I sent NPR online a note as an upset ‘tea bagger’ to see what I would get. I was surprised at the level of professionalism in their response but learned that we both have to grow a thicker skin and also learn about how what we read online sometimes can feed into the stereotype of conservatives. I picked a bad day to quit sugar and I’m running out of coffee so this may be the first of several hard core posts…enjoy. Here is my rabid conservative email:
Let me tell you something, whoever chooses to read this email, and feel free to pass this on to your bosses. Your days of squandering the public’s money by promoting insulting and demeaning garbage like your little How to speak Tea Bag cartoon may be over. Has it occured to any of you that flushing the media with this type of propaganda does not go unnoticed? Clearly none of you think you’re immune to being dismantled because it’s going to happen. Politicians who usurped the people’s power of self-governance will be removed one by one and after that ‘institutions’ such as NPR which do not represent the people who pay for it so NPR has to go. If you want to do comedy take your garbage to comedy central, maybe they’ll give you a chance. I hold two degrees and working on a masters’ and unlike you people I can read between the lines. Go ahead and make fun of our anger and continue to represent tyrannical rule; it’s all crashing down on you. I don’t listen to NPR anymore so I don’t know how you want to ‘share’ my views.
This is NPR’s response:
Dear Ms. Leclerc,
Thank you for writing the Ombudsman. We value your feedback on independent commentator Mark Fiore’s November cartoon. The response has been overwhelming. Many were offended; and a few were delighted. We wanted to share Ombudsman Alicia Shepard’s column on the cartoon. We encourage you to read it and leave comments. And invite you to sign up for future Ombudsman postings by putting your email address in the bucket on the right at http://www.npr.org/ombudsman. The cartoon is a commentary, and reflects the animator’s perspective – and not NPR’s. However, NPR initially didn’t make that clear. NPR senior news management has since made sure that Fiore’s cartoons are labeled Opinion and that he’s identified as an independent syndicated columnist. Ms. Shepard feels the cartoon is not in keeping with public radio’s Core Values. We appreciate your perspectives, and value your taking the time to contact us. Clearly you care about the quality of NPR’s coverage. We are sorry if the cartoon offended you, but hope you will still donate to your local station. When you donate, it goes directly to your local station. Your station uses the money to buy a variety of programs that you may enjoy that have nothing to do with NPR – such as Prairie Home Companion, BBC, Marketplace or This American Life. We hope you will continue to support your local station. Again, thank you for writing. Sincerely, Caitlin Office of the Ombudsman
My actual response:
Thank you for your prompt response to my email. I would like to clarify that though I am a conservative, vote republican and have participated in the Tea Party rally phenomena at some point in the past year; I am not foaming at the mouth and screaming bloody murder at liberals. Well, not literally anyway.
I write all the time and take great pleasure at poking fun at the ‘other side’ because that’s just the way of politics and I love the back and forth of political debate. Thus for the short but visceral email I sent to you today. It was the best mirror behavior I could come up with. The purpose of my email was to test your response, perhaps it was a bit underhanded of me but given the amount of negative feedback I read on friend’s online blogs and other political networks I frequent I decided to write. When I got the link to the animation page I had to see what it was about first. The quality of Fiore’s work is great though the more I watched the cartoon – before I panned back up to the short introduction – I caught on to what may have been interpreted by the viewers as offensive to the Tea Party people.
Many people will be offended in spite of my review but I thought it was worth some examination and analysis. I’m not saying that fellow conservatives’ views are not legitimate because the animation itself had a direct impact on them and their beliefs but I felt I had to offer a different view. Frankly, I am not offended by Mark Fiore’s “Learn to Speak Tea Bag” cartoon which made fun of the Tea Party movement as it has many other people were in that I don’t take silly, childish things seriously. I could find more insightful and entertaining videos on youtube and many I can watch and learn from compared to Fiore’s. I see just as much political and social satire every day enough to fill a warehouse yet this cartoon, as much as I hate censorship, bothered me on a different level, but I don’t feel it has to be pulled from the site. It is the format of the opinion piece that leads the reader, often drawn first to visual effects before the written word, left with a bit of a void but allowed for the reader to focus on the animation without the benefit of further background information. In fact, the piece is very anticlimactic to me because Fiore goes on about how great his work is and does a self-endorsement then gives the reader a link to National Review’s article by Jay Nordlinger about the birth of the term ‘tea bagger’ then leaves you with the animation. No segue to this theme or a real discussion of this political manifestation, just the animation showing the incoherence and ignorance of Tea Party revelers. Basically, Fiore is just not funny and these jokes are just old.
NOTE: The term ‘tea bagger’ is used in a derogatory way and I have to agree that regardless of intentions those people who use it to describe conservatives is being vulgar and reluctant to engage in intelligent discourse about politics without using some gimmick.
In my estimation had I reviewed this piece at NPR I would have required for him to compose an intelligent essay on the differing views between the left and the right but found it to be lacking in theme development but manages to pander to biased and heavy-handed stereotypes of conservatives. The actual funny thing is that given the opportunity to showcase both ends of the political spectrum, the animation could be made to favor conservatives over liberals just as easily. Do I think the piece is heavily pro-liberal? Oh yeah. But then it is an opinion piece, so trying to shut it down is counterproductive. Perhaps offering a counter piece or opinion to balance it out would have appeased your readers. A history of political arguments and character assassination abound in Washington; a treasure trove of materials to keep any writer with access to strong coffee and a computer happy for a while. I would read more of NPR’s content as long as it is of higher quality in reporting and variety of topics and I did not find it in Fiore’s post. In essence, the piece looked more like a work in progress, a draft perhaps and not a final product. Maybe Fiore’s style is about leaving something for the reader to think about with nothing else to go on.
I just know the piece served little purpose in expressing an intelligent opinion and offered the visual aid to drive the point without intellectual elaboration which is really boring. As for the angry reactions from readers even though Ms. Shepard stated that NPR indirectly receives federal funding through grants but most of its budget is based on corporate and private donations… Americans still consider your organization to be in much closer relation to them than they would with the privately-owned radio and television companies so those who read your content on your site do feel a direct stake on what is published I suppose.
This may be something you and your company should look into and maybe spend more time conducting peer review with your writers. If the piece itself goes against NPR’s core values as posted by Ms. Shepard then it merited more review before going online. NPR, with its vast range of programming sufficient to satisfy many a taste, really dropped the ball on this one. The cartoon serves hardly any purpose other than to project a group of people, which by the way, is growing exponentially, is all inclusive – go to a Tea Party rally sometime, folks come from all colors, races, creeds and political affiliation – and may very well become the political majority in this country. Given those odds, I’d say Fiore is sorely outnumbered and his work overrated. Thank you again for your professional response. Please feel free to post this on your site or forward to Ms. Shepard. I had some problems signing up to post my comment so I am sending it to you instead. I may read some stories on your site again.
Here is the stupid video. I welcome your opinions.