Matt Taibbi on the decline of NPR

July 31, 2021 • 10:45 am

NPR is the station I always have playing on my car radio, but I pay little attention to it save when I yell and rant when Krista Tippett comes on at 7 a.m. Sunday morning as I’m on my way to buy groceries. And of course Tippett is woke as hell, not to mention unctuous and lachrymose, but I rarely listen to other shows as I use my car infrequently.

In my post on NPR’s new ethics policy yesterday, a couple of readers took time to complain about how dire NPR has become, focusing obsessively on race and gender. Well, that’s what the New York Times and Washington Post do as well, so I’m not surprised, but I can’t vouch for NPR myself. One reader, though, called my attention to a new piece by Matt Taibbi about the decline of the station. Although Taibbi was described as a “center left journalist”, he really does a number on the lefty NPR—a column as funny and scathing as any I’ve seen lately. I’d reproduce it in its entirety, but that wouldn’t be fair, so click on the link below to read his short demolition of the station. I’ll give a few quotes to show the tenor of the piece.

Taibbi begins by showing how NPR denigrates conservative Ben Shapiro in its recent article “Outrage As A Business Model: How Ben Shapiro Is Using Facebook To Build An Empire”—not for being fake news, but for polarizing the media AND being too popular. Here’s a graph from NPR of Facebook engagement (monthly likes, shares, and comments per article) of Shapiro’s “The Daily Wire” site compared to five mainstream media (The New York Times, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, and Fox News, along with four conservative sites (Shapiro’s Daily Wire, Breitbart News, The Blaze, and the Western Journal).  The Daily Wire tops them all by far. That doesn’t sit well with the liberal folks at NPR.

Here’s a quote from the NPR piece followed by Taibbi’s ascerbic remark:

“. . . by only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as negative reports about socialist countries and polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues) and only including certain facts, readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.”

NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.

Taibbi notes that now even progressive people in the media can’t stand the nonstop wokeism on NPR (and please, readers, don’t tell me that the Republicans are worse than the Woke, as I already know that). Taibbi gives a list of recent NPR reports, accompanied by his own ascerbic comments:

Billie Eilish Says She Is Sorry After TikTok Video Shows Her Mouthing A Racist Slur.” Pop star caught on tape using the word “chink” when she was “13 or 14 years old” triggers international outrage and expenditure of U.S. national media funding. [JAC The article doesn’t mention the c-word, so Taibbi either has inside information or sussed it out.]

Black TikTok Creators Are On Strike To Protest A Lack Of Credit For Their Work.” White TikTok users dance to Nicky Minaj lyrics like, “I’m a f****** Black Barbie. Pretty face, perfect body,” kicking off “a debate about cultural appropriation on the app.”

Geocaching While Black: Outdoor Pastime Reveals Racism And Bias.” Area man who plays GPS-based treasure hunt game requiring forays into remote places and private property describes “horrifying” experience of people asking what he’s doing. [JAC: preferential questionins of blacks is a real problem, but there is article after article about the problem occurring in specific instances, like geocaching and birdwatching. How many more of these do we need?]

Broadway Is Reopening This Fall, And Every New Play Is By A Black Writer.” All sevennew plays being written by black writers is “a step toward progress,” but critics “will be watching Broadway’s next moves” to make sure “momentum” continues.

She Struggled To Reclaim Her Indigenous Name. She Hopes Others Have It Easier.” It took Cold Lake First Nations member Danita Bilozaze nine whole months to change her name to reflect her Indigenous identity.

Tom Hanks Is A Non-Racist. It’s Time For Him To Be Anti-Racist.” Tom Hanks pushing for more widespread teaching of the Tulsa massacre doesn’t change the fact that he’s built a career playing “white men ‘doing the right thing,’” NPR complains. [JAC: This gets the Pecksniff Award for the lot.]

One more comment by Taibbi:

Mixed in with Ibram Kendi recommendations for children’s books, instructions on how to “decolonize your bookshelf” and “talk to your parents about racism” (even if your parents are an interracial couple), and important dispatches from the war on complacency like “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism, Birds Are Next,” “National” Public Radio in the last year has committed itself to a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society. Yet without any irony, yesterday’s piece still made deadpan complaint about Shapiro’s habit of “telling [people] what their opinions should be” and speaking in “buzzwords.”

