Why is the Department of Homeland Security sponsoring NPR programs?

A few posts on Twitter this morning expressed alarm — or at least confusion — when listeners heard an underwriting announcement during Morning Edition this morning from the Department of Homeland Security.

What’s up with that?

“‘Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), offering E-Verify, confirming the legal working status of new hires. At DHS dot gov slash E-Verify.”

Let’s pass the buck by noting these are sponsorship announcements coming from NPR and has nothing to do with Minnesota Public Radio. Besides, NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, has written an online column about the decision to take the government cash.

NPR defends the sponsorship saying the network has accepted underwriting money from government for 20 years although the Postal Service, National Science Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts hasn’t usually stirred this much controversy.

Not everyone is happy about it within NPR, Shepard’s article suggests:

“There’s a perception of a conflict when you hear reporting and then you hear a funding credit that’s from a particular point of view and you realize the program was funded in part by that government organization or entity,” said Sean Collins, the executive producer of Latino USA for NPR. “It just makes you a little queasy. I don’t think we do a good enough job of reiterating the concept of a firewall. It really does exist.”

But Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin ratchets up the rhetoric, offering a sweeping generalization about Public Radio listeners:

As wild as the misperceptions about immigration policy are among NPR critics, their conceptions of what public radio is or should be are even stranger. Should NPR only accept advertising (because that’s what we’re talking about, no matter what genteel euphemisms we clothe it in) from clients with a certain set of sociopolitical objectives? The lefty Ford Foundation si, the righty Scaife Foundation no? The Department of Health and Welfare but not the Defense Department? (Except when Obama starts pulling the troops out, Defense will be okay again?) The United Way is all right as long as it talks about Planned Parenthood-funded abortion clinics, but not the homophobic Boy Scouts?

Late last week, the NPR ombudsman appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation to discuss whether NPR sponsors have any influence the network’s programs and reporting. Find it here.

As for MPR listeners, only seven have called since the spots started, according to MPR spokeswoman Jennifer Haugh. Three were negative and four were “neutral.”

  • Donavon Cawley

    Glenn Garvin’s article seems to be a veritable thesis on why TV critics should avoid the topic of politics. His use of vitriolic, ad hominem attacks such as “NPR listeners more closely resemble a cult than an audience,” and “Public-radio listeners apparently exist inside hermetically sealed ideological compartments that cripple not only their powers of observation but their ability to reason,” only belabor the point that TV critics shouldn’t flirt with real news, and stick with Nielson ratings and the latest from Britney Spears.

  • boB from WA

    Is this any worse than when ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) was funding NPR and yet were under investigation for corporate fraud (at least that is how I remember it)? I would like to think that most NPR listeners are intelligent enough to understand the difference between corporate sponsorship and the unbiased reporting of those same sponsors.

  • Bob

    What about having underwriting guidelines wherein:

    *NPR will not accept underwriting support from controversial organizations or businesses?

    *NPR will not accept underwriiting support from companies whose products do not perform as claimed, or that are riddled with problems. (That would eliminate e-verify.)

    *NPR will not accept, or will terminate underwriting support agreements, with companies that are under criminal investigation. (That would have eliminated ADM as a sponsor.)

    Also, and ad is an ad, whether you call it a sponsorship or not, and whether or not there’s a call to action. Money is still being exchanged in return for visibility/promotion.

  • http://justacoolcat.blogspot.com justacoolcat

    All of the discussed aside, I’d really like to know why *is* the Department of Homeland Security sponsoring NPR programs? Or sponsoring anything for that matter?

    Should DHS really be spending money on sponsorships?

    What next? A DHS Field? I can’t wait for the DHS bowl.

    All hail the homeland! Long live the beloved leader!

  • Alison

    I think NPR & MPR do a good job separating their funding from the programming. It is good to look at it every once and while to remind everyone of the need for diligence in keeping funding and reporting separate.

    When I first heard the spot I thought that it would raise eyebrows, but I also wondered why. Is there something wrong with an easy way to verify employment eligibility? I’m not trying to sell anyone on this. I really would like to hear from those opposed.

  • brian

    I can’t say that I don’t get a jolt whenever I hear one of the DHS spots too, but I don’t think it is a sign that NPR is going to start only singing e-verify’s praises. I think it is a testiment to who DHS thinks is listening to NPR (ie: people with influence).

    My understanding is that NPR is required to let us know who is underwritting them, so we know who they are and can stay on the lookout for biases. This does end up effectively advertising for the sponsors, but I don’t have a problem with that. The ads are short and in soothing tones, unlike on commercial stations. If we don’t want sponsorships, then we should all up our contributions.

    Bob, are you serious?

    “NPR will not accept underwriting support from controversial organizations” Controversial to whom? How could NPR possibly set up guidlines like that? Every possible sponsor is controversial to someone. Every product has someone say it doesn’t work right. An investigation doesn’t mean guilt.