Al Jazeera connections stir questions about NPR ‘patriotism’

If memory serves, not since Walmart sponsored NPR newscasts have public radio fans arisen to challenge the sponsorships — underwriters, if you will — that accompany content.

NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, writes that some NPR listeners are challenging the “patriotism” of NPR because it’s allowing the new Al Jazeera America, the Oman Qatar-owned cable TV channel, to underwrite NPR programming.

It’s not entirely clear, though, whether the complaint is that Al Jazeera is mentioned at all, or whether the concern is NPR reporters will tilt their stories to please their advertisers — an absurd contention given that journalists and the advertising departments that support them tend not to associate.

If it’s the former, Schumacher- Matos has good advice for the flag wavers on this Constitution Day.

Being a veteran myself of an earlier war, Vietnam, I am viscerally sensitive to the treatment of American soldiers by the enemy and by the news media. But this has to be balanced against the need to protect the freedoms that we fight to defend in the first place. One of the most fundamental of those freedoms is free speech, even — or especially — when it is speech we don’t like.

I am not one of those journalists who believe that there are almost no limits to free speech or free press. But the Al Jazeera ads and the objectionable earlier Al Jazeera coverage come nowhere near what I think any reasonable American would consider the limit, once we stop to think about it.

Schumacher-Matos concedes Al Jazeera might be more skeptical of American intervention in Syria, but that might be more a reflection on the American news media than one owned by a Mideast state.

Yet, little of this international reality comes through in the American news media, which is largely Washington-centric or views the world as a matter of internal American political debates. We should in fact welcome that Al Jazeera might bring a more global view into our living rooms, if only to better know what others are thinking.

  • Dave

    “journalists and the advertising departments that support them tend not to associate”

    Oh I don’t know about that. The Star Tribune, for example, has a nasty habit of not allowing comments on articles that are critical of Target, when that rarely happens. I can’t possibly imagine why that would be the case.

    Can you?

    • That has nothing to do with the allegations that stories are tilted toward an advertiser. And comments aren’t a reporters problem.

      I doubt very much that the Star Tribune is unlike most other journalists I know who if the boss says, ‘hey give this a little spin for the benefit of our advertisers, they’d say “I quit.”

      Now that doesn’t include TV news which has an incestuous relationship with the advertisers.

      • MrE85

        Bob is right. In real life, there is a wall between the “Herb Tarleks” and the “Les Nessmans.” Buying (or not buying) ads won’t get you favorable coverage. At least at legit media outlets.

        • Cat Zadra

          Is that a real wall, or one made out of masking tape on the floor?

  • MrE85

    So the “P” in NPR doesn’t stand for Patriot? I can live with that. There’s a little radio station in this market that bills itself as “The Patriot.” I tried to listen once. They need a new name.

  • There’s also the matter of what happened the last time people started clamoring about the media’s “patriotism.”

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I remember when I was growing up that I loved to listen to English language short wave broadcasts. In most cases these were “targeted” broadcasts at the US and Canadian listeners. In the midst of the cold war (1970s) it allowed me to get the news with a different perspective. Whether it was a friendly nation (Deutsche Welle from Germany) or an enemy nation (Radio Moscow from the Soviet Union) it provided a chance to see what they thought was the most important story that an American listener should hear. You can get some of that from the local cable system (at least in St Paul with the correct package) with BBC World News, Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle (on one of the access channels at certain times of the day.)

  • Jeffery Bialek

    Oh I don’t know…I’d much rather hear a blurb about Al Jazeera America than the countless pitches for all the stores where I can get postage stamps. If I need stamps, more than likely I’m at the Post Office. As long as Al Jazeera America doesn’t start offering Forever stamps, I think we’ll all be okay.

  • MrE85

    What about the BBC? I thought we fought a war or two to get away from these guys.

    • jon

      Yeah but we made up when we realized they were pretty much the same religion as us…. and isn’t that what really matters.

  • X.A. Smith

    And really, how much “worse” could Al Jazeera be than, say, BP or Citibank?