Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I have previously discussed the interviews Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly gave to Terry Gross on
NPR's Fresh Air. Franken and O'Reilly and political opponents who frequently take cheap shots at each other; while Gross was very aggressive and hostile with O'Reilly, she let Franken have a pretty easy ride. The interviews are available in Real Audio format here and here. NPR came under some criticism following the interviews and ended up issuing an apology of sorts. Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR's official ombudsman, wrote that the listeners were not well served by this interview.

I'm glad someone at NPR has the good sense to say so. But the Dvorkin piece, which begins in an honest and objective manner, soon degenerates into anti-O'Reilly invective. Dvorkin, in a number of asides, criticizes O'Reilly aggressive interview style and approvingly quotes the following letter from a listener:

I was astonished that you had Fox's Bill O'Reilly on. I have never been able to tolerate more than a few moments of his programs...all his on-air shouting is unsupportable. That being said, I really think you were baiting him...These louts and loudmouths deserve being embarrassed in public, I guess. But to hear you do it is somewhat unsettling. I would expect that if YOU ever went on his program, he'd do something similar to you. I guess what I'm saying is that I expect them to be that way and am generally glad that you aren't.

Does NPR's apology-of-sorts really need to include so many cheap shots at O'Reilly?

More importantly, it misses the point. The O'Reilly Factor on Fox gives its viewers controversial opinions. Fresh Air on NPR sounds like news.

Tune in to Fresh Air and at the top of the hour you will be treated to 15-20 minutes of news; this is followed by longer news-style reports, general interest items, and interviews. I might tune into Fresh Air and by the time the O'Reilly interview comes on, I might be under the illusion that I'm listening to an impartial news broadcast.

O'Reilly, on the other hand, is upfront about his biases. When you tune into his show, you don't expect to hear a balanced portrayal of the world's events; no, you see opinions, you see multiple hosts insulting each other, you see O'Reilly making the case for causes he agrees with and criticizing causes he doesn't. O'Reilly makes no pretense of being impartial.

This is why you can't apply the same standard to O'Reilly and Terry Gross. No, there is nothing inherently wrong with being tough on some people and easy on others; but if you do this, you are not in the business of delivering news. NPR just doesn't seem to understand that.


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