NPR has outlived its usefulness.
NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen issued a report Friday addressing the perception problem that NPR’s reporting on Iran was funded in part by the leftist group the Ploughshares Fund, which boasted in its annual report that it won the political battle over the Iran nuclear deal through its “high-impact grantmaking,” which would include NPR.
They’ve given $700,000 over the last decade, specifying it backs Iran coverage. The Ploughshares Fund’s 2015 annual report explained their grant to NPR supported “national security reporting that emphasizes the themes of U.S. nuclear weapons policy and budgets, Iran’s nuclear program, international nuclear security topics and U.S. policy toward nuclear security.” AP’s reporter found Iran was routinely specified as a reason for the money.
Jensen declared that due to the perception problems of bias, that NPR should stop accepting grants from leftist foundations. No, I’m kidding.
She said the grants shouldn’t come with so specific a rationale: “in the case of grants such as the one from Ploughshares, which are intended to fund reporting on specific, highly controversial issues, my suggestion is that NPR consider not accepting them in the future if they contain such specific language. No, the firewall was not breached in this case, but the damage that happened from perception is just too great a risk to NPR’s reputation.”
One can’t expect that internal watchdogs are going to be fierce, but this recommendation is especially weak. In this case — when a White House aide boasts of how he can create an “echo chamber” with help from his partners at Ploughshares — their grant money still looks like an echo-maker. What Jensen won’t acknowledge is that NPR can’t just shake this echo-chamber reputation by feeling good about their self-image of objective professionalism, or keeping reporters ignorant of their funders.