NPR, bias and journalism: A complex relationship

The top of a news story published this week by a major mainstream media outlet:

Rightly or not, NPR has become the public face of commitment to quality journalism, owing to its taxpayer funding and its ombudsman’s outspoken support of fairness and balance.

Yet the presence of liberals and left-wing politicos in NPR offices is common. And the fact that they often hold leadership positions in NPR newsrooms is the worst kept secret in American journalism.

While many NPR employees tout traditional journalistic values in public, the bars of the nation’s capital are often filled with NPR reporters who advocated for Barack Obama and never quite got over Al Gore losing to George W. Bush. Some NPR executives have become embroiled in scandals involving videos showing that they favor a liberal worldview.

The evidence used to back up the reported claim of "the best kept secret in American journalism?" The report makes a bunch of unattributed, unverified statements. It quotes five conservative critics of NPR, ranging from Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center to Marvin Olasky of World magazine. But it never gives anyone at NPR an opportunity to respond to the allegations of bias.

To illustrate its allegations of widespread bias, the 1,400-word report climaxes with a "gotcha" moment from 2011:

A National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller, was captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement.

“The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move,” declared Schiller, then the head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation.

At this point, I have an important confession to make: I made up the above report.

It's fiction.

But the style of "news story" was inspired by NPR, which used the above formula as it reported this week on black churches and homosexuality.

The headline on NPR's report:

Blacks, Gays And The Church: A Complex Relationship

The top of the story:

Fairly or not, African-Americans have become the public face of resistance to same-sex marriage, owing to their religious beliefs and the outspoken opposition of many black pastors.

Yet the presence of gays and lesbians in black churches is common. And the fact that they often hold leadership positions in their congregations is the worst kept secret in black America.

While many black pastors condemn gays and lesbians from the pulpit, the choir lofts behind them often are filled with gay singers and musicians. Some male pastors themselves have been entangled in scandals involving alleged affairs with men.

The evidence used to back up the reported claim of "the best kept secret in black America?" The report makes a bunch of unattributed, unverified statements. It quotes five gay-rights advocates, ranging from a liberal pastor supportive of same-sex marriage to a gay gospel singer. But it never gives a single one of the "many black pastors who condemn gays and lesbians from the pulpit" an opportunity to respond to the blanket allegations of hypocrisy and "an unspoken 'don't ask, don't tell' custom."

To illustrate its allegations of widespread hypocrisy, the 1,400-word report climaxes with a "gotcha" moment from 2010:

Bishop Eddie Long, the leader of one of the nation's largest black churches, in suburban Atlanta, was sued in 2010 by three young men who claimed Long coerced them into sexual relationships. Long denied the accusations and the cases were settled out of court.

The irony, of course, is that NPR has a reporter on the Godbeat who truly strives for accuracy and balance: Barbara Bradley Hagerty. She was not the reporter who produced the piece critiqued by this post.

Your turn, GetReligion readers: Read the NPR story and weigh in. How might NPR have approached this same report in a less biased way? What sources or angles would have improved the narrative from a journalistic standpoint?

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