, left-wing agenda, advocating a radical left-wing agenda," Glass said.
He first raised the issue during an appearance on NPR's 'On The Media' last weekend:
I feel like public radio should address this directly, because I think anybody who listens to our stations understands that what they're hearing is mainstream media reporting. We have nothing to fear from a discussion of what is the news coverage we're doing. As somebody who works in public radio, it is killing me that people on the right are going around trying to basically rebrand us, saying that it's biased news, it's left wing news, when I feel like anybody who listens to the shows knows that it's not. And we are not fighting back, we are not saying anything back. I find it completely annoying, and I don't understand it.
Asked about it Wednesday night, Glass predicted a strong response would be coming.
"Where are the people in public radio standing up and saying, 'This isn't true?'" he asked. "Lobbyists have said the argument about bias isn't a productive one to get into when funding is an issue."
"At some point in some way separate from the funding fight, public radio needs to reassert its value and its mission in an aggressive way, the same way that any other organization would," said Glass. "There are stirrings that it is going to happen."
In the wake of the recent undercover video of NPR fundraising executives making controversial comments about the Tea Party movement and other topics, some conservative commentators and activists are speaking out, telling Media Matters that NPR's coverage has been good.
"I think NPR tries harder to be fair than just about any other media source. It doesn't mean they succeed. They do give evidence of trying," said Michael Medved, a syndicated conservative talk radio host. "I listen almost every day to Morning Edition and All Things Considered. I think that they do as good a job as anybody in media in reporting the news."
Medved said he opposes federal funding for NPR and added that he might donate to the network if it gave up government funding.
He also told Media Matters: "NPR is not like ABC or CBS or NBC. I think they make a genuine, constant attempt to try to play it up the middle. They have gotten much better. There were very, very serious complaints from the Jewish community some years back about coverage of Israel and I think the coverage of Israel is much more fair ... They have improved."
Asked about NPR's Tea Party coverage, Medved said: "It is more fair than what you tended to get on network news."
Tony Blankley, a conservative syndicated columnist and former Newt Gingrich press secretary, says he has always been treated fairly on NPR.
"I've been on NPR regularly for a very long time," he said. "From a personal perspective they have always given me plenty of access, I am clearly a right-wing commentator so I cannot complain. There's a conservative on and there's a liberal on, so that's all fair."
He added, "It is what their view is on what constitutes news. They are much more concerned with what is going on in the third world. That is a news judgment. For every story they run on conditions in some third world country, it is space not used for some story that we conservatives think is relevant to a conservative audience."
Still, Blankley stressed the ability of conservatives to appear on NPR and speak their mind: "No editor or host has ever suggested, 'Could you not be quite so conservative on this show?' I have been open and free to express my opinion."
Tea Party activists have also said they have been treated fairly by NPR.
A Dallas Tea Party official, whose organization was profiled in a 2009 NPR story, told Media Matters today that while she believes NPR is generally biased, its reporting on her group was "very fair."
A separate Dallas Tea Party activist told conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds at the time that the group was "very pleased" with the story.
In comments to Media Matters, Reynolds added:
"There is no question that NPR generally has a leftist slant and attitude, but I have certainly gone out of my way to praise them on a number of occasions. They have done some Tea Party coverage that has been good."
Reynolds said: "I have praised their coverage on the Nidal Hasan story, and they were ahead of the curve on that. They were on top of that. I think they do a good job, they are conscientious."
"My own interaction with them has been fine, " he added. "I have found them to be fair. I think their coverage is often quite good. I think NPR does a good job."
Two of the nation's most respected media writers also found a fair and equal news approach by NPR.
"NPR generally represents both sides of an issue and tends to high journalistic standards," said James Rainey, media writer for the Los Angeles Times. "When lawmakers on Capitol Hill, from both parties, are being candid they will tell you that they listen to NPR to get good, thorough coverage of the big issues facing the nation."
Ken Auletta, the top media writer for The New Yorker, said, "I think NPR has the best radio news in America."
"They do a very good news job. I don't believe they have a conscious political bias. My sense is that when I listen to NPR, I feel that they try to be fair," Auletta added. "They try to present the news with real fairness and balance. Fox News, too often, is not fair and balanced. Private radio rarely fills the void that NPR fills, which is serious news."
Asked about the undercover tapes, Auletta urged people to listen to NPR's actual coverage.
"If you ignore that idiot's comments and can listen to NPR, you would be much harder pressed to find a bias."
News Corp. executive Chase Carey's contention that the company's $673 million takeover of Shine Group "had nothing to do with" Rupert Murdoch's daughter owning the firm is drawing disbelief among some who follow the media family.
"Rare is the occasion when I get to trot out the phrase 'height of folly,' but Chase Carey's assertion that blood ties had nothing to do with Rupert Murdoch's decision to sink $673.3 million into Shine truly fits the bill," said Anthony Crupi, staff writer for MediaWeek and author of a recent lengthy piece on Elisabeth Murdoch.
