State media: He who pays the piper…

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

By Thomas L. Knapp

In early April, Twitter added a “State-Affiliated Media” tag to National Public Radio’s account on the social media platform, putting it in the same league as Russia’s RT, China’s Xinhua, and other government-funded “news” outlets.

Within a few days, under withering criticism from, among others, NPR CEO Jack Lansing (who came to NPR after running other US state-affiliated media such as Voice of America and Radio Free Europe), Twitter backed off a bit and changed NPR’s label to “Government Funded.”

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What’s the difference? There isn’t one.

As Twitter owner Elon Musk pointed out, it “seems accurate” to class NPR with other “outlets where the state exercises control over editorial content through financial resources, direct or indirect political pressures, and/or control over production and distribution.”

Oddly, French (France 24), Canadian (CBC) and British (BBC) state-affiliated media outlets don’t seem to have been caught up in Twitter’s labeling net. NPR makes the same claims to “editorial independence” as those outfits, but those claims are, in each and every case, risible.

NPR was established by an act of Congress. Its member stations all operate under license from the Federal Communications Commission, and receive special tax treatment as “non-profits.”

While NPR no longer receives the majority of its funding directly from government, it hews rigidly to a “mainstream” narrative as set forth by the American political class, and buckles every time its funding is threatened by politicians for coloring outside the lines set by the current ruling party.

He who pays the piper calls the tune, and NPR’s tune ranges from pro-US-regime heavy metal to elevator music versions of the same songs.

RT’s commentators will sometimes “criticize” the Kremlin’s policy line, but only in terms of urging the regime to do what it’s already doing only¬† faster and more vigorously. NPR reliably “criticizes” the US regime in the same way.

FDR once told a group lobbying him on behalf of a reform they wanted, “you’ve convinced me — now go out and bring pressure on me.”

The mission of state-affiliated media is to “bring pressure” on the US government to do what it’s already doing. Want to know what the American political establishment thinks — and wants you to support? Just tune in to the daily episodes of “Morning Edition” or “All Things Considered.”

If NPR doesn’t want to be state-affiliated media, it should give up that government funding and start exercising real editorial independence.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.