Senior NPR editor resigns after essay slamming lack of ‘viewpoint diversity’ at network

Editor faced five-day suspension after publishing lightning-rod essay without prior approval from NPR

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Thursday 18 April 2024 00:51 BST
NPR reporter says network 'lost public's trust' due to left-wing bias

A veteran NPR editor, who prompted heated debate last week about the flagship US public broadcaster with an essay accusing it of losing its authority and audience through a lack of “viewpoint diversity,” has resigned.

Uri Berliner, a Peabody Award-winning senior business editor at the network, announced in a post on social media he was leaving NPR, an outlet he called a “great American institution.”

“I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” he added. “But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

In an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, Berliner elaborated, alleging that he was implicitly singled out, though not named, in a memo from NPR CEO Katherine Maher about workplace integrity.

“Everything completely changed for me on Monday afternoon,” Berliner told the Times of receiving the memo.

The Independent has contacted NPR for comment.

The controversy began in an essay by the editor published last week in The Free Press, a news outlet founded by journalist Bari Weiss, who herself left The New York Times in 2020 in a highly public fracas over newsroom viewpoint diversity, and frequently reports on issues of perceived cancel culture and narrowmindedness in the media.

Berliner accused NPR of serving an increasingly narrow audience of liberal and progressive Americans, failing to attract Black and Hispanic audiences, and falling short of maintaining its principles of fair and nuanced coverage.

“An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America,” the piece argues.

The essay alleges that the network has taken skewed approaches to major stories like the origins Covid, the Trump-Russia allegations, Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the Israel-Hamas war.

The piece also takes issue with how NPR handled editorial considerations around race and racism, casting a sceptical eye toward the prominence of employee-identity affinity groups, efforts to ensure diverse representation in sources quoted on NPR, and the contention from former NPR boss John Lansing that the broadcaster’s reporters should see themselves as “agents of change” in “identifying and ending systemic racism.”

The piece generated a variety of reactions across the media landscape.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, a former NPR vice president, shared the essay online, writing, “He’s not wrong.”

Others, including those at the network, defended their journalism.

"We’re proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," NPR chief news executive Edith Chapin told staff in a memo this week. "We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

One of the network’s most prominent anchors, Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep, went further, accusing Berliner of conducting the kind of tunnel-vision journalism he was decrying.

“A careful read of the article shows many sweeping statements for which the writer is unable to offer evidence,” Inskeep wrote on Substack.

In one example, he noted that Berliner didn’t outline any specific stories he took issue with in a section critiquing NPR’s supposed “unspoken consensus” on Israel reporting.

“If he was going to denounce these colleagues, Uri might at least have picked out specific stories that bothered him,” Inskeep added. “Many of us could—I was in a discussion about such a story just a few days ago. But that would be a different story than he told.”

As of Wednesday, 50 NPR employees signed onto a letter to the broadcaster’s top leadership, calling on them to publicly correct “factual inaccuracies and elisions” in the essay.

Earlier this week, NPR announced to reporters it would lead monthly meetings reviewing its coverage for political, identity, and geographic diversity.

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