Jan 192012
 

Edward Schumacher-Matos
Ombudsman
National Public Radio
635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mr. Schumacher-Matos:

Last October during the fundraising campaign for my local NPR station, WUSF, the host of NRP affiliated shows “World of Opera” and “Soundprint” was fired from those shows based largely on objections by Fox News personalities due to her involvement in the occupy movement. I spoke with people at the local station as I reconsidered my support of the station. I do not support Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News network, and if NPR was going to allow Murdoch’s organization to make programming decisions, then you were effectively acting as a Fox News affiliate. That would be something I could not tolerate.

I was encouraged to write NPR at the time, but elected to let that one pass without further comment. However, two recent stories aired on NPR raise far more serious concerns in my mind about reporting decisions at NPR.

Let me start by saying I have been a listener/member/supporter of NPR and local NPR affiliates for twenty-five years or more. I listen throughout the day, into the evenings, and most certainly on the weekends. The voices of NPR have been a comforting, stable presence in my life as I’ve moved from the Greensboro/Winston-Salem, NC area, to Tampa, FL, to Dayton, OH and back to Tampa. Through some good times and dark times in my life, I’ve been able to tune in to find outstanding reporting, thoughtful analysis and commentary, and wonderful music. As both the federal and state governments have moved to cut funding for public radio, I have always been a person who writes and calls my congressional representatives and legislative representatives insisting they support this very worthy cause.

Unfortunately, last Friday I heard a report on Morning Edition by Barbara Bradley Haggerty concerning the confab by religious conservatives in Texas. Ms. Bradley-Haggerty interviewed Brian Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) for the story. The AFA has recently been designated a Hate Group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) due to some extremely vile and often violent language used against gays and lesbians, women, and Native Americans. Most of this language come directly from Mr. Fischer.

I called and talked with Ms. Bradley-Haggerty about the story. This conversation raised even more concerns about Ms. Bradley-Haggerty’s ability to report impartially on Christian-based stories.

First, I recognize she needs someone to interview. According to her account, she was on deadline, had put out about 20 calls and Fischer was the first to return her calls. This strikes me as a poor way to select interviewees. I went on to question her use of Mr. Fischer pointing out that the AFA was an SPLC designated hate group, and that she had never identified the AFA as such. She got rather prickly at this observation, and responded that it would be ridiculous because, “The SPLC names many organizations as hate groups.”

Well yes, I suppose they do, but the word, “many” is somewhat relative. Had I been the judge of what constitutes a hate group, the AFA would have been on the list long ago, and there would most likely be many more on this list. I believe this shows that the SPLC gives thoughtful consideration and accumulates adequate supporting evidence prior to issuing such a designation.

But here’s where I think Bradley-Haggerty tipped her hand. She claimed the AFA was a large and influential organization (lots of people would question that), and their status with the SPLC was not the issue. I pointed out that she had never reported, as a separate story, that the AFA and the Family Research Council (FRC) had received the designation at the time it was announced; despite her assertion they were “large and influential” organizations. Her response was to raise her voice, making clear she was angry, and state, “Of course not, because they’re religious organizations.” She then said I was being abusive (I never raised my voice, never made demands, I merely asked questions she was obviously uncomfortable answering), and that she was ending the conversation.

I think it is clear that Bradley-Haggerty brings a belief system to her journalism. It is not appropriate for her reporting to be clouded by her affinity for particular “religious” groups, and her belief they must always be right since they are “religious” in nature. I don’t think I need to remind you that many of the worst atrocities of history were perpetrated by “religious” organizations (yes, even many that claimed to be Christian), and many atrocities have been aided and abetted by so-called religious organizations.

So I believe Bradley-Haggerty is not able to impartially report on religious news. Certainly, if someone is unfit to host a show about Opera because of their beliefs about society writ large, then Bradley-Haggerty’s clear bias renders her journalistic judgment suspect.

