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NPR’s No-‘Lie’ Policy and the Limits of Impartiality in the Trump Era


NPR’s No-‘Lie’ Policy and the Limits of Impartiality in the Trump Era

Adam Johnson

After much back and forth over the past few weeks, National Public Radio finally clarified their editorial stance on when it is and isn’t appropriate to call a lie a lie, a determination that many commentators found


I called out the CBC Radio's News dept on this kind of reporting some years ago by pointing out a World Weekly News-style headline - "Man Says a UFO Landed in His Back Yard" - would be perfectly true. Yes, a man might have actually said that. But is that the important part of the story? No!

The reasons most societies give a lot of freedom and protection to journalists is that they're not just scribes, not just tape recorders, not just stenographers. They, nominally, report whether what someone said is believable, they provide context, they illuminate. What NPR is doing isn't these.

Could they at least use the phrase false statement? That would remove 'intent' from the definition.

/ Don't answer, I know they don't have the spine to do so... You 'Mercans are sooo screwed, eh.
// To the CBC's credit, they did phone me back, told me I was right, and that they would stop the 'he said, she said' reporting.


I've come to intensely dislike NPR, which has long minimized or shut out important voices too critical of government or the corporations which run it or that would be otherwise distasteful to the neoliberal elites. I hated them for their clear anti-Sanders / pro-Clinton bias from the beginnings of the nomination campaign on.

I know that once their federal funding was threatened / reduced - I think it was first during the Reagan years but I could be wrong - they became even more consciously "centrist" and unwilling to broadcast the views of anyone on the left; some might say their shift was about self-survival. Yet it does not excuse their failure as journalists.

Yet even so, I can't really bash NPR too much for trying to use language carefully and objectively in this instance. It is in my opinion enough to state the facts objectively - to point out when Trump and his team's claims are false...and that they are knowingly so if those claims are already disproven by well-documented facts. I think listeners are smart enough to understand that knowingly making false claims can only be done with the intent to deceive and that is lying.


I started listening to NPR three plus decades ago and had great appreciation for what they were doing. But I also have been reading extensively about politics for even longer and have come to view their news reporting as tragically thin, omitting critical context and crucial details. I stopped contributing to them roughly 10 years ago in a decision that wasn't free of conflict. I know some of the people at the local station, and do enjoy much of the programming including the local hosts community programs. But I just couldn't stomach the thought of financially supporting news reporting that left so many politician's statements unchallenged, so many reports devoid of historical underpinning. It's like the one mainstream progressive outlet we have, and yet, it just wasn't. And I'd hate it when conservatives would refer to it as "liberal" radio. Ultimately, I know I could be accused of making a lack of perfection the enemy of the good, but sometimes you just have to.


I think you nailed it. False statement, falsehood are perfect. Provide context to the falsehood, which you rightly point out is a journalist's job, and the job is done.

Fact is, Trump is so unhinged that it really is possible that he believes what he says. But I share your frustration with "fair and balanced reporting", and good on you to call out the CBC. Guess you Canadians can be ornery folk! =)


We've heard history rewritten with these kinds of word manipulations. It's been around a long time. Bernay's would be so happy we now speak a different kind of English thanks to the blathering fools he created. No wonder the media is loosing viewers.
The weather report never mentions climate change, but will report the differences between last year and this year.
Conspiracy is a word that has been disallowed on TV even when it is an obvious conspiracy, the word can't be used. What are you a conspiracy nut?
Now I know why Lie can't be mentioned.
And this is what passes for journalism today? Even though pathological liar doesn't imply intent? Can they say that? Like every time he lies? It referres to his illness...
This is crazy and trump is so disjointed in his thinking and speaking our freaking heads are going to explode. We need a new dictionary.


AMEN!!   Gentlemen, start your engines!!!

AMEN again!  It ain't nohow "fair" if it aids and abets a cabal or an unbalanced narcissist in taking advantage of others.  Period.


