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.”