NPR is middlebrow. It's pretty much the highpoint that many Americans currently aspire to reach, only because they do not know of anything better. If only we had a highbrow alternative, our cultural life would truly shine.
NPR is easy to criticize because it broadcasts some of the most bizarre news in the business. Admittedly, some of the perceived bizarreness is due to the lack of enunciation and bad pronunciation from many of the broadcasters and reporters. They don't speak English well enough. This is terribly unfortunate, for here in America our cultural leaders should uphold to the highest standards of the English language. The current situation is just the opposite, as the average American vocabulary shrinks year after year under the influence of pop culture and a certain politician in the Oval Office.
While off-topic, I must tell this: in a recent meeting between George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Jacques Chirac, George W. took Tony Blair aside and said to him, "The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for 'entrepreneur.'" I laughed when I read that.
Allow me one example of NPR's middlebrow nature. Listening to NPR today, I heard a story about the government bailing out an airline with a big loan. The government agency, the "N-T-S-B" as I heard it, demanded that it take an ownership stake in the airline as collateral. Immediately, my pulse raced. I hopped out of my chair. The NTSB is the National Transportation Safety Board. If the NTSB took a financial stake in an airline, its economic interest would run counter to its mission of promoting safety in transportation, in this case air transportation. In a curious, crestfallen mindset, I wandered over to my computer and searched Google's news interface. Eventually, I learned that the NTSB was not involved at all, and that it was the ATSB, the Aviation Transportation Stabilization Board, that demanded the collateral. The ATSB has nothing to do with the NTSB. The ATSB would not have a conflict of interest in holding that collateral. No explanation of the ATSB was given on NPR, or at least I heard none. Nor did the NPR reporter properly enunciate the acronym, at least to my satisfaction. After nearly having a heart attack, I was greatly calmed by the results of my Internet search. For its lack of enunciation, NPR made me less informed, contrary to its mission.
There are many horror stories I could recount regarding NPR's uncanny broadcasts. All right, I will give one more example. In today's broadcast, All Things Considered reported that conservative members of Congress were blaming the criminal activity of the executives of large corporations like Enron and WorldCom on the moral climate that the Clinton Administration was said to have ushered in. After reporting that, they played a sound clip of a Republican Congressman saying that the Senate should hurry up and pass a bill. So where is the Republican blaming Enron on Clinton's sexual peccadilloes? I want to hear that statement, because, at least from my political perspective, and I'm sure that of many other patriotic Americans, such a statement would be outrageous and bizarre. Unfortunately, NPR did not run the clip, a decision that makes their reporter's statement, and not that of the Congressman's, sound bizarre.
Though I am loath to admit it, many NPR stories stoke great flames of anger in me. Yet, numerous others leave me utterly bored. The point is that NPR is not a superb news agency like the BBC. Yes, the BBC has faults but at least one need not consult the Internet after listening to unclog one's arteries.
My last critique of NPR is its religious devotion to the "say cow, hear cow" maxim. In the radio business, this means that whenever the radio announcer says the word "cow," a cow related sound must be heard. This could be a "moo" or something else. Whenever the announcer says the word "truck" (AKA "lorry"), a truck related sound is heard. And so on. I challenge you to listen closely for this the next time you listen to NPR. It is utterly maddening. The sound effects in general on NPR tend to drive me far away, all the way to AM talk radio. If the sound effect is not the horribly over-amplified sound of water pouring into a glass, or the shriek of a phone ringer, it is the ungodly sound of the "six tone car alarm," a plague be on the house of its inventor.
Furthermore, NPR's Fresh Air, an interview program for celebrities, runs occasionally a piece by a so-called "rock historian." Today he played some interesting yet musically dreadful pieces by the predecessors of the Byrds. While it was mildly amusing, how can it possibly be justified that a rock historian of all people gets on the air? This is a country where more people know about the Blue Men than know when the War of 1812 occurred, yet there is so much unfulfilled demand for education and learning from all parts of our society. A rock historian? How about telling America who James Madison was?
All the same, I'll continue to listen to NPR, and contribute to their cause. Were they to disappear, there would be almost nothing left to keep American culture from degenerating into a pointless series of magic lantern galleries, Punch and Judy shows, and the nightly news brought to you by our nation's drug dealers, I mean, pharmaceutical companies. For all its faults, NPR is still better than the rest. I would probably be a more generous giver, though, if they spoke proper English and cut most of the sound effects out.
One more mostly unrelated aside: Maryland Public Television utterly betrayed Louis Ruykeyser by firing him. I will not forget what they did to him. Whoever fired Ruyk should themselves be relieved of employment. I hope that NPR respects their on-air talent better than Maryland Public Television does theirs.
Of course, I would dearly love for there to be a highbrow alternative to take the cultural lead away from NPR, John Stossel, Kid Rock, and the dreadful rest. Someone mentioned XM. XM does have a lot of potential. Perhaps on one of their thousands of channels, they could broadcast highly distinctive material. I hope such a thing, or something else of merit, carries through.