“Civility is a Weapon Wielded by the Powerful”: NPR Employees Object to “Tone Policing”

NPR recently had to carry through on a long-announced series of layoffs due to a significant drop in revenue. The result was apparently a tense meeting with executives, according to Bloomberg, including accusations that the liberal outlet was racist and anti-trans in its selection of employees for termination. What was most interesting about the account were objections to “tone policing” and the claim that “civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful.” We have strived since the formation of this blog to encourage civility as a core value for our community. We have not been entirely successful, though I appreciate that the blog is better than most in the tenor of its commentary. It was, therefore interesting to see people in the media objecting to civility as a form of control by the powerful.

I have criticized NPR for its false reporting on issues like Hunter Biden, the whipping scandal at the border and other stories.  NPR declared recently that it would allow employees to participate in political protests when the editors believe the causes advance the “freedom and dignity of human beings.”

The laying off of 84 people created a firestorm and allegations that NPR failed to guarantee that people of color and trans people were not subject to greater terminations.

During the zoom call, CEO John Lansing objected to a black employee who was criticizing executives by name. Lancing said

“I would never, ever, on your worst day, call you out by name in a meeting with 827 people,” he said. “Let’s please keep in mind nobody is happy about this. Nobody is more unhappy about it than those affected, but certainly everybody in the company, beginning with me, this is the last thing we wanted to do.”

Some employees interpreted this as tone-policing and felt uncomfortable.

Lansing was denounced as “racist” and another staff member dropped a link to a segment from NPR’s Code Switch titled, “When Civility Is Used As A Cudgel Against People Of Color.” Still another wrote “Civility is a weapon wielded by the powerful.”

The referenced segment is based on the work of “Gaye Theresa Johnson, who studies the intersection of civility and race at the University of California, Los Angeles.” She explained that civility policing “allowed white citizens to, in effect, civilize people they considered less than.” It also featured the work of Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper who writes “about white reaction to black anger in her book Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.” Cooper insists that civility standards simply constitute “preaching at black people about how they’re bad and how they’re ungrateful for being angry.”  In citing historical protests, the segment erases any distinction between advocacy and civility.

One could simply shrug this off as just desserts for an outlet that embraces “advocacy journalism,” and often fuels identity politics.  However, it is a sad example of how even civility is now being denounced as a tool of repression in our age of rage.

That is why I recently wrote about the outburst of Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., who screamed about gun control in the Capitol as colleagues left after a vote. Various Democratic members, including former House Majority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md, tried to calm Bowman. However, after Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky, asked him to stop yelling, Bowman shouted “I was screaming before you interrupted me,” which could now go down as the epitaph for our age.

70 thoughts on ““Civility is a Weapon Wielded by the Powerful”: NPR Employees Object to “Tone Policing””

  1. Progressive clowns are “activists”, civility and thinking are detrimental to activism. You are no longer close to being liberal by the new progressive definition. Get used to it.

  2. Why don’t Republicans, when they are in power (occasionally), immediately stop taxpayer funding for NPR?
    Never understood that.

  3. I used to listen to NPR from first thing in the morning till dinner time. Did it have a left wing bias, sure. But it could be ignored and still get decent reporting.
    Then they went all advocate journalism, and it went down hill from there.
    There was a story being advertised about dieting and exercise. I was interested. So I stayed tune. Turned out, it was a article about how dieting and exercise was racist, and a product of white supremacy. Really.
    I think it was last year Matt Taibbi wrote an article how NPR was now nothing more than racism, sex/gender, and all the other DEI stuff. Stuff that no one really wants to listen to.
    NPR needs to look at what people tune in to or for, what podcasts are doing well and ones that are not. If people are not tuning in, or a podcast does not do well, hard decisions need to be made.
    Otherwise, go woke, go broke.

  4. SIDEBAR: Prof. Turley, any chance you change the formatting of the comment section such that we can see a little easier to whom replies are being made?

  5. Professor Turley: “We have strived since the formation of this blog to encourage civility as a core value for our community. We have not been entirely successful…”

    Uh oh. Why is everybody looking at me??

