Tom Sutcliffe: What hatred for NPR tells us about America

Social Studies: From a British perspective it's quite hard to see NPR as a hotbed of dogmatic socialism

Share
Related Topics

They survived one attack, but there will certainly be more. National Public Radio (NPR), the closest thing that the United States has to a public service broadcasting organisation as we know it, survived an attempt by Republicans to limit its federal funding last Thursday. The encircling Apaches were beaten off, and things have temporarily gone quiet. Or quietish, to be honest, since Republicans are making no secret of their desire and their intention to have another crack at the log cabin.

And they would argue, incidentally, that my metaphor gets things entirely the wrong way round. The assailants in this case should be seen as stalwart defenders of heartland virtues, while the besieged are the enemy that threatens the American way. Indeed one of their more virulent critics, the Fox news chief Roger Ailes, described them recently as Nazis – after they'd fired an NPR commentator for remarks he'd made while appearing on a Fox talk show.

Ailes later withdrew his remark – in deference to Jewish sensitivities about such insults – diplomatically suggesting that he should have used the phrase "nasty, inflexible bigots" instead.

The ironies of this situation – the head of Fox News berating a broadcasting organisation because "these guys don't want any other point of view" – should hardly need pointing out. But, because NPR receives a small portion of its funding from the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and because it occasionally promulgates views that are not to the liking of the far right, it has been identified as a soft target in the Republican attack on bloated government.

There is a degree of inherited spleen here which doesn't entirely match up to current circumstances; NPR used to get most of its funding from government, but over the last three decades has steadily weaned itself off the federal teat, replacing its income with sponsorship deals, charitable donations and listener pledges. Still, it represents a standing affront to the Fox News world view, with taxpayer dollars employed to fund what they (rightly) see as a market competitor.

From a British perspective it's quite hard to see NPR as a hotbed of dogmatic socialism. Yes, it was stupid of them to sack that commentator, an overreaction that inevitably opened them up to accusations of ideological censorship. And yes, they are far more likely to be listened to by those of a vaguely liberal – or independent – inclination. But they also, sometimes, make great programmes.

I should declare an interest, perhaps, as a podcast subscriber to This American Life, a brilliant weekly NPR programme which broadcasts ordinary human stories on a variety of themes, whether it's a tyrannical school supervisor or the impact of being involved in another person's death.

It's simply too variable to be easily described – but you can perhaps get some sense of its obliqueness and invention if I tell you that a recent programme on toxic debt (Toxie, if you want to listen to it) explored this notoriously complex issue by getting several of NPR's financial reporters to buy a toxic of their own – and then track down the human realities that lay behind this tradable bundle of financial obligations, including one of the defaulting mortgagees who now owed them money.

Humane, patient, nuanced and curious about other ways of thinking (they recently ran a sympathetic segment on a Tea Party activist) This American Life is everything that Fox News isn't. "If you like it so much you pay for it", its Republican enemies would probably say (not an entirely unreasonable argument). But the fact that they hate it so much, I would suggest, tells you quite a lot about how poisonously implacable America's culture wars have become.





Multiculturalism through the Tannoy



An interesting moment the other night, three minutes before curtain up at Fela! when the National Theatre address system starts to chivvy the audience into finishing its drinks and beginning the drift towards the doors. Because on this occasion the voice doesn't deploy the familiar RP diction the National Theatre usually uses but a strong Nigerian accent, addressing us with a jokey informality of tone.

It's a nice touch, warming us up for the transformation of the inside of the theatre into Fela Kuti's legendary Lagos nightclub The Shrine. But it also made me wonder why it is still relatively unusual to hear other accents and other ways of speaking on public address systems – particularly in spaces that are supposed to be representative of the country as a whole.

Most forms of public transport now vocally acknowledge that we live in a multicultural society (I have a particular soft spot for the announcer at Finsbury Park station who lists the stations on the line out to Welwyn Garden City with a weary Jamaican lilt). But lifts are still overwhelmingly white (with the honourable exception of the lifts at Broadcasting House, which address their users in a voice that sounds very much like that of the actress Sophie Okonedo), and so are most institutional recorded announcements (as opposed to those made live by employees).

The National Theatre should extend their experiment; they've been pioneers in colour-blind casting. They should establish a precedent for colour-deaf recorded announcements too.





A man who choked on his ignorance



I have two questions about the case of the Miami man who is suing a local restaurant for failing to warn him of the correct way to eat a globe artichoke, a lapse which he claims is responsible for a blockage to his intestine which required hospital treatment.

One: how on earth did he get enough of them down to cause a problem? Even a goat would think twice. Apparently he was a "business invitee" at the fateful meal in question, so maybe he just didn't like to make a fuss. But even so this would be a heroic instance of "grit your teeth and swallow".

Two: how long will it be before someone sues for "mental anguish and humiliation" because a restaurant has assumed they don't know how to eat a globe artichoke?

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Ashdown Group: PHP Developer - Buckinghamshire - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior PHP Developer - Milton Keynes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Teenagers make a request to vote at a polling station in Stanwell Village, west of London in the 2005 General Election  

If teenagers were keen to vote, it could transform Britain

Peter Kellner
Crocuses bloom at The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew  

From carpets of crocuses to cuckoos on the move, spring is truly springing

Michael McCarthy
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003