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NPR bias, press freedom take center stage in Congressional hearing

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U.S. House Republicans and Democrats sparred Wednesday over press freedom in a hearing held to investigate “ideological bias” and “viewpoint discrimination” of a taxpayer-funded media outlet, National Public Radio.

The U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held the hearing in response to allegations raised about NPR by a long time NPR employee and former senior editor Uri Berliner.

Subcommittee Chairman Morgan Griffith, R-VA, cited examples of NPR articles he said were biased and factually inaccurate. In one, NPR claimed that “Congress had no direct evidence” that TikTok was a threat, referring to its connection to the Chinese Communist Party.

Griffith said NPR’s claim “is simply not true. If NPR had listened openly and fairly to TikTok’s own CEO,” who testified before the committee, it would have heard him say there “was no real firewall between the Chinese Communist Party and the American company.”

He also cited examples of NPR’s coverage of antisemitic riots occurring on American college campuses, saying it’s “been borderline encouraging, nostalgic even, evoking the good old days of protesting the Vietnam War. NPR reporters have dismissed evidence suggesting external groups may have had a role in coordinating these protests despite contrary reporting by outlets like the Wall Street Journal.”

“That type of bias affects the way I and many others” look at NPR coverage, Griffith added.

Griffith cited NPR news programs that have adopted “a mostly progressive framing,” which he says have led to NPR losing donations and listeners. At its peak in 2017, NPR had over 30 million weekly listeners. By 2022, it had lost 6.6 million. NPR’s “substantial budget deficits” have led to it laying off up to 10% of its staff, he said.

“What was intended to be a media organization that brought together millions of Americans across geographic socioeconomic and ideological boundaries … has now turned into what appears to be a progressive propaganda purveyor using our taxpayer dollars.”

Griffith also said that local radio stations accepting federal grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to pay for NPR’s membership dues and programming fees accounts for roughly 30% of NPR’s revenue.

“This hearing is a chance for us to take stock of whether we should be using federal taxpayer dollars to promote one ideology to the exclusion of others,” he said. “If NPR wants to create a one-sided ideological content that marginalizes a substantial proportion of Americans, they can fight it out with other media companies for market share and pay for it on their own dime, not the taxpayers.”

Ranking Member Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, said, “This Congress will unfortunately go down in history as the least productive in modern time, wasting time and taxpayer dollars on witch hunts.”

The committee targeting NPR, she said, paralleled the communist actions of Chinese and Russian governments and Republicans “were undermining” journalism.

Instead, she said it would be a better use of their time to consider “why guns are the leading cause of death among American children,” citing questioned data published by the Centers for Disease Control. The data includes gun violence related to 18- and 19- year-olds, who are legal adults.

Castor also said NPR reporting was objective and should receive more, not less, federal dollars.

The Center Square first reported that NPR’s climate desk was funded by philanthropic organizations with a goal to target the U.S. oil and natural gas industry. NPR cites sources who are also funded by the same philanthropic organizations as NPR is.

The committee invited NPR CEO Katherine Maher to testify but she declined, saying “she needed more time to prepare and that she had a conflict with an NPR board meeting,” U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers, R-WA, said. Maher, who is connected to several global economic organizations, including the World Bank and World Economic Forum, has donated solely to Democratic political candidates, The Center Square first reported.

Rogers also cited examples of how she argues “NPR has strayed from their core mission.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Frank Pallone, D-NJ, said the hearing “was a complete waste of this committee’s time. We are here today solely because Speaker [Mike] Johnson sees NPR as an easy punching bag as he attempts to placate the most extreme right wing of the party.”

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