NPR Temporarily Suspends Editor Who Penned Essay Criticizing Network For “Sorry Levels” Of Audience Trust, Liberal Bias

NPR has put on temporary suspension the editor who penned an essay that criticized the network for losing the trust of listeners as it has covered the rise of Donald Trump and coverage of Covid, race and other issues.

Uri Berliner has been suspended for five days without pay, starting last Friday, according to NPR’s David Folkenflik.

Last week, Berliner published an essay for The Free Press that called out the network for losing “an open minded spirit,” and he cited, among other things, audience research showing a drop in the number of listeners considering themselves conservative.

“That wouldn’t be a problem for an openly polemical news outlet serving a niche audience. But for NPR, which purports to consider all things, it’s devastating both for its journalism and its business model,” Berliner wrote. He also wrote that “race and identity  became paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace,” while claiming that the network lacked viewpoint diversity.

His essay set off a firestorm on the right, with Trump blasting the network and Fox News devoting extensive coverage to the criticism, along with calls for ending government funding for NPR.

In his essay, Berliner wrote that “defunding isn’t the answer,” but that its journalism needed to change from within. The network’s funding has been a target of conservatives numerous times in the past, but lawmakers have ultimately supported public radio.

Berliner shared his suspension notice with Folkenflik, who wrote that it was for failure to seek approval for outside work, as well as for releasing proprietary information about audience demographics.

Katherine Maher, who recently became CEO of the network, published a note to staff last week that appeared to take issue with Berliner’s essay, writing that there was “a criticism of our people on the basis of who we are.”

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher wrote. “Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

Maher herself has become a target on the right, with some figures citing her past social media posts, including one from 2020 that referred to Trump as a “deranged racist sociopath.” At the time, she was CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. In a statement to The New York Times, Maher said that “in America everyone is entitled to free speech as a private citizen.” “What matters is NPR’s work and my commitment as its C.E.O.: public service, editorial independence and the mission to serve all of the American public,” she said.

An NPR spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. The network told the Times that Maher is not involved in editorial decisions.

Some of Berliner’s colleagues have been vocal in their own criticism of his essay. Eric Deggans, the network’s TV critic and media analyst, wrote that Berliner “set up staffers of color as scapegoats.” He also noted that Berliner “didn’t seek comment from NPR before publishing. Didn’t mention many things which could detract from his conclusions.”

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