    1. Professor Turley: “Cooper insists that civility standards simply constitute ‘preaching at black people about how they’re bad and how they’re ungrateful for being angry.’”

      Since civility is now the currency of the realm, let me just point out (politely) that disorderly conduct is being phased out by the left as a meaningful charge. I don’t think I’m exaggerating that, and I think it’s a big deal. In broken windows theory, disorderly conduct is the first line of defense against cannibalism and machetes (not much of an exaggeration).

      Prove me wrong.

  6. “Civility” and “civilization” are not accidentally similar words. Enemies of civility are enemies of civilization. They both decline together, and no one “wins”. Even the latest whose brute force puts them on the top of the heap don’t stay there very long. Life returns to nasty, brutish, and short.

    But humans have shown that they can do better with civilizations of peace and comity. The United States showed that it can do better, which is why people for centuries fled uncivil societies to come here.

  7. “…and felt uncomfortable.”

    I wonder how the Allied soldiers felt on June 6, 1944, as they stormed the beaches of Normandy. Gonna be a whole lotta uncomfortable people when the lights go out and the supply chain between China et al on the western shores of the Pacific and the USA is cut.

  8. I too noticed the change in NPR’s reporting. I used to prefer NPR news to anything on t.v. because NPR’s stories were longer and provided more details. However, during the George W. Bush presidency, I realized that the pattern of their stories about the president had changed to (1) quote or interview someone critical of him, (2) give the statement from him or the White House, but then (3) add on another critical viewpoint, a criticism sandwich as it were. During the Barack Obama years, NPR reverted back to a generally positive story about the president, with something (one thing) from an opposing viewpoint, somewhere within the generally positive story. The presidency of Donald Trump changed that to the pattern of an unflappably critical story with perhaps a lone positive comment. How could NPR news be considered reliable anymore when the very structure of their reporting made their bias evident?

  9. Well, since we do have recessions on a regular basis, it is a time when the inefficiencies of the previous expansion are purged and companies relearn the wonders of cost control and culling inefficient segments, or people. It used to be routinely last hired , and first fired but many companies have been taking a more strategic look at firing or using a point system where too many points against you and off you go into the freedom of unemployment. It’s often a good time to look at those who contribute, sometimes loudly, and those who don’t contribute or actually hinder. Many will keep a good and efficient new hire and ditch older but less productive people. Or keep some from a certain age group and release others. Age often not a factor unless you make it a factor personally by not producing. I suspect those released are likely to be people who miss a lot of work, are intolerable to work with, disruptive frequently but seldom contribute positively and are poorly productive and have no concept of civility. On the other hand a somewhat disruptive person who is thoughtful, productive and demands as much of themselves as those they work with or supervise is worth keeping. If you are always offended then eventually no one hears you since you just become noise. Becoming upset should be tactical and not emotional.
    Using those criteria, NPR should probably fire the entire work force and the world would still turn, there would be less noise, and their former employees might look for some actual skilled work in a large noisy factory where no one can hear them scream.

    1. Agreed and well-written. I add this: Just as companies look to purge inefficiencies during downturns, it would also be good if government, particularly the federal government, would do the same instead of creating more taxes ($4.7 trillion more in Biden’s budget) and more spending ($500 billion more in Biden’s budget.)

      1. @evhall

        As stated by another below, you are both trying to apply logic and what you believe is common consensus in these matters when neither of those things exist with the woke, even in the upper echelons. Many of the woke are so privileged they are not impacted by downturns (see: the housing crisis, covid) and there is no power on this earth that will make them accept others’ ideas. We are not dealing any longer with the business world that was still representative in the 90s.

        I am very much against anyone blithely losing their livelihood. They don’t care, and at an org like NPR, in all sincerity, they likely don’t need to the job anyway, no different than a Chelsea or a Fauci’s daughter, or the new actress in Hollywood who is a cousin of someone already successful. We are dealing with the elite, they already had separate rules, and we’d best just accept that at some point and decide how to proceed because – they ain’t changin’. And they honestly and sincerely don’t see any problem with that. It’s not just leftism, it is *aristocracy mentality*.

