National Public Radio Falls Down On the Job

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on December 6, 2011

I sent the following e-mail to NPR today; the only changes that I have made to it for the purposes of this post is to embed links in the text:

As a monthly donor to my local NPR station (WBEZ), as a Jew, and as a human being, I was outraged when during the course of his interview with Robert Siegel, Kalle Lasn, one of the organizers behind the Occupy movement, cheerfully admitted to having conducted something of a one-man census to see how many members of the neoconservative movement are Jewish. I was even more outraged when Robert Siegel refused to challenge Lasn by asking how and why any attempt to quantify the number of Jews in the neoconservative movement is a legitimate exercise.

For the record, Lasn’s attempt to quantify “the Jewishness of the necons” (his words) occurred way back in 2004, and his tract was titled “Why won’t anyone say they are Jewish?” A better question is “Who cares whether or not they are?” Neoconservative arguments, taken individually or as a whole, are either right or wrong. The “Jewishness”–or lack thereof–of the people making those arguments should make no difference whatsoever in any discussion concerning neoconservative thought, and to most people, it indeed makes no difference whatsoever. It only matters to anti-Semites like Lasn, who think that by counting the number of Jews allegedly in influential positions, he will uncover the secrets to the workings of the universe. In his tract, Lasn also sought to slime and smear his targets by saying that they “do not distinguish enough between American and Israeli interests.” This dual-loyalty canard is a common anti-Semitic accusation, and it should have been called out for the vile and revolting piece of rhetorical garbage that it was, and is.

Alas, Robert Siegel made only passing reference to Lasn’s disgusting and despicable bigoted views, and did nothing whatsoever to take Lasn to task for them. I accept that in order to keep our First Amendment vibrant, we must at times tolerate the airing of speech that should and does sicken those with more enlightened sensibilities. But the same First Amendment that gives anti-Semites like Lasn the right to broadcast his nonsensical and offensive statements gives Siegel the right to challenge those statements with better, smarter speech. Too bad that Siegel proved himself entirely incapable of taking Lasn on by providing the better speech that listeners like me hoped he would respond with, and striking a blow against one of the oldest forms of bigotry around.

I will only add that since it seemed to be perfectly fair to detractors of the Tea Party to judge the movement by the actions of a few dimwits at rallies, and the presence of a few offensive signs, it should also be perfectly fair to judge the Occupy movement by one of its chief gurus; and the noxious ideas he embraces. Sauce for the goose, and all that.

  • Anonymous

    Siegel didn’t ask Lasn to defend why counting the number of Jews is a legitimate exercise…because Siegel himself already understood the justification.  When you’re interviewing someone whose worldview by and large matches your own, it’s difficult to muster the requisite skepticism and objectivity.

  • pst314

    This is the sort of inexcusable bias that caused me to stop donating to public radio many years ago.

  • Pbeezley

    I also took note of the way Siegel just glided right over it, “some people say  . . .” as if whoever had brought the issue up were nut cases.  The story that followed, about how awesome it was as a woman to camp out with the OWS was so deeply offensive, I turned off the radio.  I guess that woman was lucky she was a) not Jewish, b) was not raped c) was not stabbed.   It will be interesting to see if NPR reads any of our letters of protest this afternoon.

  • Norbikes

    The ever-so-sensitive Robert Siegel…. Can NOT stand him!!!

  • Comatus

    Hmm Robe-airt Zeeee-gle…is that a Chewish name? Papers, pleece.

  • Amelia

    I also loved how Lasn firmly stated that the Occupy movement was far more important and powerful than any of the movements in US history- including the riots and protests in the 60s.  Yyyyyyeah.  

  • Deeprock7

    Well, you could pull example after example of NPR bias out of any given program.  This is a dog bites man story.  Really, you have no reason to give money to NPR. The quickest way to improve the NPR bias is to have it pay for itself and quit government funding.  Let subscribers support it…then NPR can answer to all of its listening audience.

  • Nate Whilk

    “But the same First Amendment that gives anti-Semites like Lasn the
    right to broadcast his nonsensical and offensive statements gives Siegel
    the right to challenge those statements with better, smarter speech.”

    Siegel has not just the right to challenge, but as part the media he has the self-proclaimed responsibility to do so. As you note, he does this only for one side of the political spectrum, oddly enough.

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