That said, I’d like to take some time to point out the primary reason any reasonable and fair-minded person would object to NPR given any legitimacy to Bryan Fischer. Below is just a small sampling of some the public statements Fischer has made:

  • “Homosexuals in the military gave us…six million dead Jews;”
  • “Homosexuals should be disqualified from public office;”
  • Has called on Christian conservatives to breed gays and progressives out of existence;
  • Has called gay sex a “form of domestic terrorism;”
  • He has said only gays were savage enough for Hitler;
  • Has compared gays to heroin abusers;
  • Has directly compared laws against gay soldiers to those that apply to bank robbers;
  • He once invoked a Biblical story about stabbing “sexually immoral” people with spears, saying we need this kind of action in modern day;
  • He has spoken out against gays serving as public school teachers;
  • He has questioned why Medals of Honor are given to people who save lives (rather than take lives), saying we have “feminized the Medal of Honor;”
  • He has said that open service will “assign the United States to the scrap heap of history;” He commiserated with Bradlee Dean, and who has blamed gay activists for dead gay kids, saying that: “If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students;”
  • He said the only acceptable “culture war” truce would have gays giving up their demand for equality;
  • He painted Native Americans as innately cursed because they “cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition;”
  • He says men always get the final say in a male/female marriage and that women are only fit to be President if an equally-abled male candidate is unavailable;
  • The guy who said “homosexuality represents an evolutionary degrade”…”evidence of a species devolving;”
  • And most recently he’s been claiming HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.1

 

As if that whole incident weren’t bad enough, the very next day, Joel Rose did a story on All Things Considered about the results of this meeting. His “go to guy” for a quote, none other than FRC head, Tony Perkins. Mr. Perkin’s and his group (also designated by the SPLC as a hate group) has said some of the following:

  • Perkins has sought to position gay and lesbian Americans as a kid-threatening disaster in need of “ex-gay” therapy;
  • They have published and distributed brochures that compare same-sex marriages to those bonds which might exist between a man and a horse (complete with horse photo);
  • He has likened LGBT people to terrorists, calling LGBT rights a battle of “good versus evil;”
  • He has claimed that DADT repeal proponents are “willing to jeopardize our nation’s security to advance the agenda of the radical homosexual lobby;”
  • He has said the gay activists who challenge FRC are “held captive by the enemy;”
  • He has written that same-sex marriage will be “opening the door to all manner of moral and social evil;
  • He has tweeted that gays don’t need to “be a slave to feelings;”
  • Peter Sprigg of the FRC has called on U.S. gays to be either “exported” or criminalized.2

 

But maybe most egregiously, Perkins has claimed that, gay teens kill themselves because, “they know that they are abnormal.”

When you put people like this on the air when attempting to cover legitimate news stories, you infer on them an air of legitimacy. My question to NPR is this (and I want you to please think seriously about it), substitute the word “black” or “African-American” in any of these sentences, and tell me if you would invite these people on your shows for anything other than a report on their extreme beliefs? I don’t believe the NPR I know would. Bradley-Haggerty herself conceded in our conversation that she would most certainly not call the Grand Wizard of the KKK for a quote on this story, but somehow, NPR has decided that LGBT people are the last group open to such vile name-calling and baseless accusations, and you lend your hard-earned credibility to these hate groups when you seek out their comments on legitimate news stories.

I believe in this Republic and the great American experiment. I respect the right of Mr. Perkins, Mr. Fischer, the AFA, the FRC, and Ms. Bradley-Haggerty to believe however they wish. I would defend their right to go into the public square and say these things, hateful and hurtful though they are, but what I will NOT do is help them purchase their megaphone.

So when the next pledge drive comes around, I won’t be calling in, and the next round of letters and phone calls I make about NPR to State and Congressional legislators will not be in support of NPR because neither do I don’t want my tax dollars lending legitimacy and acceptability to such groups and people.

This is a difficult and painful decision for me to make. I love NPR, but there comes a time when lines of responsibility have to be drawn, and you all have acted irresponsibly by presenting only one side of these groups. You seem to be taking a “Foxian” view that all things Christian must be good, and LGBT people are out to destroy society.

I hope that someday Ms. Bradley-Haggerty will no longer be reporting for NPR, and that NPR will make decisions about who they host on their reports based on more than just who returns their calls first. Until then, I must bid good-bye to this important part of my life.

CC:      Gary Knell, President and CEO, NPR
Joyce MacDonald, Vice President, Member and Audience Partnership, NPR
Margaret Low Smith, Acting Senior Vice President, News, NPR
Sheila Rue, Program Director, WUSF
JoAnn Urofsky, General Manager, WUSF


  1. List from the Good As You website 

  2. List from Good As You website 

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