Has NPR Become a Niche Network for One Point of View?


There were two numbers that stood out from Uri Berliner’s inside expose’ of National Public Radio’s sagging ratings and stature.

The first was the steady political migration of its audience.  In 2011, 26% of its listeners were conservative, 27% were moderate, and 37% were liberal — about what you’d expect from a liberal-leaning but credible national news network

By 2023 that proportion had changed dramatically. Just 11% of its listeners were conservative, and 67% were liberal.  Those are conservative talk-radio numbers in reverse.  In other words, NPR has become a niche network, producing content for people of one point of view.

Second was Berliner’s claim that of 87 newsroom employees at NPR’s DC newsroom, 87 were registered Democrats; not one was a registered Republican. But when Berliner, himself a liberal but also a principled journalist, disclosed these stunning numbers at a newsroom meeting, the reaction was little more than shoulder shrugging, from the newsroom to the “C” suite. 

Steve Inskeep, in a spirited rebuttal of the Berliner article, notes that “NPR says its content division has 662 people around the world, including far more than 87 in Washington,” and further that Inskeep himself is registered as “No Party”.

That assertion by Berliner about newsroom imbalance lacked comments from NPR reporters and editors but was a perfect illustration of what conservatives have always contended about the liberals and “diversity.” They embrace it only when it moves things politically leftward, be it in schools, colleges, newsrooms, the performing arts, government, or corporations.  No wonder NPR’s new CEO, Katherine Maher, is a walking parody of white, privileged wokeness.

Principled liberals, from Bari Weiss to Bill Maher, from Glenn Greenwald to Matt Taibbi and now Uri Berliner (who has resigned from NPR), have bravely spoken out against the toll that woke ideology has taken on the profession and prestige of journalism.  But such is the climate of fear created by the infestation of this ideology that many journalists who agree with them remain mute from fear. Until they find their voice and their courage, the decline of our national news institutions will continue.

John Carlson
John Carlson
Long a fixture in local media and politics, John Carlson is in his 31st year of broadcasting on 570KVI.  He contributes occasional op-eds to "The Wall Street Journal" and will appear on KUOW's "Week in Review" program on May 10.


  1. Fair comment, John, but a bit odd coming from a smart guy who makes his living on conservative talk radio. Are you accusing NPR of mimicking your journalistic strategy at the other end of the spectrum?
    As for the shifting profile of listeners, is this NPR marketing to liberals? Or is it an exodus of conservatives to Fox, KVI and others who reliably tell them what they want to hear?
    In today’s polarized culture, catering to either end of the spectrum is not about voice or courage, but rather about economic survival. Post Alley’s budget – or lack thereof – offers the luxury of ignoring that reality.

  2. Labeling Mr. Berliners piece on NPR an expose seems a bit over the top. If an expose, it is about nothing. Seems like a rehash the old song from conservatives about the liberal media. Rush Limbaugh covered in the last century.

    NPR is about as liberal as my old GOP Dad was as he regretted voting for Ronald Reagan and George W. So sorry that Mr. Berliner feels the way he does and still broke the NPR rules of no outside journo work. Gosh, lots of employers do that, you could list them to show the balance of your own opinion. Mr Berliner has hard feelings and is entitled to express them. And feelings are what they are, not a well researched assessment of a particular political slant of NPR coverage. It also seems inaccurate to label Weiss, Maher, Greenwald and Taibbi “principled liberals”. The facts indicate they make more as “liberal apologists” for right wing media. Their opinions are useful to read for sure. Giving us the line on what the next wave of fact free claims from right wing Congressional reps will be. They do not practice journalism, no money in that anymore. Facts lead to less decisive/incisive stories. Good to get your opinion on this. Soon enough we will have show trial hearings on the harm NPR does to our kids. Since as we know, its all for the children.

  3. I don’t find much logic or thoughtful analysis in Mr. Carlson’s post, though I wish I could. It seems to me to amount to more complaining about those he may think are liberals or ‘woke,’ whatever that means to him. To blame any decline of ‘national news institutions’ on liberals only ignores the participation of so-called conservative news outlets and journalists, too, although I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. The story from Politico is far more interesting.

  4. Deny, deny. If 87 NPR staffers out of 87 surveyed are Democrats, and zero are Republicans, so what? A problem? Huh? I can’t see it! You must be making it up! Uri Berliner writes a long essay about a matter so important to him he’s willing to chuck his job after 25 years. Consider his argument? Nah. Just label it “fake news.” “Rehash of the old song.” Woke — huh? “Whatever that means to him.” What this response means is, “I’ll pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about so I don’t have to consider what you say.”

    Carlson is right.

  5. McNeil-Lehrer are long gone.
    We now watch BBC nightly news. The selective and slanted “reporting” on NPR “Nightly News” is no longer worth viewing.

  6. Berliner’s “inside expose,” as John puts it, was nothing more than a personal ideological rant. Did he complain about his own work being edited for political correctness? No. He sounds pretty much like a cranky old guy feeling isolated in the bustle of a younger, more vital news operation. Where did all those conservatives migrate to? In a more bifurcated media environment they went to places where their own biases could be happily reinforced — Fox, NY Post, right-wing talk radio (hi there KFI) NewsMax and the wacky world of X.

  7. NPR lost a lot of folks when they tried to lean right and stopped calling a right-wing BS spade a shovel. Butthurt rightwing dude can pound sand – I’m sure he’ll make a good living on the spurned conservative loser grievance circuit.