Oy gewalt! I’m going shopping in a few minutes so I’ll listen for myself, but the drive is only ten minutes. Taibbi concludes, not mincing words, that “NPR sucks and is unlistenable, so people are going elsewhere. And they’re jealous of Ben Shapiro!

I”ll have to investigate this Taibbi fellow. . .

And NPR just had the news.

27 thoughts on “Matt Taibbi on the decline of NPR

  1. I’ve grown to love Taibbi, and subscribed to his Substack this week. On the geocaching piece, I have a close friend who did geocaching in the DC suburbs with her kids in the late 2000s. They were frequently stopped for “suspicious” activity in spite of being white.

    1. I too am a subscriber to Taibbi’s Substack and have been a regular reader of his writings since his early days at the Rolling Stone. This quotation from the piece above is precious, really nails the woke: “the most moralizing, tendentious, humor-deprived, jargon-obsessed segment of American society.”

  2. I listen to NPR frequently on Northwest Public Radio in Washington State, and end up screaming at the radio almost every time for exactly the reasons that Taibbi cites. Fortunately, at 9:00 AM the station switches to classical music and the agony mercifully ends—until tomorrow morning when it all starts anew. I don’t know why I continue to torture myself. I suppose I’m manifesting the belief that hope springs eternal and that NPR will some day again function in the public interest.

  3. I think there must be something especially enjoyable about complaining. Otherwise why would one not simply change the station or shut it off? The same could be said of a newspaper. There is always those nice people over at Fox.

    1. If you’re talking about Uncle Bill, who won’t stop hate watching NPR (or Ben Shapiro, for that matter) and ranting about it then I agree, but Taibbi is a journalist and media critic, so this is his beat, as it were and he’s coming from an informed place.

  4. “‘I’ll have to investigate this Taibbi fellow. . .”

    His book, “Hate, Inc. : Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another”, is a good place to start. He outlines how a changing business model has led media companies to seek niche markets and feed their confirmation bias rather than looking to capture the broadest possible markets and argues that this is driving polarization and causing citizens to see one another as enemies.

  5. Tom Hanks doesn’t always play white men doing the right thing; in “The Road to Perdition” he played a Mafia Hitman. I’ll admit I couldn’t buy him in the role. “Oh, come on! That’s not a hitman! That’s Tom Hanks!”

    Of course, if he appeared in movies about racism playing a good guy, he would be accused of being a “white savior.” If he played a bad guy, no one would buy it: “Tom Hanks IS Bull Connor!”

  6. Taibbi’s assessment of NPR national news programs is very close to my own. I stopped listening a year or more ago. I still listen to my local affiliate’s news and information programming.


  7. A recent dust-up at Harvard (which will not be reported in NPR, of course) represents the kind of thinking that no doubt goes on in NPR’s offices. Carole Hooven, a Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology, made the mistake of publicly explaining the biological distinction between the two sexes. A Harvard Diversicrat responded with the following, utterly classic pronunciamento:
    “As the Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for my department at Harvard HEB, I am appalled and frustrated by the transphobic and harmful remarks made by a member of my department. …Let me be clear: if you respect diverse gender identities & aim to use correct pronouns, then you would know that people with diverse genders/sexes can be pregnant incl Trans men, intersex people & gender nonconforming people. That shouldn’t be too hard for medical students to understand ”

    1. Note that the demonization of Hooven gets pretty dreadful in the threads, with people callling for her to be fired because of her interview on Fox News, which was pretty much what she said in her article. People really want to destroy each other’s lives about this stuff!

    2. Bari Weiss has a newish podcast called “Honestly”. A few days ago she put up a long, fantastic conversation with Carole Hooven.

      CH is not a transphobe, and she expresses strong affinity for the rights and dignity of trans people. But she is also not backing down from emphasizing the role of biology and genetics in the development & evolution of human sex differences. She has a new book called “T: The Story of Testosterone”.

