NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio

Article excerpt

NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio. Michael P. McCauley. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. 196 pp. $29.50 hbk.

As this is being written, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has approved deep funding cuts for public broadcasting. The stated rationale is reducing the federal budget deficit, but public broadcasting supporters say the real motive is punishing National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service for alleged left-wing bias. They add that the proposed cuts would badly hurt children's programming and rural and minority audiences.

Such has been the lot of American public broadcasting since its inception. National Public Radio was tacked on almost as an afterthought to the original 1967 Public Broadcasting Act and then was allocated barely a quarter-million dollars. In the years since, it has been buffeted by a number of financial and political crises. Critics on the right have charged it with being a tool of smug liberals and radical elements, whereas those on the left have charged it with having become virtually indistinguishable from its commercial counterparts and just another mouthpiece for the powers that be.

Michael McCauley, a former radio journalist who is now an associate professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine, succinctly summarizes those crises and criticisms in this book. Concerning the book's subtitle, though, he seems rather more interested in NPR's triumphs than in its trials. His is a story of how it became a leading journalism organization and social force in spite of everything. And if it is favored by "cultural elites," including college professors, well, maybe that is not such a bad thing.

The book is engagingly written and aimed at a general audience while focusing primarily on NPR's news programming. It traces the network's history from its inauspicious beginnings to its near bankruptcy in the 1980s and its battles with what would evolve into Public Radio International, best known for A Prairie Home Companion. At the same time, NPR developed the popular flagship programs All Things Considered and Morning Edition, and it became a respected news source even as growing corporate pressures undermined other broadcast journalism outlets. More recently, as the book describes, the network weathered internal squabbles and attempts in 1995 by the newly elected Republican Congress to eliminate its funding altogether. …


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