  8. It isn’t a “both sides” scene. Out of 87 NPR staffers, how many Republicans should there be? Zero. What does it mean to be a Republican, in 2024? Inconceivable that such people would belong at NPR.

  9. NPR is so factual and has such in-depth reporting that most people do not have the required attention span to remain focused.
    What Mr. Carlson, and others, want, is bread and circuses. If I was a conservative talk-show host, I would call him a snowflake, but that’s an insult to water.

  10. All legacy media are operating under a difficult economic model. Advertising revenue has collapsed. The solution at NPR, NYT and others has been to rely more on subscriptions. Both increasingly slant their news coverage to appeal to subscriber preferences. Both advance politically left views and denigrate the right. Political heterodoxy has been abandoned. Both are valuable. But to get a fuller view, it is essential to also pay attention to conservative news sources, such as John Carlson and the News Hour on Fox. (Not necessarily the Fox opinion programming). In Seattle, so many of us base our views only on NYT and NPR. Absent balance, we live in an epistemic ghetto. Berliner’s piece criticizing NYT should be taken seriously. So should John Carlson.

    • Joe,
      Good reminder not to limit our selves to news sources that make us feel comfortable in our belief system or assumptions about an issue. It is important to assess the news from FOX News Hour, John Carlson and others with different slants to the news . I would NEVER rely on those sources for accuracy on an important issue. They are useful in understanding what a right wing political figure might start throwing out as gospel. Those sources of news helped people make life and death decisions on the pandemic, gun safety, reproductive rights. NONE with any factual evidence and resulted in sickness and death in many cases. Critical thinking skills will always be necessary for how we understand an issue.

      • Gordon, thank you for reading my post. Yes, the Fox opinion shows, especially Sean Hannity, are tough to take. But, have you watched Bret Baier’s Special Report which comes on Fox at 3:00 pm.? That’s the news show I meant, rather than the News Hour. Yes, it slants right. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that there is no factual evidence. Can you give an example of news reporting on Bret Baier’s Special Report that lacked factual basis? Regarding John Carlson, do you listen to him? Can you give an example of him being factually inaccurate during his show?

        • Joe, I think you have the critical thinking skills to answer your question. I admire John Carlson for his political skills, radio and columnist opinions. He knows how to pick his lead story from misinformation from others and use it for representing an important part of our state’s electorate. I was surprised he did not win elected office. I also admire what he has done to raise funds for breast cancer research in his climbing of our state’s tallest mountains. I used my critical thinking skills to feel it was appropriate to donate to the science based medical research that is the foundation for breast cancer research and care. I found no reason to ask, “What if they are wrong about cause and impacts of breast cancer?”
          This is unlike his take down of climate science where he asked “What if they are wrong ?”.His denial of climate change and the science behind echoed through the halls of the legislature and many public hearings. This supported budget cuts to our state climate science budget, made it dangerous to talk about it or cite as a reason to improve salmon recovery, snow pack forecasts, wildfire management, flood hazard and storm surge regulations. It’s a long list and I am sure you know the rest . He was not alone in this and the funders for the Wa.Policy Center he co-founded got a good return on their investment.

  11. Keep in mind that most NPR stations grew out of campus journalism, and they still align with campus liberalism and identitarian choice of stories. The market niche for NPR is not so much white liberals as those who want to recall nostalgia about the 1960s, as a way to keep in touch with a younger self-image.

    • David
      Thank you for mentioning the roots of public radio journalism and how that might affect the who and why of the audience. Surely many future NPR reporters started their careers at their college radio station. For me NPR represented a step away from college radio and into adulthood. It does not make me feel nostalgic for my youthful 1960s/70s activist days. For me, NPR usually means hearing news from the people who make it via interviews etc. Overtime though I noticed NPR was no longer using evidence to support the framing of an issue and the questions it would ask different sides to an issue. It especially allowed the people on the right wing side of things to skate on factual representation of their views. Think national debt, taxation policy, government regulations, climate change. I stopped listening regularly to NPR 15 years ago as I tired of its false balancing of political and social issues. Their journalists too often present an issue as being more “balanced” between opposing viewpoints than the evidence supports. Exxon has no balanced perspective on climate change, fossil fuels, and impacts to human health. Yet they and their minions always got the last word, for “balancing sake”.

      With regard to the who and why of NPR listeners, PEW has done a lot of research on this question. Not sure what you mean by a market niche for “those who want to recall nostalgia about the 1960s. Pew 2019 survey found: “NPR and The New York Times have greater appeal to younger Americans. About six-in-ten of those who name NPR (64%) or The New York Times (63%) as their primary political news source are under age 50.” https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2020/04/01/americans-main-sources-for-political-news-vary-by-party-and-age/
      And here is a more recent PEW survey of trends in listener-ship for NPR. Went up during Trump years and declined in the boring Biden years: https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/fact-sheet/public-broadcasting/

  12. Some good, robust discussion and debate here, thank you. Ross Anderson raised a great point many have missed: In order to make money, many media outlets (most famously CNN) lurched in one direction, and dropped the attempt to be objective or at least neutral in its news reporting. And yet the vast majority of Americans insist they want more news sources that are free of political alliance or bias.
    Why isn’t the market generating profitable news content that serves this audience?


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