NPR Says NB's 'Absurd,' Tells Fox News It's Fair and Balanced on Prayer Story

November 25th, 2008 5:43 PM picked up my NewsBusters blog post on National Public Radio's pagan-witch correspondent Margot Adler suggesting she just happened upon the president of the New York City Atheists in front of a "prayer booth" art project in New York City. An NPR publicist suggested NewsBusters was "absurd" and found nothing biased in the story at all:

NPR vehemently denied that its coverage was opposed to prayer or organized religion.

"There's no bias in this story and to imply that there is because of a reporter's religious beliefs is absurd," said Anna Christopher, an NPR spokeswoman. "[Adler] spoke with several different people with several different viewpoints on the booth."

Fox did report that Adler spoke to a young girl about praying for her dog, so I should correct my assumption that the seven-year-old person with the first name "Avery" was a boy. But NPR’s defense really grew shaky when it started downplaying its federal funding:

Asked whether their reporter was taking snipes at the faithful on the government dime, NPR was adamant that she wasn't and explained that only a minuscule amount of its funding comes from the government.

"Less than two percent [of NPR's budget] comes from competitive grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts," Christopher said. "There's no disrespect for religion at all. Our reporters are able to separate their private practices ... and their standards as journalists, and in no way does [Adler's] religious affiliation affect that."

This is actually the company line. As the NPR website states:

A very small percentage -- between one percent to two percent of NPR's annual budget -- comes from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

This is clever, but the impression it leaves is not accurate. Isolating "competitive grants" is no measure of NPR’s federal funding. NPR receives substantial money from the CPB – through member stations. The 2007 financial statement of NPR Inc. shows under "Revenues" that $65 million of its $169 million in reported revenues come from "Station programming fees," and another $2 million comes from "membership dues." Member stations receive grants through CPB, which they send back to Washington for dues and programming.

NPR claims the member stations receive only 13 percent of their revenue (on average) from CPB, but the federal funds sloshing through the NPR system are substantial, not a "miniscule" fraction of their operating support.

When we have suggested cutting federal funds for public broadcasting, NPR’s spokesmen and executives wail to Congress (and shamelessly lobby the public) over any budgetary fraction that would be chiseled away, making a special point of stations in "underserved" minority communities.

As for Adler's pagan beliefs, my point was simply that the story didn't include any real rebuttal of the atheist's strange claim that religion can't be practiced in "public space," and that it was hard to believe that the meeting between Adler and the atheist was a complete fluke.