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Berliner’s opus was published by the Free Press, an outlet dedicated to covering stories “ignored or misconstrued in the service of an ideological narrative” — and not by NPR, which requires infinitely greater substantiation for its media reporting, whether the crisis lies in its own newsroom or somewhere else.

The irony there: Berliner has edited many of the stories carrying the byline of Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent. He knows better.

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Here’s how Berliner supports his conclusions on NPR’s Russia work: “[Rep. Adam] Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.”

Yes, Schiff is a recurring presence in the broadcasts. “Like many broadcast news organizations, NPR interviewed Rep. Schiff often during the Trump administration, as he was a principal figure in the Russian interference investigation — a story we covered with caution and perspective,” says an NPR spokesperson in a statement. “Rep. Schiff’s perspective was only one element of our coverage of the Russian interference story, in no way did he commandeer the reporting of NPR.” According to the spokesperson, NPR did 900 interviews with congressional lawmakers between January 2017 and December 2019 — including Paul Ryan, Jim Jordan, Eric Swalwell and others.

Numbers matter less than the content of those Schiff interviews, which tend toward procedural mishmash, recitation of previously reported revelations and the centrality of oversight. In this interview, Schiff says that if former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort cooperates with authorities, “we could learn a lot more.” In this one, the congressman speaks to his committee’s investigative imperatives: “I think we need to use subpoenas, and we need to stand up and say, we’re going to get the answers here.” In this one, Schiff is asked whether Trump gets “especially agitated” when the topic turns to Russia. “Well, absolutely,” he responds.

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Is this the prejudicial poison of which Berliner writes? We asked him to supply instances of in which Schiff’s talking points suffused NPR’s independent reporting. After several emails and a phone call, Berliner hasn’t responded with supporting material.

Had NPR wished to addle its lefty audience with suggestive reporting about Trump’s alleged criminality regarding Russia, it had a tool at its disposal. The so-called Steele dossier, published in early January 2017 by BuzzFeed News, contained explosive allegations presented by a former British intelligence officer. Various news outlets and commentators bathed the dossier in credibility that it didn’t deserve, as noted in an extensive thread by Drew Holden and a series in this space. Top offenders include McClatchy, which ran stories bolstering the dossier’s claims that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague for collusive business; and dossier believer in chief Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who cheered for the document throughout Russiagate.

NPR’s dossier work was by no means perfect. “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, for example, occasionally failed to properly smack down dossier boosters during interviews. Yet the outlet was careful to avoid McClatchy’s “scoops” on Cohen and otherwise to cordon off its descriptions of the dossier with police tape. “NPR has never detailed the document because so much of it remains unproved,” reads a 2019 NPR story. The NPR spokesperson said in a statement: “We were not able to find any examples of NPR corroborating unconfirmed elements of the Trump dossier."

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As further evidence of his employer’s errant ways, Berliner argues that after the Mueller report found “no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.” It’s an immutable law of media physics, of course, that coverage peters out when a story comes to an end. Who, after all, is doing continuing coverage of Abscam these days?

But there’s more flimsiness afoot here. Berliner’s dismissal of Robert S. Mueller III’s findings — technically misguided, because the special counsel’s investigation didn’t apply the “concept of 'collusion’” in its work — leaves the impression that the media’s pursuit of the various Russiagate strands was a fool’s errand. In fact, journalists as well as official investigations documented a spreadsheet’s worth of scandalous activity that didn’t amount to an international conspiracy, in Mueller’s view. Trump will have you believe that the absence of criminality signifies the absence of wrongdoing, a logical atrocity abetted by Berliner’s essay.

Ditching the nitty-gritty, Berliner’s claim of an NPR campaign to “topple” Trump grinds against the measured claims in NPR’s day-to-day coverage. Examples abound. In this segment, NPR correspondents struggle to wrap their heads around the just-released Mueller report. In this one, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly interviews a former CIA official who presciently shoots down liberal fever dreams related to Russia and Trump. In this piece, published months before the Mueller report, an NPR editor argues that the Russia case is “weakening” and even attributes an “important kernel of truth” to the famous tweet by Trump citing “No Smocking Gun … No Collusion.” This piece highlights Trump’s point of view regarding the Mueller investigation. And this one bears the headline, “Trumps Exult Following Reports Of No Phone Contact Ahead Of 2016 Russia Meeting.”