"While Elisabeth Murdoch has enjoyed inarguable success as a result of a number of key acquisitions, she still has a lot of ground to cover if she's to be ranked among the elite production companies that operate in the United States," Crupi noted, adding, "Is Shine on the same level as a 20th Century Fox TV? Not at all."
Others in the business press and media analysis circles offered similar views after Carey, News Corp.'s Chief Operating Officer, was quoted Monday denying Elisabeth Murdoch's family ties played any part in the decision to buy Shine Group.
Dow Jones reported:
News Corp.'s recent deal to acquire Shine Group is unrelated to News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch's family ties to the U.K.-based television production company, Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey said Monday.
Shine was founded by Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth Murdoch, who is expected to join News Corp.'s 15-member board after the deal.
"That had nothing to do with it," Carey said of the family relationship, at an investor conference hosted by Deutsche Bank.
Michael Wolff, editorial director of AdWeek Media and author of "The Man Who Owns The News: Inside The Secret World of Rupert Murdoch," appeared to dispute Carey's claim:
"Murdoch told me if he had to buy his daughter's company to get her to come back to News Corp. he certainly would," Wolff said in an e-mail. "My book spells out his precise and considered plan for getting his children to work for his company and to ultimately take it over. Having said that, I should add that by most measures Elisabeth Murdoch is top flight media executive."
Rick Edmonds, a Poynter Institute business media analyst, said the contention that family ties played no role is hard to believe.
"I would say looking from the outside, it would be something of an odd coincidence if it had nothing to do with the daughter and her interest," Edmonds said of the Shine Group purchase. "I don't find that necessarily to be extremely plausible."
One media analyst who follows News Corp., but requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from the company, said Murdoch's family ties likely made Shine more attractive than it would have been otherwise.
"Clearly one of Rupert's priorities is to bring Elisabeth back into the fold and this is one way to do it," the analyst said. "If it were somebody else's company, I think News Corp. would definitely have bid, I don't know if they would have bid that [much]. News Corp. had the inside track, definitely,"
MediaWeek's Crupi offered a similar view and also questioned if the move is the best for News Corp. stockholders:
"I think the core issue has less to do with inheritance and repatriation and everything to do with the power Elisabeth assumed the moment she signed Shine over to her father," Crupi added. "They're both positioning themselves for future growth, it's just that I'm not convinced the deal is in the best interest of News Corp. shareholders."
Alan D. Mutter, an independent media analyst and consultant in San Francisco, said News Corp. could have chosen many other companies for a similar investment.
"The question that could be asked is why this over any others?" Mutter said. "I don't think they overpaid based on the family, but why did they buy this company when they could have paid that much for some other entity? Was this the best deal? That is subjective."
Ken Doctor, veteran news industry analyst for Outsell and author of "Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get," said Murdoch's history of family business ties is obvious.
"Certainly, most public companies separate out family dynasty from business decision-making," he wrote in an e-mail. "But the two have always been intertwined at News Corp, and the acquisition of Shine fits that tradition."
Asked what he thinks of Carey's claim that family connections played no role in the purchase, veteran newspaper analyst John Morton stated: "On the face of it, it looks a little strange to say that."
Was Rick Santorum caught off guard when Fox News dropped him and Newt Gingrich from their paid appearances because of likely presidential runs, but not Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin?
Santourm told Media Matters last month at CPAC that he believed he could remain a Fox paid contributor and still appear in a planned Fox News South Carolina GOP primary debate in May -- so long as he didn't officially declare his candidacy.
"I don't think you have to be a candidate to be a part of the debate, at least that's my understanding," Santorum said during the CPAC interview on Feb. 10. He later said he did not believe it would be a conflict to work for Fox and participate in the debate.
Apparently Fox did not agree, announcing this week that Santorum and Gingrich would be suspended from their paid commentator contracts for at least 60 days. If they do not notify Fox News by May 1 that they are not running for president, they will be permanently terminated.
No such announcement was made for Palin and Huckabee.
Late Thursday, a Santorum spokeswoman made it clear the campaign would like Fox to treat other would-be presidential candidates the same way.
In a statement to Media Matters, Santorum Communications Director Virginia Davis wrote:
We respect Fox's decision, and we believe they will be consistent in their policy.
Fox News, meanwhile, has yet to respond to Media Matters' requests for comment on why they chose to suspend Santorum and Gingrich, but not Palin and Huckabee.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Dianne Brandi, Fox News executive vice president of legal and business affairs, revealed the suspensions were done because "Gingrich aides told Fox News executives that the former House speaker is stepping up his exploration of a presidential bid" and "Santorum ... has indicated that he plans to participate in Republican primary debates." Brandi told the paper, "so that leads us to believe he is seriously considering running."
