National Public Radio

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Founded in 1970, National Public Radio (NPR) is a major producer and distributor of commercial-free news, talk, and entertainment programming. NPR is a not-for-profit membership organization that relies on corporate sponsorship, in-house fundraising activities, indirect federal funding, bequeaths of estate and private funding (such as membership contributions or "Donor Support"). [1]

Broadcast Area

NPR serves "more than 750" radio stations of the fewer than 800 non-profit and not-for-profit in the US. There seems to be an unspoken sense of hegemony about the intended broadcast area of NPR -- the organization wishes to have reception in every area of the United States. This has caused territorial conflicts and litigation with smaller broadcasters in crowded markets. For example, in April 1989 listener-sponsored WFMU radio of New Jersey had spent over $400,000.00 in legal fees to fight an NPR-spearheaded campaign in an attempt to lower WFMU's power and boost its own signal. [2]


NPR claims to produce "more than 290 hours" of original programming each week. Programs produced by NPR include "Fresh Air" hosted by Terry Gross; "On the Media" hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield; This American Life with Ira Glass; " The National Press Club Luncheon Speaker Series" [3]; "Justice Talking" with Margot Adler and "The Motley Fool Radio Show".


Among NPRs well-known reporters are:

NPR and the Pentagon's Military Analyst Program

In April 2008, David Barstow from the New York Times revealed that in early 2002 the Pentagon military analyst program had been launched by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke. The idea was to recruit "key influentials" to help sell a wary public on "a possible Iraq invasion." Former NBC military analyst Kenneth Allard called the effort "psyops on steroids."[1]

One of the 75 analysts mentioned in Barstow's original story was Robert H. Scales Jr., who appeared on programs for both NPR and Fox News programs. Barstow noted that Scales, "whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.'Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,' he wrote. 'I will do the same this time.'"[1] In 2003 Scales co-founded a "defense consulting company" Colgen, which boasts that it is "America's Premier Landpower Advocate".[2]

A little over a week after the New York Times story ran, NPR Ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard, wrote in her blog that when the story broke "emails began flying trying to assess the damage and determine how to proceed. NPR waited until Wednesday on Talk of the Nation to first discuss this issue publicly. The Bryant Park Project followed up the next day with two pieces on how the media was ignoring The Times' story."[3] Shepard noted "since February 2003, he has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered (ATC). The latest was March 28, when he gave ATC listeners an assessment of the fifth anniversary of the war ... Only once in December 2006 was Scales' relationship to Colgen mentioned."[3]

Shepherd disagreed with the suggestion of a number of NPR listeners who wanted the media organization to stop doing interviews with Scales. "Rather than toss Scales off the air and lose his practical and scholarly knowledge of the Army, in the future NPR should always be transparent and identify him as a defense consultant with Colgen. NPR's audience can evaluate what Scales says through that lens. NPR should also append a note to each archived Scales' appearances that indicates he is also a defense consultant with Colgen. What also is needed, and I believe NPR will now begin doing, is a more careful vetting of all experts before they go on air," she wrote.[3] NPR have developed new guidelines for "vetting guests" which state "Ask the guest if he/she has any conflicts of interest. You can modify the question to be more descriptive; any financial, political, personal or other conflicts of interest. In some cases, the appearance of conflict of interest obvious to some, may not be obvious to the guest. For example, has the guest made any trips paid for by an organization having an interest in this story?" [4]


In August 2004, the New York Times reported that Wal-Mart, "stung by criticism of its labor practices, expansion plans and other business tactics, is turning to public radio, public television and even journalists in training to try to improve its image." Wal-Mart's new media-related philanthopy includes National Public Radio sponsorship and underwriting the popular "Tavis Smiley" talk show. NPR's underwriter announcements for Wal-Mart include a claim that the store brings "communities job opportunities, goods and services and support for neighborhood programs." [4]

In response to listener complaints, NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin wrote, "Wal-Mart has been embroiled in anti-union controversies, accusations about its low-paid workers, the hiring of undocumented workers and the homogenizing effect of Wal-Mart in smaller communities. To its credit, NPR has reported this on a number of occasions. Some listeners wonder if Wal-Mart was motivated to purchase underwriting on NPR in an attempt to counteract that reporting. ... Wal-Mart symbolizes values that some listeners believe to be antithetical to the values of public radio."[5]

Sponsorship And Advertising

"As its federal funding came under threat," U.S. National Public Radio increased its ad sales. "Public-radio stations now count 18% of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal government." Corporate "underwriters" include Clear Channel Communications, Starbucks and Wal-Mart Stores. "More on-air sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than lumped at the end of each show," reports Sarah McBride. "And more minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible." The trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but "weren't bothered by" fundraising by direct mail or on-air underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener concerns "about corporate influence on programming as well as the number of messages" are increasing. [6]

Sponsors include:

In 2005 they received $3 million from the Ford Foundation.

Directors (2005) [5]

non-board/committee members

  • Dennis Hamilton - Hamilton Consulting, Roseville, MN
  • Carol Pierson - President and CEO, NFCB, Oakland, CA
  • Steve Rowland - Independent Producer, CultureWorks, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dale Spear - Vice President of Programming and Acquisitions, Public Radio International, Minneapolis, MN

Contact Details

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 David Barstow, "Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," New York Times, April 20, 2008.
  2. Colgen, accessed April 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Alicia C. Shepard, "NPR, New York Times and Sourcing Military Experts," NPR Ombudsman column, April 28, 2008.
  4. Ellen Weiss, Vice-President for News, NPR, "National Public Radio follow-up policy on vetting guests", NPR, April 22, 2008.
  5. 2005 Annual Report, NPR, accessed November 28, 2007.

External links