Belfast Telegraph

Bitter battles break out on America's airwaves

From leftist opponents of George Bush's Iraq invasion, to Tea Partiers furious about Barack Obama's healthcare reforms, America has never lacked people eager to evoke the spectre of Nazism to gin up their rhetorical bombast. All the more striking then that a Fox News executive was recently forced to beat a hasty retreat for likening the brainiacs at National Public Radio (NPR) to Hitler's shock troops.

"They are, of course, Nazis," Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News, told the Daily Beast last week. "They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view."

Hours later, after much outrage on the blogosphere, the 70-year-old chief of America's most watched commercial news network apologised, not to NPR but to the Anti-Defamation League in which he apologised for using the "N-word" in a manner of which the Jewish ADL would not approve. Directly addressing ADL director Abraham Foxman, Ailes apologised "for using 'Nazi' when in my now considered opinion 'nasty, inflexible bigot' would have worked better."

After the aptly named Foxman accepted Ailes' public contrition, most of the melodrama ended - except, that is, for the anti-NPR bit of the plot line - which was no randomly timed event.

His Daily Beast interview appeared on the very day that Republicans on Capitol Hill were fulfilling a campaign promise to try to abolish public funding for NPR. As expected, Democrats, who'll retain a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives until the new Congress convenes in January, slapped down the GOP publicity stunt by a 239-171 vote.

Making the GOP's case, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, defended Fox News commentator Juan Williams, who was axed in October by NPR (where he was also an analyst) for indelicate remarks he made on Fox about Muslims.

"It is not the government's job to tell a news organisation how to do its job," said Cantor, who added, "it wasn't the taxpayers' responsibility to fund news organisations with a partisan point of view."

Cantor and the GOP aren't the only ones gunning for NPR but even the chairs of a panel tasked by president Obama with finding ways to cut the deficit proposed eliminating the $500m in federal funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps underwrite NPR and public TV stations.

In response, NPR issued a statement saying "federal funding has been a central component of public radio stations' ability to serve audiences across the country." It added funding must continue to ensure the survival of "this essential tool of democracy".

The CPB accounts for a portion of NPR's budget, most of which comes from corporate grants and donations. And, while Fox News is the most watched TV network, NPR's commercial free network of 797 nationwide stations is rated as one of America's most trusted news sources, with weekly audiences of 37m.

The Juan Williams debacle did tarnish NPR's image but, in an era in which Fox, CBS, ABC and NBC dwarfs international news, NPR's foreign focus separates it from the pack. CBS News has only four overseas bureaus to NPR's 17. And, according to some, NPR's international coverage accounts for 21% of its reporting, as compared to the 1% allotted by commercial radio news.

None of this matters however to the likes of Roger Ailes, Fox News, congressional Republicans, and US conservatives in general.

So, while Cantor -amp; Co. may have lost last week's vote in Congress, it's a fair bet that NPR will remain very firmly in their sights.

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