There’s little chance that Ken Stern, who once headed NPR as its CEO for a couple of years, actually knew much about the news process, the decisions, the writing, the political leanings of its staff, and maybe even the names of a large number of newspeople who worked for him.
That’s the way it is with CEOs. They tend to stay away from newspeople and newsrooms.
So his assertion that NPR engaged in “groupthink” as part of its editorial process most certainly comes from a position of ignorance.
Not that people who are convinced there’s a massive liberal conspiracy at NPR will consider such details, mind you, especially now that Stern has written “Republican Like Me,” documenting his year living and meeting Republicans.
His New York Post op-ed ahead of the publication has riled public radio.
Stern says he met real honest-to-goodness Republican conservatives by attending evangelical megachurches, going pig hunting, watching NASCAR races, firing guns, and drinking late into the night at a bar in the Rust Belt.
Stern met some Republicans in the places people who don’t know conservatives think they can find conservatives and wrote a book about it.
If that sounds familiar, it’s also where NPR and other national news media go whenever they want to do those insufferable “what do real Americans think?” pieces and end up in Hooterville, reinforcing the stereotypes.
So the fact that both “sides” are feuding right now over who’s got a better grip on Republicans in America is ripe with irony, because for the vast majority of Democrats, Republicans are probably living right along side them. They’re probably involved in editorial decisions at the local radio station, even. They’re not an exotic species.
But feud they are and today, Current — the trade newspaper of public radio — carried an open letter to Stern from Brian Mann, an upstate New York public radio reporter.
Many of my colleagues at NPR are deeply knowledgeable about these communities. So am I. We grew up in these places. We went (and some of us still go) to these churches. We shop in these Piggly Wigglies and these Dollar Generals. And when we pitch complex, nuanced stories about conservative and traditional American culture, those stories are accepted, edited with care and broadcast prominently.
Key members of the board that leads NPR also come from across rural America. Some of the most dynamic leadership in our network — this is a big contrast with Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, the New York Times and almost every other media franchise — comes from small towns, from rural counties, from conservative bastions. I’m more than a little surprised you don’t know that. You worked closely with that board. Hopefully, this note will jog your memory.
Mann told Stern that “city folk have been pulling on a pair of suspenders and spending a few Sundays in church with The Conservatives and then writing books in which you declare yourself shocked — shocked! — to find that they read books and talk in complete sentences and think about race in America,” calling his stunt “how I learned to love the hicks.”
[Update 3:38 p.m. 10/26/17] – Stern responds
In a review, however, Current’s Mike Janssen says Stern’s assessment of NPR in his book comes off a little better than what Stern described in his New York Post op-ed.