Last week, WEKU made an appeal to our listeners and online community for feedback on the political activities of public radio’s Garrison Keillor. WEKU Program Director John Hingsbergen has summarized the responses.
As you probably heard, we ran an announcement on the air and posted a message on our website and on Facebook about Garrison’s hosting of a fundraiser for President Obama’s reelection campaign. In the wake of the high-profile firings of news analyst Juan Williams and opera host Lisa Simeone for violating ethical precepts, all of us in public radio are concerned about doing the right thing.
We asked our listeners how they feel about this, what stations like WEKU and the distributor of Garrison’s programs, American Public Media, should do. A number of people wrote saying they did not understand the problem or did not take issue with Mr. Keillor expressing his political views publicly since he is clearly an entertainer and not a journalist.
On Facebook, Jim Porter commented, “The other side, the Republican side, hates NPR/Public radio. They have said as much. They want to cut funding and all governmental ties with public radio. They despise analytical, objective reporting. Since this is so unequivocally the case, I think that everything should be done that could be done to defeat them. NPR & PBS have tried to remain neutral for too long. When someone hates you and is trying to strangle the life out of you neutrality towards that entity is NOT a good idea. We should fight back with every tool at our disposal.”
Some of those who commented took issue with the fact that we were even raising the question, such as an anonymous “Concerned Citizen,” who told us, “I think the fact that WEKU is even asking this question about an ENTERTAINER demonstrates the degree to which right-wing reactionaries influence the public media. I am disgusted with WEKU and am considering withdrawing my financial support”
Others of our online correspondents likewise stated they were tempted to withdraw their financial support for WEKU, especially if the station were to take Garrison Keillor off the air, which we, by the way, are not considering.
Website visitor Marilyn Machara wrote, “Yes, stations that carry his show also carry political news. So what? Television networks host both news and entertainment programming. Would anyone suggest that they should not show movies or television shows featuring performers who have made their political preferences public?
A code of ethics regarding political activity should cover the journalists reporting the news. Entertainment programming should be judged on it's entertainment value to listeners."
Lisa Simeone actually saw our post online and wrote, “I was fired from Soundprint (not an NPR show) and NPR tried to get me fired from my gig hosting World of Opera (produced by WDAV) because of my political activities. Which activities were considerably less partisan than stumping for a presidential candidate.
I didn't report the news, didn't cover the Occupy movement, didn't work for NPR, and have, in fact, been politically active all my life. Yet my journalistic betters fell all over themselves telling me I had breached a code of ethics.
Meanwhile, they seem to find no problem with Scott Simon writing pro-war op-eds for national newspapers, Mara Liasson and other NPR employees, flacking for Fox TV, or Cokie Roberts accepting tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from corporations. They all still work for NPR. And not only Garrison Keillor but also Tavis Smiley is allowed to promote political causes with no apparent problem for NPR, APM, or PRI.
In short, all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
And finally, on Facebook, William commented, “Garrison Keillor is our 21st century Will Rogers and like Rogers the word of reason with a humorous take.”
We are grateful to all who responded to our request for comments and encourage you to keep up the dialogue, on this and other issues.