NPR misses the mark in Pat Buchanan interview

The toughest job in America today belongs to NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen, who will have to come up with a plausible explanation for why NPR’s Morning Edition decided to give nearly 7 minutes of precious airtime this morning to the xenophobic Patrick Buchanan.

  1. Listen NPR: Pat Buchanan On Why He Shares Trump’s Ideas On Foreign Policy

    May 5, 2016

Host Steve Inskeep, in a tweet this morning, suggested it was compelling radio.

Inskeep is wrong on a grand scale. Buchanan has no standing to hijack seven minutes of national radio time unless someone somewhere believes he’s a legitimate substitute for Trump, who has refused all attempts by NPR to appear on the network, a monumentally stupid decision that ignores the reality that in a vacuum, other voices will fill the space and define a campaign, however questionable the legitimacy .

Allowing that, however, is a journalistically questionable position, particularly when today’s interview consisted primarily of Buchanan being given free rein to do the victory lap he was denied in the ’90s. In other words: Buchanan is irrelevant and given a country full of people to interview, why turn to the same voices of politics past if the goal is to provide clarity, analysis, and insight of politics present?

Inskeep said only that Buchanan “was one [Trump’s] earliest backers.”

But his co-host concentrated on a book Buchanan wrote 12 years ago in which he raised concerns about an America in which the majority of the population is non-white.

“I look at Europe and I see peoples everywhere at each others’ throats over issues of ethnicity and identity,” Buchanan said. “Again, the United States of America… had high immigration from 1890 to 1920. Then we had a timeout where all those folks from Eastern and Southern Europe were assimilated. They learned English. I went to school with the sons and daughters of these folks and we created a really united country where 97 percent of the country spoke English in 1970. Now, in half the homes in California, people speak a language other than English in their own homes. Anybody who believes that a country can be maintained that has no ethnic core to it, or no linguistic core, is naive in the extreme.”

“But you understand how that language feels very….” host Rene Montagne said, beginning her question.

“I don’t care how that language sits with people. My job is not to make people happy. It’s to tell the truth as I see it,” Buchanan interrupted.

Which brought up the obvious question for the listeners. What exactly was Buchanan’s job on an NPR interview? Was he speaking for Trump? If not — and the question was never answered by the show hosts — why did Buchanan’s views merit amplification if not to create the impression that he was Trump’s surrogate on the matter?

“What you are laying out is an America that is white or…” Montagne persisted.

“It’s an America like the country I grew up in, which was a pretty good country,” Buchanan said, suggesting the country agrees by virtue of Donald Trump’s victories.

Unquestionably, there is plenty of evidence that some xenophobes and racists are attracted to Trump. But the interview seemed to frame NPR’s approach to the coming general election, and ignores — if you listen to the comments of political experts not named Buchanan — other reasons for Trump’s popularity.

And Trump’s opponents would be only too thrilled to have the campaign framed in exactly the way NPR framed it with today’s interview.

But this reliance on the usual suspects is also the sort of approach to national political coverage that earned the scorn of media watcher Jim Rutenberg in today’s New York Times.

“National political journalism… has too often lost sight of its primary directives in this election season: to help readers and viewers make sense of the presidential chaos; to reduce the confusion, not add to it; to resist the urge to put ratings, clicks and ad sales above the imperative of getting it right,” he said.

You don’t do that by culling through the Rolodex looking for the hacks of failed campaigns past who’ve never met a microphone they didn’t like.

How do you do it? Rutenberg provided a road map.

That’s all the more reason in the coming months to be as sharply focused on the data we don’t have as we are on the data we do have (and maybe watching out for making any big predictions about the fall based on the polling of today). But a good place to start would be to get a good night’s sleep, and then talk to some voters.

In such an important election, we deserve more intelligent and thoughtful coverage than self-anointed surrogates and seven minutes of Patrick Buchanan on a soap box.

  • Mike Worcester

    Those of us with long political memories can recall quite easily how Mr. Buchanan stole (if that is the correct word) the stage from Pres. George W. Bush at the 1992 Republican National Convention. Listening to him on my drive this morning felt like being in a time warp.

    • The biggest question I have in this is “isn’t there someone better to talk to?” I get tired of public radio talking to the same people day in and day out.

      Is it asking too much to hear something new?

      • Mike Worcester

        Is the disconnect here because of the age of those who produce and report on M.E.? Like they are not in tune with those other voices (no matter which side of the debate?)

        • No, think it’s the affliction of the Inner Beltway mentality and the Golden Rolodex syndrome of journalism. There are better ways, occasionally requiring harder work, than trotting out the boogeymen of the past because they answer their phones when a producer calls them.

          • Postal Customer

            “Golden Rolodex syndrome of journalism”

            Tune in to Meet the Press this Sunday! We’ll have John McCain!

          • Mike Worcester

            Some of those politicos appear on the Sunday morning gabfests with greater frequency than the regular guest stars on Law & Order.

          • Jeff R.

            I see it as more of a recurring guest spot on “The Love Boat” – one of the last gigs you get before sailing off into the sunset…

          • Perfect example. There are tons of them everywhere; not just the Sunday morning shows.

      • BJ

        And leading with someone like this, with his views as they are, leads credence to the narrative the NPR only points out the liberal agenda version of the GOP?

        • No, I don’t think so, actually. I think it points out the laziness of producers who have a VERY narrow range of voices in their contacts.

          I’ll give you an example. My job, when I worked at a network in New York, was to call people for interviews and newscasts.

          We had a LOT of Dave Durenberger on the air. Was it because I was a Durenberger fan? Nope. Agreed with his politics? Nope. Wanted to set an agenda? Nope.

          It was because I had Durenberger’s home phone and Dave Durenberger answered his own phone on Sundays.

          • Rob

            interesting rationale…

        • Postal Customer

          Let me make sure I understand what you’re saying.

          You’re saying that NPR is liberal because they only interview the demagogues on the right, which only feeds the perception among NPR listeners that those on the right are demagogues. Is that what you’re saying?

          To me, this interview is simply an example of NPR falling into the “we need to get viewpoints from both sides lest someone think we’re liberal” trap. You know, it’s the media’s obsession with “both sides do it” (which, I might add, could damage Hillary in the general election).

          Also, is Pat Buchanan even a republican? I heard the interview, and his views on foreign policy sound more libertarian to me.

      • Rob

        I assume you’ve shared this perspective with the corner office

        • See that little link at the bottom of the page of news stories that encourages people to share their knowledge? I started that 17 years ago to broaden the voices on issues. MPR eventually started the civic journalism initiative to do the same on a grander scale. It’s been an effort here for years to widen the net.

          That said, we always need to be on guard against the Golden Rolodex mentality.

          • Rob

            maybe they’ll have david duke on next

          • Rob

            the golden white male rolodex mentality…

      • Angry Jonny

        This reminds me of one of Pat’s commercials during his campaign. Scene: a kitchen table and a close up of two white male hands reading a letter. “You were qualified for that job, but you lost out to a MINORITY!” Hands crumple the letter, form a fist and pound angrily on the table.

        • DavidG

          I think that was Jesse Helms, used against Harvey Gantt in SC Senate race.

      • Keith P.
  • Jim in RF

    Even with as goofy as the interviewee was, the interview process was strange. It seems like the interviewer has already decided on the next question before Buchanan answers the first one, instead of listening and asking a decent followup.

    It reminds me of the Bob and Ray skit about the komodo dragon.

  • Michelle

    I came in partway thru the interview, but his rant about the “good old days” was pathetic. It was only the good old days for white males–and not even all of them. Ask a few women and minorities about those days. I grew up just west of the Cities and even in the 70’s plenty of families were speaking German at home. This is immigration—assimilation is not a 2 week process. NPR is losing it’s edge on quality interviews and the Morning Edition hosts are leading them off the cliff.

    • wjc

      I was about to add a similar comment. The 60s and 70s were “pretty good” for white men. Not so much for people of color and women.

      Also, Chicago had 2 Polish daily newspapers in the 60s. Language is a fluid thing.

    • Reminds me of one of my favorite Louie C.K. stand-up bits: Time Travel is Excluslively a White Privilege

      (Louie curses, so heads up if you’re at work.)

      • Rob

        only correction I’d make is that time travel is a white male privilege.

  • lindblomeagles

    I see a lot of people disagreed with Bob Collins on this matter, and they would be wrong. Bob is 1,000% correct, NPR SHOULD HAVE gotten a better interview candidate than Pat Buchanan. Pat Buchanan was tabbed because Pat Buchanan is a co-collaborator of National Public Television’s McLaughlin Group. If all you want is Pat and more Pat, tune into Channel 2 (here in the Twin Cities) every Sunday at 10:30. He’s given the same racist (sorry Bob, xenophobic is just too kind for a long tenured bigot like Pat Buchanan) comments on that show for years (and in his books, and everywhere else he’s been). It looks to me that NPR has gone WAY, WAY, WAY out of their way to appear fair to the Republican agenda. You can do that, NPR, without recycling Pat Buchanan. He, nor Donald Trump, are really the story anyway. What Republicans are going to do should Trump lose IS THE STORY perfectly tailored for NPR to investigate.

  • Angry Jonny

    SPoKe ENerGy? Maybe they’re really into…cycling?

  • Dwight

    I was so amazed that he was interviewed because I had no idea he was still alive. Go figure! Who knew zombies were doing interviews?

  • Medieval Upheaval

    Pat, if assimilation is such a great thing, why didn’t Europeans adopt the cultures of America’s Indians instead of destabilizing them? Same question can be asked about the African cultures that European invaders ripped to shreds.

    Also, a “pretty good America” for Pat was an awful country for a lot of other people. Narcissism much, Mr. Buchannan?

  • Rick P

    Yes, Buchanan has unpopular policies and perspectives for the typical NPR listener. The interview seems to be interested in why people support Trump, which Buchanan, whose candidacy and positions 20 years ago look very similar to Trump’s today, is in a position to answer. Listeners are free to reject Buchanan’s ideas and shame on those who believe hearing them was a mistake. That assumes they or others aren’t able to endure a different perspective for 7 minutes or change the station.

    • The point remains, Buchanan is irrelevant in the current campaign and, as I said, he’s not really representative of Trump’s policies. Trump has certainly said things during this campaign that appear racist. But I don’t recall him favoring a white-dominated culture. It’s possible he did and I missed it.

      But putting a guy who got .04 percent of the country’s vote when he ran for president on the air because his opinion is sorta, kinda close to the guy who’s running to lead the free world is simply journalistic malpractice.

      And enduring a racist on a soap box for 7 minutes is not a noble act. Nor should any reasonable person aspire to such an accomplishment.

      As I said, intelligent people deserve to have an intelligent debate in the coming months and hear directly from candidates.

      Everything else is noise.