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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Uri Berliner’s departure from NPR should be a wake-up call to everyone

Berliner’s resignation from hyper-politicized NPR should be a lesson to anyone looking to practice good journalism, including those at the Daily.

NPR HQ.jpg

NPR's headquarters are pictured on Nov. 17, 2009.

National Public Radio, previously one of America’s most trustworthy news sources, had a major lapse in judgment. Uri Berliner, formerly an NPR senior business editor, recently authored an eloquent piece in The Free Press, where he detailed his career at NPR and the media outlet’s prolonged ideological decline. He discussed how NPR gradually became more liberal throughout his 25-year-long career at the business desk. For instance, according to Berliner, between 2011 and 2023, the percentage of conservative listeners decreased from 26% to 11%, while the percentage of liberal-leaning listeners went from 37% to 67%. Berliner further feels that “an open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR,” and that it doesn’t “have an audience that reflects America.” I find this admission quite sad: I’ve always thought of NPR as a veteran and mostly centrist news source, but Berliner’s article contradicts this. I believe that Berliner’s viewpoint offers insights into the broader journalism landscape and should teach us about the dangers of the media devolving into pure partisanship.

As has been the case throughout the world of journalism, the increase in advocacy documented by Berliner first began with the ascension of Donald Trump. As Trump ran his campaign, the former president was falsely accused of colluding with Russia. According to Berliner, NPR amplified these allegations by conducting 25 interviews with one of Trump’s biggest critics, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. Berliner said that NPR pretended the Russia hoax did not happen, opting to forget it and move on. They simultaneously overlooked the New York Post’s October 2020 bombshell report about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Since NPR considered stories like the laptop “pure distractions,” they blew it off, despite it being entirely valid. Furthermore, the story was released immediately before the 2020 election; had it been more widely accepted prior to the 2020 election, it could have altered the outcome.

While these examples make a case that NPR’s failures stemmed from poor reporting, I believe that the main culprit was internal faults. Berliner claimed that in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, NPR’s CEO John Lansing declared that diversity of the staff and in the audience was “the overriding mission.” Diversity is not necessarily a bad thing, but NPR has clearly forgotten its mission to produce high-quality journalism. Berliner alleges that diversity, equity and inclusion became commonplace within NPR: trainings were given, the term “biological sex” was blacklisted, looting became justifiable and crime was racist. In prioritizing DEI, NPR willfully abandoned one of the most prized assets in journalism: ideological diversity. This is best summed up by the fact that Berliner found that 87 newsroom editorial staff members were registered Democrats while none were registered Republicans. Berliner reached out to Lansing to set up a time to discuss this disparity. After several scheduling mishaps, an invite never arrived. In the background, NPR began to suffer financially: podcasts canceled, staff laid off and its radio audience shrinking.

The chain of events that unfolded at NPR should be a lesson to all news organizations, including The Tufts Daily. NPR should prioritize reporting the news as it is, not focusing on certain stories because they satisfy an agenda or a particular political belief. I am okay with NPR leaning left — after all, NPR has always leaned that way — but being left-leaning, or partisan for that matter, does not give you the license to suppress valid stories and promote outrageous social agendas.

The lack of ideological diversity is a well-known issue at Tufts: the Daily has a 103:1 ratio of liberals to conservatives. Regardless of one’s politics, a news outlet that leans almost entirely towards one side is not healthy. Ultimately, journalistic standards evaporate when ideas and arguments don’t receive pushback. In my opinion, The Tufts Daily has demonstrated this, most notably in their coverage of the March 3 Tufts Community Union Senate hearings. For example, their coverage neglected to mention that supporters of the resolutions accused the opposition of using “Jim Crow filibuster tactics,” only to use those same tactics moments later for themselves. What scares me, though, is the lack of accountability. No one has seemingly taken ownership of any of The Tufts Daily’s issues, whether that’s problematic reporting or equally problematic internal staff metrics. Change over time doesn’t just manifest — it requires strategy, effort and community support. The Daily can’t continue each year hoping that its ideology issues solve themselves.

On April 17, Berliner resigned from NPR, writing the following in an X, formerly known as Twitter, post: “I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO [Katherine Maher] whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.” Maher exclusively donated to Democratic political candidates or entities, including a $500 donation to Fair Fight, a group led by failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who contested her election results.

Berliner took a major leap of faith by publishing in The Free Press, but doing so allowed him to expose what was really going on at NPR. His resignation is just proof that NPR cannot tolerate a single contrarian opinion.

The current lack of conservative viewpoints, or rather, the lack of viewpoints that aren’t liberal, should be a cause for concern at any national or collegiate news outlet. The Daily should learn from NPR’s mistakes and prioritize ideological diversity.