NPR is liberal on social issues like abortion and gay rights, but center right on political and economic issues. They like to say that they must be doing something right because they are criticized by liberals and conservatives. They did do a right turn during Reagan, but the big purge of left wing voices happened in the lead up to the Iraq war, which they supported relentlessly. I hold them partly responsible for that war and the Hilary debacle. Their sparing coverage of Saunders was more mocking than coverage. I write them all of the time to complain about left voices being left out and have talked to their ombudsman on a few occasions. The most recent was last week when they had a "barbershop round table" where they had a pro Trump republican, an anti Trump Republican and a Hilary supporter. The left perspective absent as usual, and in my mind more needed than ever.


I think he has most likely been a liar his entire life and now cant tell or dosent care about the difference between a lie and the truth, he just says what ever he has to to get what he wants, telling the truth or lying dosent come into it for him, I think it goes hand in hand with being a greedy prick, and a pussy grabber, let's face it.....this guy is ALL about himself period, if you dont kiss his ass your outa here, this is going to end baddly...


While I was milking the other morning, I heard this story on NPR when it first aired, and was so pissed off--- why is it wrong or politically incorrect to call a lie a lie. NPR had better get some courage or they may as well partner with FOX News for the next four years. Yes, they may risk loosing their funding, but your job is reporting the facts, we all will be risking more than our funding in the next four years.



I occasionally listen to NPR to see what the mainstream press is saying. NPR stopped being an alternative news source a long time ago.


It has been apparent for nearly two years that Trump is a masterful propagandist, posing as a populist by turning ethnic minorities, progressives, socialists, Democrats, foreign nations, media and facts themselves into enemies of the middle class Murkins who became his base.

Trump has done such a good job of making facts one of the enemies that a strategy that includes adding facts or more frequently repeating facts plays into Trump's hand and will only further entrench his base, not break them away from him.


In my experience, "Don't let 'the Perfect' be the enemy of 'the Good'" is always used in place of the more Direct and Truthful "We're not going to do the Right Thing."

NPR news, almost exclusively, uses MSM framing, and never comes close to giving the Left an equal Voice on its Airwaves.


Sooo, Where was NPR when Colorado Care Amendment 69 was attacked by Insurers, Koch Bros. etc. who put out confusing fake news? In fact, NPR was so milk-toast on the subject, it added to the confusion, left out critical facts that would benefit consumers and disregarded TR Reid's premise for a Single Payer system that would be financially beneficial to the State of CO as well. Here's an eg., that could be taken as a anti-Colorado Care position by leaving out important facts. [http://www.cpr.org/news/story/2016-election-amendment-69-statewide-healthcare-coloradocare]
NPR's so-called neutral position on reporting is not valuable to anyone especially since it is void of thoroughly researched material.
So, your announcement for a NO='lie' policy is meaningless in the face of "yellow journalism" that can do more harm than good.


In the end, NPR is state media. And like all state media, it has as its primary constituency the elite of the country. It's range of discourse reflects the permissible range of disagreement and dissent within elites. This is why the Washington Consensus was so bad for state media. When elites are in agreement, state media has no room to maneuver in its reporting frame.

It's a dire media situation in general. On one hand, you have the monolithic corporate media reflecting the values of its monopolistic owners. On the other, you do have a great deal of "Independent" media on the Internet, however much of that is just sheer lunacy. It would be nice to have sort of that frontier journo ethos of internet media with the professionalism and training of much of the establishment media (who could, if permitted, do a much better job than they are doing. Most of them have the skills).


Right on Citizenquesne! And while perhaps NPR might accuse you "of making a lack of perfection the enemy of the good", the fact is, they aren't even "good" any more.


Several of your key phrases echo my own conclusions about NPT as well:

"...news reporting as tragically thin, omitting critical context and crucial details...politician's statements unchallenged."

Well said!


Journalism must report the truth independent of other considerations. When reporting is influenced by financial concerns including fear that funding may be lost, it is no longer journalism. Calling the failure to be truthful a lie is a clear, direct use of language. NPR needs to decide whether it will do journalism or continue to be a watered-down mouthpiece for a crumbling status quo. An important part of journalism is to speak truth to power. I stopped looking to NPR as a news source long ago in part because I did not see NPR doing that.