December 25, 2004

Tavis Smiley and David Sedaris and NPR

With Christmas over and New Years approaching it seems time to review a bit.

Sadly, this holiday season has been a real boon to Neighborhood Public Radio's research of the effectiveness and purpose of National Public Radio. Just over a week before Xmas ran the interview with Tavis Smiley wherein he talks about his decision to leave National Public Radio because "[NPR] stands for National Public Radio. It's not National Some-of-the-Public Radio, it's National All-of-the-Public Radio. " (apparently he didn't know that NPR can also stand for Neighborhood Public Radio. We forgive you Tavis.) According to the salon article, the folks over at National Public Radio have admitted that they have more work to do, but apparently they are not so committed to doing that work that they would make concessions to make Tavis Smiley feel like staying. (

National Public Radio's commitment to diversity is further brought into question this Xmas season with their apparent censoring of David Sedaris. ( This act is made all the more troubling when considered in light of the fact that the censored piece has run repeatedly on National Public Radio without similar censorship for the past 12 years. National Public Radio has run the piece, "The Santaland Diaries" for 12 years without having any issue with Mr. Sedaris' chaste mention of the flirtatiousness of an "adorable" male department store elf named Snowball, and the attentions his flirtatiousness inspired among other male elves and Santas. What has changed?

The Tavis Smiley case points to a long standing problem with National Public Radio, and one that Neighborhood Public Radio continues to try to address. Neighborhood Public Radio is about pointing to the fact that this mythical "Public" radio is not very accessible to a vast majority of the "public" and that as our government marches rightward it seems that the only real way that National Public Radio wants the public to participate is by sending in money during the many pledge drives that are forced upon those of us who have not run screaming from the mess that National Public Radio is becoming. The Salon article mentions "public radio researcher" David Giovannoni. Specifically the Salon article refers to the fact that "Giovannoni's research shows that NPR's core audience -- affluent white baby boomers -- doesn't want programming geared toward minorities, or young people, even in moderation. Every time they turn on the radio, he argues, that audience wants to hear the dulcet tones of the Linda Wertheimer sound-alikes who've come to define public radio. Many stations believe that following the advice of Giovannoni and his disciples means they will attract more listeners, which means more donations." Whatever you might think of Tavis Smiley or his show, it can pretty safely be said that Newt Gingrich is probably quite pleased at this turn of events. After all, it was Newt who called for a "defunding of the left". Mr. Smiley is complaining of a lack of "support" for his programming and (it can be assumed) for programming by traditionally marginalized communities in general. Its worth noting that it was during Gingrich's tenure that National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System had to step up their fundraising drives or face the possibility of insolvency.

Its also worth noting at this point that the Bush administration has in its tenure appointed two very partisan Republicans to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board. According to Common Cause, these new appointees, Gay Hart Gaines and Cheryl Halpern have, with their families, given close to a million dollars to various Republican causes over the years. Contributions to political causes are one thing, but more to the point of this discussion, lets look at Gay Hart Gaines who raised funds for Mr. Gingrich when he was campaigning to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and chaired Newt's GOPAC political action committee. Let's also look at Ms. Halpern who, in her confirmation hearing testimony suggested that Public Broadcasting like that of Bill Moyers could be penalized for impropriety in the same way that programming was penalized when she worked for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is the parent body of Voice of America, the propaganda broadcaster for the US government.

As if those two appointments were not enough, let it further be said that Bush has blocked the appointment of Chon Noriega to the board. Mr. Noriega is a professor of film, television, and digital media at U.C.L.A. and a co-founder of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (in contrast to Gay Hart Gaines ho is trained as an interior decorator). Mr. Noriega is a Democrat, but the president already has the five Republican spots on the board filled, so he needs a Democrat. So what's the problem, you might ask, with this Democrat, aside from the fact that he was suggested by Tom Daschle? When Rebecca Contreras from the White House's Office of Presidential Personnel interviewed Mr. Noriega he was quoted as recalling that "the important question" in that interview was whether it was appropriate for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to exert influence over "politically biased" programming. We can assume that Mr. Noriega did not provide the answer that Ms. Contreras was looking for.

So the whole Corporation for Public Broadcasting (not just National Public Radio) now find themselves between a rock and a hard place, or perhaps, more appropriately described, they find themselves between David Giovannoni and Cheryl Halpern. They?re trapped between Giovannoni telling NPR that they will lose money if they appeal to anyone other than the wealthy white and Cheryl Halpern and Gay Hart Gaines telling them they should be fined and/or "defunded" if their programming is too biased. It?s no wonder that David Sedaris is being edited into heterosexuality and Tavis Smiley is deciding he can peddle his wares better elsewhere. Through self censorship NPR has shown the new CPB appointees that their ready to cave in before they've even put up any public fight. Is that the public media landscape that the "non-partisan" Corporation for Public Broadcasting was formed to create?

I guess all we have left (if you check out CNN) are the "unauthorized" stations. ( )

Check out Neighborhood Public Radio at 21 Grand in Oakland on January 15th. More details will be available soon.

If you haven't yet, visit our MP3 archive from the show "The Way We Work". Sarah Lockhart has provided a little descriptive text for each show, so you can have a little more insight into what you are about to listen to. Thanks, Sarah.

Thanks everyone for all of your support.


Posted by NPR at December 25, 2004 11:53 PM