  8. Tabbi has a very good point, but Shapiro is a really, really, despicable character and dependable liar. As of a year or two ago, he showed up on some podcasts and YouTube interview shows and was obviously strongly conservative, but to hold pretty close to the common understanding. During the Trump era, I’ve seen him a few times and he is beginning to lose track of the real world. He harps on insanely in defense of Trumpism, determined to promote as many conspiracy theories as he can squeeze into each appearance. It’s as though he’s determined to replace Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, as the preeminent American nutcase.

  9. We recently bought a new car and it came with a trial subscription to sirius xm (satellite radio). We just keep it tuned a channel called “Symphony Hall”. We like it.

  10. Subbed since he went rogue, and suggested his stack a couple of times. He should be right up your alley, but somehow he didn‘t make the list yet.

    I read his book “Hate Inc.“ recently, which is a freewheeling update on Manufacturing Consent (Herman/Chomsky, one of the must-read political books). With his insights as a campaign trail reporter, and as journalist son who became a journaliat, too, he describes how modern US media works (the Fox News model that has since been adopted for liberal audiences, too).

  11. I”ll have to investigate this Taibbi fellow. . .

    Taibbi took over the “National Affairs Desk” at Rolling Stone after Hunter Thompson croaked himself in the mid-2000s. He really came into his own writing about the Great Recession of 2008-09, particularly with his longform piece “The Great American Bubble Machine,” with the killer line in his lede calling Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

    He’s been one of the keenest, most mordant observers of the national scene since.

    1. He also wrote a good introduction to HST’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. The version came out in 2012.

      1. Yeah, after writing the comment above yesterday, I went back and reread the excerpt of Taibbi’s introduction to the 40th anniversary edition available here.

        He got what Hunter was all about.

  12. I will maintain there are bits of NPR that are worth a try. One program that I’ve enjoyed is The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. You can select which NPR programs you want to stream through your computer and try out one of his episodes.

  13. I have been subscribing to Taibbi for several months. Not being a fan of most contemporary rock music, the main reason I picked up Rolling Stone at my library periodicals room was to read his work. Missed reading him, but don’t know when he left that mag, since the pandemic closed access to the library. Happy to find him in the Substack lineup. He is well worth the attention.

    One caution to folks here. Unlike Jerry, Taibbi needs subscribers to make his living. And can’t afford to drive any away, or ban them, by promulgating the “roolz” we here abide by, generally happily I hope. The comments section on a Taibbi post can extend to thousands of posts, and it is regularly a cesspool of vituperation. I have never commented, although on occasion I “like” a post that seems on topic and sensible.

  14. Our local NPR station is KQED in San Francisco. I live behind some hills so radio reception is sketchy at best. Recently KQED seems to have downgraded their radio signal and it is difficult to receive on the car radio even when out from behind the hills and down on the flats (in Napa County). The degraded signal coincides with their degraded programming so I have largely tuned out. KQED itself still has some good programming but seems also to be infected with woke-ism.
    By the way I am not the only listener to notice the degraded KQED signal. More than one other acquaintance has mentioned it also.

  15. Taibbi is fantastic – I’ve been reading him for years. He is very creative, astute and knows how to stick it to the right (and the left I see here). Keep an eye on him, it’ll be worth it.

  16. PBS News Hour on the public TV stations has become as insufferably woke as NPR. I stopped watching about a year ago, when they were regularly broadcasting a series called “Race Matters”. While well meaning, the series never drove the dialogue to place where race doesn’t matter.

  17. It’s not that race and gender issues are not important, and I don’t think either Taibbi or Coyne are even close to suggesting that, but the agenda setting by NPR and some others is clear enough. I wonder who the real audience is – I suspect that within what passes for the Left today (but which has proto-fascist elements) it is other members of that set, or perhaps it’s part of the “Electism” that John McWhorter has referenced. It’s all rather like trying to show how they see through The Other. Time to read the later Jurgen Habermas and his communicative action – that at least had some integrity and a goal of inclusion, not suppression and submission.

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