  10. Re: “[Gaye Theresa Johnson] explained that civility policing “allowed white citizens to, in effect, civilize people they considered less than.”

    The same “white civilizing” argument is used as a rationale against the social expectation that people who interact professionally should speak and write using Standard English. That the use of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a professional situation is not accepted as appropriate is considered racist in the Woke universe. Under that rubric Standard English equals “White” English.

    Some countries have regional dialects that are not mutually intelligible, for example Germany and Italy. Speaking and writing using standard versions of a language are an essential requirement for effective communication. Standard German and Standard Italian are the Lingua Franca in Germany and Italy for practical reasons. Why expecting the use of Standard English is considered racist rather than practical is not clear to me.

    1. You’re being logical. Logic is not part of the (ir)rationale of the woke left. We’ve gone off the rails and I don’t see how to end this insanity.

      You can add Switzerland to the list of countries with dialects, Swiss German being one of the biggest and even then it varies from canton to canton. Romansch is an official language, but only about 30K people (if that many) still speak it. But it is on the currency.

    2. There are many reasons that standard english dominates the world.

      A very significant part of that is because English has the largest number of words by a long shot of any language.

      Language is about communications, languages that allow for better more accurate communications – better ability to convey facts and ideas result in a society that is more productive and affluent.

      English is now the 2nd language for almost the entire world.

      While I do not have a problem with contributions of other races and cultures to the english language – we have LOTS of words that come from other cultures such as indians.

      What is important is that these additions improve the ability of those speaking the language to accurately communicate.

      Please cite an example anywhere ever of a more limited local dialect of any language leading to affluence rather than decline.

      Regardless, this is not about white supremecy. It is about rising standard of living.

      The richness of the English language – along with other intertwined differences from other ethnicity is what lead to higher standards of living.

      “Whites” globally – and anglo whites specifically have higher standards of living because they are better able to communicate.

      One of the things that the diversity in the US demonstrates is that the advantages of western culture are NOT tied to ethnicity.

      Each culture in the US has thrived tot he extent that it has incorporated the features of western anglo culture that resulted in its meteoric rise.

  11. Q.V.C., H.S.N., & N.P.R., They’re always Selling something.
    “Propaganda with Free Homeland Delivery”

  12. Gee. And they wonder why they are failing. 🙄🙄 This is likely the ultimate fate of a lot of woke/millennial businesses and organizations, eventually anyway. What wasteland. And they will never see that they themselves are the problem.

  13. As one who listened to NPR for years, it was sad for me to hear them lose their integrity and follow the way of biased programming. I also stopped listening to them less and less than stoped.

    Regarding the layoffs, this is an effective lesson in economics. If an employee brings value to an organization they are nearly sure to retain their job. If they do not, they should be the first to go. This goes back to that inconvenient discipline called mathematics. If the revenue is down, there is not enough money to pay everyone. Based on the information, this was a 10% reduction of force. A favorite of Jack Welch (former CEO of G.E.).The CEO who allowed NPR to take this course should take a 10% reduction in pay or pack his bags.

    Those who embrace socialism have likely never owned a business or made payroll. The small business owner has to pay everyone else before being paid. It is not very glamorous, especially during lean times. The socialist or communist probably think their pay and benefits come from the “gettin’ place” and that such resources will magically appear.

    Entertainers of the past such as Johnny Carson understood this concept. That is why they could make jest at all powerful people cleverly and tastefully. That is why news professionals (of times of past) who may have held liberal views, such as Jennings and Cronkite had huge followings. They reported the news facts and kept their commentaries brief and to the point. Large audiences also means more revenue—simple math.

    1. @E.M.

      ‘Likely’ they have never owned a business? It’s virtually guaranteed. To them businesses are a ‘place’ you go to that magically exist outside of the realm of individual responsibility. It’s equally likely many of them, due to parental intervention, have never had to assume full adult responsibility for their credit cards, cars, or monthly living expenses, even well into adult years. This used to be reserved for the coddled rich, but due to unprecedented prosperity in recent decades which created a wider wealth gap, and easy credit, it became a relative norm.