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Following the Russia experience, writes Berliner, NPR compounded its mistakes by moving on with “no mea culpas, no self-reflection.” By all means, self-reflect — it’s a good step for any news organization after a big story. Presumably, Berliner would have supplied various URLs for such a review, but he didn’t share any with me. After skulking around in the NPR search box, I’d nominate the Gross interviews on the dossier and other pieces that faced challenges or turned out to be inconsistent with other reporting.

With his tendentious claims, however, Berliner doesn’t merely overstep the paltry evidence in his piece. He positions his now-former workplace as a hive of ideologues driven by political outcomes instead of the facts — basically a left-wing analogue to Fox News. That salvo appeared to diminish his appeal as a newsroom collaborator.

NPR, as it turns out, is an analogue to nothing — a sui generis outlet driven by old-fashioned journo-principles, an aversion to offending anyone and a steady propensity to annoy listeners. Surely, it has many things to apologize for, though an on-air campaign to oust a president isn’t among them.

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Uri Berliner is offended.

In an April 9 essay in the Free Press, Berliner, who worked at NPR for 25 years, rapped his employer for allegedly running a newsroom fueled by progressive sensibilities that seep into a skewed on-air product. Stories on Trump-Russia, Hunter Biden and covid-19 have all suffered from acute NPRitis, he writes. And racial and identity considerations — as well as affinity groups — shape workplace culture.

The essay triggered a bona fide media drama that concluded on Wednesday with Berliner’s resignation. On his way out, he delivered a parting shot at CEO Katherine Maher. “I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new C.E.O. whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay,” Berliner wrote on X.

Just what had Maher done to deserve such a diss? She had published a statement pushing back against Berliner’s essay: “Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.” As NPR’s own David Folkenflik reported, Berliner took exception to that commentary.

Which is to say, Berliner is now an expert in disparagement and umbrage. In his Free Press essay, he deplores his colleagues’ “advocacy” and alleges that it had “veered toward efforts to damage or topple [Donald] Trump’s presidency.”

Now that is disparagement. Even in the rough-and-tumble world of journalism, slamming your colleagues for their published work — especially in another outlet — is a rare undertaking. As Berliner suggests in his essay, it was something of a last resort, considering that he had raised his concerns internally to little effect. He invited people to sample NPR’s coverage and “make their own judgment.”

Invitation accepted. Over the past several days, I have sifted through roughly three years’ worth of NPR’s coverage of Russiagate, the effort by federal investigators and the media to discover the truth about the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. Since NPR’s alleged tilt on this story serves as Exhibit No. 1 in Berliner’s onslaught — and since it’s central to the claim that the network sought to topple Trump — I chose to limit my efforts to this portion of the essay.

And what a portion it is! The NPR Russia-Trump coverage plume under fire from Berliner consists of thousands of articles, podcasts, segments and so on. Berliner links to one. His serious allegations, accordingly, are backed by scant evidence, if any at all. It’s a lazy, summary approach to evaluating a large body of work — a feelings-based critique of the sort that passes for media reporting these days. Too often, essayists write their conclusory broadsides against this or that outlet, confident in the knowledge that their fellow ideological travelers will applaud no matter how threadbare the supporting material.

Berliner’s opus was published by the Free Press, an outlet dedicated to covering stories “ignored or misconstrued in the service of an ideological narrative” — and not by NPR, which requires infinitely greater substantiation for its media reporting, whether the crisis lies in its own newsroom or somewhere else.

The irony there: Berliner has edited many of the stories carrying the byline of Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent. He knows better.

Here’s how Berliner supports his conclusions on NPR’s Russia work: “[Rep. Adam] Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.”