The Times also reported:
"We can't have Speaker Gingrich on our payroll while he is in the midst of an exploratory committee to see if he's going to run for office," Brandi said. "It's a clear conflict."
Fox News still has two other potential White House contenders on the payroll: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"As soon as each of them shows some serious intention to form an exploratory committee, we would take the same action," Brandi said. "Huckabee is on a book tour, so I think his present intention is to sell books."
As for Palin, "She hasn't yet shown a serious intention to form an exploratory committee."
Mike Huckabee's incorrect assertion this week that Barack Obama grew up "in Kenya" has drawn sharp criticism from several media veterans, including a former Meet the Press executive producer.
Huckabee, during an appearance Monday on WOR Radio in New York, said of Obama: "... one thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American."
That has sparked strong reaction for the past few days. Huckabee has sought to explain the comment as a "simple slip of the tongue," despite the fact he said it twice.
"You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own set of facts. In this case he got his facts wrong," said Barbara Cochran, former Meet the Press executive producer and CBS News Washington, D.C., bureau chief. "Even as a potential presidential candidate, he can give voice to his opinion, but he really shouldn't perpetuate erroneous information. All that does is undermine his credibility."
Bob Steele, a top ethics instructor at the Poynter Institute, said the lack of accuracy is unacceptable.
"Journalists and other media professionals including talk show hosts should be held accountable for the accuracy of their statements. Even opinion and commentary should be factually accurate," Steele said. "These claims have received much more attention than they are worth. The evidence does not support such claims, and the restating of the inaccurate facts creates a false legitimacy to the claims."
For Alex S. Jones, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, it smacks of possible "vicious propaganda."
"Given the willingness of the Republican Right to try to frame Obama as not American, I would say this is either an honest mistake that should be addressed quickly or a piece of vicious propaganda." said Jones, a former media writer for The New York Times.
Ed Wasserman, a Miami Herald columnist and ethics journalism professor at Washington and Lee University, said such a comment will affect Huckabee's standing as a candidate and a television host:
"The thing that will be interesting to see is whether this fundamentally changes the perception of Huckabee as a credible and responsible candidate. How far will a candidate go to appease the most extreme right-wing faction?" Wasserman said. "It says that he does want to do business with that faction of the right. It says something about that kind of policy and his imagination when it comes to policy. That he may be willing to say that about Obama, then what more substantive concessions is he willing to make to the right."
Tim McGuire, former editor of The Star-Tribune in Minneapolis and a top professor at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said it clearly hurts Huckabee's credibility.
"Of course it is an outrage if anyone considers Huckabee even remotely related to a journalist," McGuire said via e-mail. "He is not. With behavior like this Fox has forfeited any pretensions of being a legitimate journalistic organization. They are an incubator and test-kitchen for right-wing ideas and Republican candidates."
For the last two weeks, Fox News reporter Mike Tobin has been at the center of his network's coverage of the Wisconsin union demonstrations.
He is also at the center of a controversy over claims -- called into question yesterday after the release of new video -- that he was "assaulted" by protesters.
Tobin spoke with Media Matters at length on Monday about the experience, which has included demonstrators repeatedly chanting "Fox News Lies" and waving signs referencing the network's inaccurate reporting.
On Sunday, Tobin claimed during a live report that he had just been "hit" by one of the protesters.
Tobin wasn't onscreen at the time, and a Fox anchor later said that the network's cameras had been blocked by protesters during the alleged incident.
Nonetheless, the Fox Nation website immediately claimed that Tobin had been "assaulted by demonstrator during live shot."
"I was just hit in the arm a couple of times," he said on Fox Sunday night. "To call it assault or anything like that is a bit of an exaggeration."
On Twitter, Tobin said that he "declined to press charges over a couple little punches in the arm" because doing so would create a "distraction."
That didn't stop Fox. On Monday, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Tobin about the "assault."
When Tobin disputed Kelly's characterization, she rephrased: "It is an unwanted touching. Actually, it's a battery, technically, under the law."
"Yeah, technically, but I got punched in the arm," Tobin responded. "It didn't even leave a bruise. So, I don't want to make too big a deal about it."
In an interview with Media Matters later Monday, Tobin sought to downplay the incident, which he continued to describe as a "punch."
"It was a punch. A punch is a punch, but it was just a punch in my arm. I grew up with three older brothers, it's not my first time being punched. I don't want to overdramatize it for the sake of TV or anything like that."
Then came the video.
The Madison, Wisconsin, radio station that dropped Glenn Beck's program this week issued the following statement to Media Matters when asked why the decision was made:
WTDY can no longer carry the Glenn Beck program. Over the last 12 months, the show has devolved into plugs for Fox News (the radio version of which is aired by our direct competitor), his books, and other personal endorsements. The lack of actual content becomes more apparent daily. Monday's program was the final straw; his unabashed deriding of Madison is unacceptable for broadcast in our community.