      1. James, this is sad.

        Individual responsibility. That is a powerful concept.

        The paperboy of times gone past had a better grasp of economics and responsibility than many government leaders.

        1. Yes, and the socialist/Marxists rail against profits. What they do not understand is that, profits are a cost of doing business in the future (Peter Drucker wisdom.)

    2. “They reported the news facts” they reported the facts that they wanted to. Cronkite misreported the results of the Tet offensive claiming we had lost

  14. I spent years traveling all across the country on business usually by means of a car or pickup truck and in the days before Sat Radio one had to rely upon whatever radio station was nearby to include stations carrying NPR.

    One particular routing took me from eastern Washington/Oregon down into Nevada and California.

    I reached the border of where there was a nice pull off….a grand view of the lower ground out ahead…..and “Prairie Home Companion” on the radio….and a good sandwich and cold drink from the Cooler.

    That was the high point of the day literally…..and made for an enjoyable break in the driving.

    As “somas” describes it…..I too have given up on NPR for its patently clear bias and would rather listen to local stations broadcasting in Spanish than waste my time with NPR.

  15. wonder how many BLM terrorists were jailed without trial in solitary like January 6th peaceful protestors?
    BLM murder people, burned cities, etc for PURE terrorism and extorted billions based on PURE RACISM. January 6th were actual protestors who were infiltrated by government agent provocateurs for PURE politics.

    Still waiting for the Bidens to be investigated for their Known and Unknow crimes…I can list at least 60 crimes….but the DOJ and FBI are corrupt and it won’t happen. Trump will be jailed for some obscure tax code violation and illegally “disqualified” because the SWAMP wants to keep power and make money!

    Democrats USE civility against Republicans.

  16. What do these antagonists really want? I ask that question both rhetorically and cynically, because it seems to me there is one group setting the rules for how people are to interact with others, while a different (part of the) group is always trying to disrupt by arguing that attempts to quell rage are somehow anti-something-or-other. Then one group decides to lecture another that “we need to have a conversation” about this, while following up with “the time for conversation is over”.

    To those who would prefer to be disruptors, I have one question: What is the end-game?

    1. I am not really a fan of the professed “Marxist philosopher” Slavoj Zizek, but he wrote something in an article recently that I think answers your question:
      “The black woke elite is fully aware it won’t achieve its declared goal of diminishing black oppression—and it doesn’t even want that. What they really want is what they are achieving: a position of moral authority from which they may terrorize all others, without effectively changing social relations of domination.”
      The constant rage and tantrums, the vicious attacks on anyone who dares utter a peep of dissent etc
      …ARE the point. When it becomes socially approved (and incentivized) to attack your perceived oppressors (and many black people are understandably hostile to white people), there will be a feeding frenzy of people lining up to join the mob and vent some pain and rage.
      This also I think describes our descent into mobocracy and/or kakistocracy.

  17. “I was screaming before you interrupted me,” goes hand-in-hand with the Baltimore mayors announcement that the rioters would be “given room” to riot.
    Different rules for different people depending on the color of their skin.

  18. I see this often many places. The heckler’s veto. Drives me nuts no matter who is talking about what.

    About NPR, nothing lost. I often listen in my car, and I often hear a segment and say to myself “well this is obviously biased and they’ll have another person with the alternative view on shortly” but they don’t, it’s opinion masquerading as news. I guess I’ve been listening since the mid to late 70s. I’m not sure if it’s me or NPR. I remember that the subject matter was often left but the reporting more factual. Now it’s feelings. Thank goodness for free Pandora, at least there is music.

    1. There was a time when a title such as, “Professor,” or “Journalist” or “Attorney” carried a certain prestige and inherent credibility . . . unfortunately . . . those days are long gone!

      1. Used to be attorneys that were at the lowest end of the respect scale. Journalists stepped up and said “hold my beer”.

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