By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

As NPR turns: Berliner is suspended, while the new CEO defends her anti-Trump tweets

Two new developments in the ongoing brouhaha at NPR over Uri Berliner’s essay accusing the network of left-wing bias in its news coverage:

• NPR media reporter David Folkenflik writes that Berliner has been suspended without pay for five days for failing “to secure its approval for outside work for other news outlets, as is required of NPR journalists.”

This strikes me as the worst of all possible outcomes — making Berliner a martyr while keeping him on staff. At least in theory, an NPR editor ought to be able to voice concerns about the network’s ideological direction while remaining employed. But by running to Bari Weiss’ conservative opinion outlet, The Free Press, and by voicing his complaints as loudly and as frequently as possible, Berliner has made it extremely difficult to do his job. How can he edit his underlings’ work, especially if they are people of color or members of another underrepresented community?

• The New York Times reported Monday that NPR’s new CEO, Katherine Maher, posted some provocative tweets, including one calling Donald Trump a racist (editor: he is a racist), before coming to the network. Awkward? Yes. But this is her first job at a news organization, and she’s on the business side rather than the editorial side.

Naturally, Berliner can’t stop running his mouth, telling Folkenflik: “We’re looking for a leader right now who’s going to be unifying and bring more people into the tent and have a broader perspective on, sort of, what America is all about. And this seems to be the opposite of that.”

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  1. Merrill Brown

    Dan, this isn’t as simple as editorial side/business side. The NPR CEO traditionally is in a position to direct/oversee broad editorial strategies, control budgets and have very significant influence.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Those are traditionally in the wheelhouse of a newspaper publisher as well, but again, they are business matters. In any case, she is an experienced leader, and this is the first time she’s headed a news organization. She needs to be judged on how she does her current job.

  2. VEParchini

    So you need to be pre approved to tell the truth?? Please don’t make me have to cancel my membership!!

  3. ELA

    “But their left-leaning audience in too many cases demands to be coddled. The Times drives me as crazy as it does anyone else, but it is constantly attacked on social media (especially on Threads) for not getting every pro-Biden, anti-Trump nuance exactly right.”
    So, one of Berliner’s workplace gripes you tacitly agree with. The explanation for a general slide to the Progressive Left philosophies might boil down to merely a natural reflexive response to the turbocharged rightward propulsion on right-leaning forums, including Faux News and myriad other propaganda outlets. Neither is healthy, but as long as the priorities within NPR and other genuine news sources are to adhere to journalistic principles, the noise introduced by either extreme of agendas can be filtered to a great degree.
    Coddling the youngsters coming into a news environment is just a bad idea, as much as it was when applied to high school graduates ten years ago, or college grads of the last five. Lay out clearly what the expectations for solid reporting are, what the principles depend on, and demand that real substance of broader interest needs to be attentive to something more than a person, or group’s feelings being hurt.
    Real harm, whether physical or emotionally abusive, is being perpetrated in places and methods that can result in permanent damage and even death, and distinguishing the important from the transitory or trivial is a function of journalistic experience, which in turn should be always assessed on the work, and not the race or religion or identification of the reporter; such modern reframing of old prejudices is the worst kind of identity politics.

  4. Jim Okerblom

    I worked at the same newspaper with Uri years ago and thought he was a solid journalist, and still feel that way. While I don’t agree with everything in his original essay, I think some of his criticisms were valid. But his more recent statement about Maher, the new CEO of NPR, are out of right field. Maher posted opinionated comments, including some critical of Trump, when she was not working for a news organization. So what? Was she not entitled to express an opinion, like anyone else, because she *might* someday work for one? Must someone hired to head a news organization be required to have lived life as a blank slate, never having expressed a controversial opinion in public? Would it have been acceptable if Maher had said she admired Trump? All journalists have personal opinions. Arguably the most important part of the job is doing one’s best not to allow those opinions to influence news coverage. News organization typically caution their journalists to avoid expressing personal opinions publicly because it raises doubts about how serious they are about doing that. But I have never heard anyone suggest that such restraint should be applied retroactively as a job requirement.

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