When progressive historian Howard Zinn died on January 27, NPR's All Things Considered (1/28/10) marked his passing with something you don't often see in an obituary: a rebuttal.
After quoting Noam Chomsky and Julian Bond, NPR's Allison Keyes turned to far-right activist David Horowitz to symbolically spit on Zinn's grave. "There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect," Horowitz declared. "Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse."
Horowitz's substance-free attack contributed nothing to an understanding of Zinn's life or work, other than conveying that he's disliked by cranky right-wingers. (Horowitz has been best known in recent years for his race-baiting and Muslim-bashing--Extra!, 5-6/02; FAIR report, 10/1/08.) He seems to have been included merely to demonstrate that NPR will not allow praise for a leftist to go unaccompanied by conservative contempt.
Needless to say, it is not the case that NPR has a consistent principle that all its obituaries be thus "balanced." Take its coverage of the death of William F. Buckley, a figure as admired by the right as much as Zinn was on the left. Upon his death in February 2008, NPR aired six segments commemorating him, none of which included a non-admiring guest. In two segments, All Things Considered (2/27/08) presented the remembrances of Rich Lowry (Buckley's successor at National Review), his son Christopher and his biographer Sam Tanenhaus.
One of the All Things Considered segments did include a soundbite of Noam Chomsky debating with Buckley: "No, I don't believe that.... In fact I think that..." But what Chomsky did not believe was unclear, let alone what he actually thought.
Talk of the Nation (2/27/08) featured admirer William Kristol, while Day by Day (2/27/08) had an extended interview with protegee David Brooks. Morning Edition (2/28/08) just quoted Buckley himself.
The celebration of Buckley culminated with Weekend Edition host Scott Simon (2/29/08), who turned the cause of death into a eulogy: "Emphysema, such an unseemly thing for a man who was so often a breath of fresh air."
In fact, there was much to criticize about Buckley, who was a supporter of, among other things, white supremacism in the U.S. South and South Africa, McCarthyism, nuclear war against China and the tattooing of AIDS patients' buttocks (Extra!, 5-6/08). Reporting his death, however, NPR didn't think it was worth bringing on a critic who would take a negative view. Why the same outlet took a different approach when the subject was an intellectual on the left rather than the right is perhaps something the NPR ombud could answer.
ACTION: Please ask the NPR ombud why All Things Considered brought on David Horowitz to trash the late Howard Zinn when NPR's extensive coverage of William F. Buckley included no critical guests.
You can contact NPR ombud Alicia Shepard through this web form:
Or call 202-513-3245.
You can post a copy of your message to NPR here: