Cordial Deconstruction

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Archive for the ‘Public Radio’ Category

NPR Chooses Not to Employ Me (or Juan Williams)

Posted by Karl Withakay on October 22, 2010

In case you’re not aware, NPR fired Juan Williams after he made some anti-Muslim remarks on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News.  Probably the most significant statement he made was the following:

“But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

I’m not going to discuss what I think of what Williams said, and I’m not going to discuss whether or not I agree with NPR’s decision to terminate his employment with them.

I am going to discuss some of the reactions to NPR’s decision.  In this post on the Fox News web site, numerous people are crying censorship and are demanding an end to federal funding of NPR.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article:

Newt Gingrich:

“… the idea that that’s the excuse for National Public Radio to censor Juan Williams is an outrage and every listener of NPR should be enraged that there’s this kind of bias against an American,”

Mike Huckabee:

“NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left,”

Let’s be clear here.  NPR has a right to determine who they want to employ and who they want to represent them.  NPR is not obliged to provide Juan Williams a venue on which to appear anymore than they are obliged to provide one to me.  NPR is not preventing Juan Williams from appearing on Fox News or anywhere else; he is perfectly free to speak his mind anywhere someone will give him a microphone.  NPR has not violated Juan Williams’ First Amendment rights in any way.  NPR is not a public access soap box that every American has a right to utilize.  Is NPR violating my First Amendment rights by preventing me from using NPR to broadcast my insights?  No, clearly not, and neither are they violating any First Amendment rights of Juan Williams.  I am not constitutionally entitled to a job as an on air personality at NPR, and neither is Juan Williams.

Let’s all be clear and honest here.  If you object to NPR’s decision, fine.  If you object to the continued federal funding of NPR, fine.  Go ahead and campaign to end their funding, but don’t do so on the invalid argument that NPR is engaging in censorship or the suppression of free speech.  That demonstrates either an ignorance of the First Amendment and censorship or intentional dishonesty:  you either don’t understand the concepts, or you are lying to better sell your position to the ill-informed.


Posted in Criticism, Media, Public Radio | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Cryptosporidiosis Is Not A Bacterial Infection

Posted by Karl Withakay on August 25, 2010

While I drive to and from work each weekday, I listen to the local NPR affiliate, KWMU, a generally excellent source of broadcast news.  During my drive home from work today, I caught a story on an outbreak of a diarrheal illness, crypo in some St. Louis county day care centers.  The report mentioned that crypto is short for cryptosporidiosis and explained that cryptosporidiosis was a bacteriological illness spread through contact with infected feces, usually in swimming pools and day care centers.  The same story was reported on the Post dispatch web site with virtually identical information.  (The story broadcast on KWMU may have even credited the Post Dispatch for the story, but I didn’t catch it.)  The PD story stated:

“The bacterial illness, cryptosporidiosis, is spread through contact with infected feces, most commonly in swimming pools and day care centers.”

The problem with the story as reported by both KWMU and the PD is that cryptosporidiosis is not a bacterial illness, and Blythe Bernhard, the author of the Post Dispatch article, could have learned that with a few seconds of fact checking on the internet.  (See also the CDC’s site if you don’t trust Wikipedia.)  Cryptosporidiosis is instead a parasitic infection caused by a protozoan parasite, Cryptosporidium.

I know this because some years ago I saw an episode of (I believe) Forensics Files regarding an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee after a rainstorm caused untreated sewage to overflow the sewage treatment system and spill into the same water source a water plant got its municipal water from; an outbreak of  cryptosporidiosis was the result.

As soon as I got home, I rushed to the computer to confirm my knowledge because no mater how sure I am of something, I like to be able to confirm and support my position; I try not to assume that I recall something correctly, even though in this case I was sure cryptosporidiosis was parasitic in nature and not bacteriological.