Yes, Schiff is a recurring presence in the broadcasts. “Like many broadcast news organizations, NPR interviewed Rep. Schiff often during the Trump administration, as he was a principal figure in the Russian interference investigation — a story we covered with caution and perspective,” says an NPR spokesperson in a statement. “Rep. Schiff’s perspective was only one element of our coverage of the Russian interference story, in no way did he commandeer the reporting of NPR.” According to the spokesperson, NPR did 900 interviews with congressional lawmakers between January 2017 and December 2019 — including Paul Ryan, Jim Jordan, Eric Swalwell and others.

Numbers matter less than the content of those Schiff interviews, which tend toward procedural mishmash, recitation of previously reported revelations and the centrality of oversight. In this interview, Schiff says that if former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort cooperates with authorities, “we could learn a lot more.” In this one, the congressman speaks to his committee’s investigative imperatives: “I think we need to use subpoenas, and we need to stand up and say, we’re going to get the answers here.” In this one, Schiff is asked whether Trump gets “especially agitated” when the topic turns to Russia. “Well, absolutely,” he responds.

Is this the prejudicial poison of which Berliner writes? We asked him to supply instances of in which Schiff’s talking points suffused NPR’s independent reporting. After several emails and a phone call, Berliner hasn’t responded with supporting material.

Had NPR wished to addle its lefty audience with suggestive reporting about Trump’s alleged criminality regarding Russia, it had a tool at its disposal. The so-called Steele dossier, published in early January 2017 by BuzzFeed News, contained explosive allegations presented by a former British intelligence officer. Various news outlets and commentators bathed the dossier in credibility that it didn’t deserve, as noted in an extensive thread by Drew Holden and a series in this space. Top offenders include McClatchy, which ran stories bolstering the dossier’s claims that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague for collusive business; and dossier believer in chief Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who cheered for the document throughout Russiagate.

NPR’s dossier work was by no means perfect. “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, for example, occasionally failed to properly smack down dossier boosters during interviews. Yet the outlet was careful to avoid McClatchy’s “scoops” on Cohen and otherwise to cordon off its descriptions of the dossier with police tape. “NPR has never detailed the document because so much of it remains unproved,” reads a 2019 NPR story. The NPR spokesperson said in a statement: “We were not able to find any examples of NPR corroborating unconfirmed elements of the Trump dossier."

As further evidence of his employer’s errant ways, Berliner argues that after the Mueller report found “no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.” It’s an immutable law of media physics, of course, that coverage peters out when a story comes to an end. Who, after all, is doing continuing coverage of Abscam these days?

But there’s more flimsiness afoot here. Berliner’s dismissal of Robert S. Mueller III’s findings — technically misguided, because the special counsel’s investigation didn’t apply the “concept of 'collusion’” in its work — leaves the impression that the media’s pursuit of the various Russiagate strands was a fool’s errand. In fact, journalists as well as official investigations documented a spreadsheet’s worth of scandalous activity that didn’t amount to an international conspiracy, in Mueller’s view. Trump will have you believe that the absence of criminality signifies the absence of wrongdoing, a logical atrocity abetted by Berliner’s essay.

Ditching the nitty-gritty, Berliner’s claim of an NPR campaign to “topple” Trump grinds against the measured claims in NPR’s day-to-day coverage. Examples abound. In this segment, NPR correspondents struggle to wrap their heads around the just-released Mueller report. In this one, NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly interviews a former CIA official who presciently shoots down liberal fever dreams related to Russia and Trump. In this piece, published months before the Mueller report, an NPR editor argues that the Russia case is “weakening” and even attributes an “important kernel of truth” to the famous tweet by Trump citing “No Smocking Gun … No Collusion.” This piece highlights Trump’s point of view regarding the Mueller investigation. And this one bears the headline, “Trumps Exult Following Reports Of No Phone Contact Ahead Of 2016 Russia Meeting.”

Following the Russia experience, writes Berliner, NPR compounded its mistakes by moving on with “no mea culpas, no self-reflection.” By all means, self-reflect — it’s a good step for any news organization after a big story. Presumably, Berliner would have supplied various URLs for such a review, but he didn’t share any with me. After skulking around in the NPR search box, I’d nominate the Gross interviews on the dossier and other pieces that faced challenges or turned out to be inconsistent with other reporting.

