Harry Shearer vs. NPR

Every now and again, the curtain is pulled back on the newsroom of National Public Radio. NPR’s ombudsman does so today with the story of Harry Shearer’s complaint that he couldn’t promote his film about Hurricane Katrina on other NPR shows, because he had already been booked to appear on Talk of the Nation.

It also gets into the always-controversial question of “underwriting” on public radio, because NPR refused Shearer’s copy for an “underwriting credit” to promote his documentary.

As is now standard, Shearer took his complaint to the Huffington Post.

Well, here’s a clue about what NPR stands for now. I’ve just made a documentary film about why New Orleans flooded, “The Big Uneasy”, in theaters nationwide on Monday. Having been denied access to coverage by either of the network’s two flagship news programs, I decided to buy in, purchasing some of those “enhanced underwriting” announcements that the rest of us would call ads.

Ombudsman Alicia Shepard (who is leaving NPR) responded:

But NPR has devoted extensive coverage over the past five years to Katrina and the aftermath. And NPR did cover Shearer’s new film – just not in the way he wanted it.

Shearer’s attitude that it’s only worthwhile to appear on a flagship shows ignores how the Internet has changed news consumption. Millions of people hear NPR content on podcasts, online and on mobile phones.

It was disingenuous of Shearer to criticize NPR on Huffington Post without mentioning that he had in fact appeared, for a half-hour, on an NPR show.

Just another day in the news business.

(h/t: David Brauer)