It’s not a major gaff per se, but neither was it in any way difficult to research either.  Cryptosporidiosis is not bacterial and cannot be treated like a bacterial infection.  In fact, there really is no treatment for cryptosporidiosis other than supportive care (you just have to let your immune system fight it off).  In immunocompromised individuals, it can become a lifelong, chronic condition that can also be fatal.   One would think the reporter would have looked up cryptosporidiosis to get more information on the disease.  Sure it was just a quick, breaking news blurb, but

A. wouldn’t it be good to be sure you have the facts straight BEFORE publishing,


B. wouldn’t it be good to have some background info on the disease in case the story gets bigger and you have to revisit it?

As of 7:30PM local time, the story on the PD website has not been updated, which tells me nobody has gone back to check the facts after getting the breaking news published to the web, although someone did post the diarrhea song in the comments section.  🙂

UPDATE 8-26-10

As of 9:00AM the next day, the story on the PD website is still unchanged, though the diarrhea song has been deleted from the comments, and someone else posted a comment regarding cryptosporidiosis not being bacterial in nature.  However, the story was repeated on the air on KWMU this morning, this time without any mention of a bacterial nature.  Maybe KWMU actually read my E-Mail.

EDIT II 8-26-10

Apparently the PD website put out a nearly identical replacement article omitting the bacterial infection part, but left the original article in place for some reason.   Maybe he app they use to deploy breaking news stories does not allow edits after publishing.

Posted in Criticism, Media, Medicine / Health, Public Radio | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

How Not to Raise Money for Public Radio

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 17, 2010

Recently I received an E-Mail from Tim Eby, general manager of KWMU, the Public Radio station here in St. Louis, asking for an additional contribution.

The E-Mail stated that the state allocation for public broadcasting stations from the Missouri Cultural Trust Fund has been zeroed out effective immediately and that this means a direct cut of $41,000 this year and an $82,000 loss in expected revenue for the station in the next fiscal year.

This seems to me like a very legitimate reason to solicit additional contributions from members, especially in light of the fact that the station eliminated one entire on-air fund drive this year .

I’d just like to point out to Mr. Eby, though, that he might need seek some advice on how to better solicit those additional funds, because using the E-Mail subject,

Help KWMU end our fiscal year with a budget surplus

probably isn’t the most effective way to let your target audience know you’re suffering from a budget shortfall, especially at a time when many people are still feeling the pain of the recession.  You don’t raise money in fiscally tight times by using the word surplus.  I imagine a lot of recipients of that email deleted it without reading it, assuming KWMU was just looking for a little extra scratch money to do some interesting things with rather than trying to cover an unanticipated loss of state funding.  Personally, I only read it because I couldn’t believe they were soliciting more money so soon after I joined, and I wanted to see how they justified the solicitation.

It only took me a few minutes to come up with three E-Mail subjects that I think would have been better:

State eliminates KWMU funding, help make up the difference

Help KWMU cover unexpected loss of state funding

Public broadcasting allocation zeroed out, please help

All of these seem like better ideas than a subject line where KWMU asks people to help them end the year with extra money.  Imagine what the collective minds of the KWMU staff might have been able to come up with if they put their heads together and spent even a few minutes thinking about it.

Honestly, did he take any time to think what kind of impact that subject line would have?  In the world of E-Mail, the subject line is arguably the most important part of the message.  It usually determines whether the E-Mail gets read or discarded, when it gets read, and strongly influences the attitude of the reader towards the rest of the E-Mail message.  The subject line of every E-Mail, even personal E-Mail, is marketing competing for the attention of the recipient.  Many people get dozens or even hundreds of E-Mails every day, and many people do not read or open all the E-Mail they receive.  Spammers realize this and devote much effort into human engineering to come up with subjects likely to compel people to open and read E-Mail.

It sure seems to me that’s its a bad idea to try and raise money by essentially telling people in your E-Mail subject that you’d like to have more money than you actually need.

I now conclude this Cordial Deconstruction of Mr Eby’s E-Mail, thanks for reading.

In case you’re wondering, I haven’t sent the station any additional money, though I’d like to.  They caught me at a bad time.  I’ve spent a lot of money lately on things like an upcoming trip to Europe, a new camera system for that trip, and a trip to The Amazing Meeting 8 in Vegas right after the trip to Europe among other things, and though I could probably afford to send more money to the station, I really should curb my spending for a little while.

Posted in Criticism, Public Radio | Leave a Comment »

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