With his tendentious claims, however, Berliner doesn’t merely overstep the paltry evidence in his piece. He positions his now-former workplace as a hive of ideologues driven by political outcomes instead of the facts — basically a left-wing analogue to Fox News. That salvo appeared to diminish his appeal as a newsroom collaborator.

NPR, as it turns out, is an analogue to nothing — a sui generis outlet driven by old-fashioned journo-principles, an aversion to offending anyone and a steady propensity to annoy listeners. Surely, it has many things to apologize for, though an on-air campaign to oust a president isn’t among them.

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Here’s why Uri Berliner couldn’t stay at NPR

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19.04.2024

Follow this authorErik Wemple's opinions

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Berliner’s opus was published by the Free Press, an outlet dedicated to covering stories “ignored or misconstrued in the service of an ideological narrative” — and not by NPR, which requires infinitely greater substantiation for its media reporting, whether the crisis lies in its own newsroom or somewhere else.

The irony there: Berliner has edited many of the stories carrying the byline of Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent. He knows better.

Advertisement

Here’s how Berliner supports his conclusions on NPR’s Russia work: “[Rep. Adam] Schiff, who was the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, became NPR’s guiding hand, its ever-present muse. By my count, NPR hosts interviewed Schiff 25 times about Trump and Russia. During many of those conversations, Schiff alluded to purported evidence of collusion. The Schiff talking points became the drumbeat of NPR news reports.”

Yes, Schiff is a recurring presence in the broadcasts. “Like many broadcast news organizations, NPR interviewed Rep. Schiff often during the Trump administration, as he was a principal figure in the Russian interference investigation — a story we covered with caution and perspective,” says an NPR spokesperson in a statement. “Rep. Schiff’s perspective was only one element of our coverage of the Russian interference story, in no way did he commandeer the reporting of NPR.” According to the spokesperson, NPR did 900 interviews with congressional lawmakers between January 2017 and December 2019 — including Paul Ryan, Jim Jordan, Eric Swalwell and others.

Numbers matter less than the content of those Schiff interviews, which tend toward procedural mishmash, recitation of previously reported revelations and the centrality of oversight. In this interview, Schiff says that if former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort cooperates with authorities, “we could learn a lot more.” In this one, the congressman speaks to his committee’s investigative imperatives: “I think we need to use subpoenas, and we need to stand up and say, we’re going to get the answers here.” In this one, Schiff is asked whether Trump gets “especially agitated” when the topic turns to Russia. “Well, absolutely,” he responds.

Advertisement

Is this the prejudicial poison of which Berliner writes? We asked him to supply instances of in which Schiff’s talking points suffused NPR’s independent reporting. After several emails and a phone call, Berliner hasn’t responded with supporting material.

Had NPR wished to addle its lefty audience with suggestive reporting about Trump’s alleged criminality regarding Russia, it had a tool at its disposal. The so-called Steele dossier, published in early January 2017 by BuzzFeed News, contained explosive allegations presented by a former British intelligence officer. Various news outlets and commentators bathed the dossier in credibility that it didn’t deserve, as noted in an extensive thread by Drew Holden and a series in this space. Top offenders include McClatchy, which ran stories bolstering the dossier’s claims that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague for collusive business; and dossier believer in chief Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who cheered for the document throughout Russiagate.

NPR’s dossier work was by no means perfect. “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, for example, occasionally failed to properly smack down dossier boosters during interviews. Yet the outlet was careful to avoid McClatchy’s “scoops” on Cohen and otherwise to cordon off its descriptions of the dossier with police tape. “NPR has never detailed the document because so much of it remains unproved,” reads a 2019 NPR story. The NPR spokesperson said in a statement: “We were not able to find any examples of NPR corroborating unconfirmed elements of the Trump dossier."

Advertisement

As further evidence of his employer’s errant ways, Berliner argues that after the Mueller report found “no credible evidence of collusion, NPR’s coverage was notably sparse. Russiagate quietly faded from our programming.” It’s an immutable law of media physics, of course, that coverage peters out when a story comes to an end. Who, after all, is doing continuing coverage of Abscam........

© Washington Post


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