Why NPR Can’t Lecture Anyone About Refusing To Condemn Rioting

Posted on Wed 10/19/2022 by

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By Tim Graham ~

We know National Public Radio has promoted a book called In Defense of Looting and championed an author who wants riots to be described as “rebellions,” as an admirable political tactic. On Monday’s Morning Edition, NPR anchor Steve Inskeep welcomed a radical leftist author who thinks President Biden shouldn’t have spoken out against rioting in 2020.

Anand Giridharadas usually shows up on the wilder MSNBC programs to complain Americans are too “freedom-obsessed” and sounds like he’s to the left of Bernie Sanders. On NPR, he suggested the Democrats try the phrase “Medicare Freedom for All” to describe the end of private insurance.

But the truly extreme part of the interview is Anand criticizing Joe Biden for saying in an ad “rioting is not protesting, looting is not protesting” because that demoralizes the base. It’s fascinating that when some fraction of the Trump base riots, the entire party should be denied power. But NPR puts on pro-rioting points of view like it’s a completely legitimate dissenting position.

Leftists in Kenosha, Wisconsin told Anand this was terrible because it’s arguing on Republican turf. “So if someone says to me, immigrants are animals, and I counter, immigrants are not animals, I’m correct that immigrants are not animals. Problem is, I have now gotten into a conversation about the animal-ness of immigrants. That’s the wrong conversation for me to be having.”

Anand Giridharadas usually shows up on the wilder MSNBC programs to complain Americans are too “freedom-obsessed” and sounds like he’s to the left of Bernie Sanders. On NPR, he suggested the Democrats try the phrase “Medicare Freedom for All” to describe the end of private insurance.

But the truly extreme part of the interview is Anand criticizing Joe Biden for saying in an ad “rioting is not protesting, looting is not protesting” because that demoralizes the base. It’s fascinating that when some fraction of the Trump base riots, the entire party should be denied power. But NPR puts on pro-rioting points of view like it’s a completely legitimate dissenting position.

Leftists in Kenosha, Wisconsin told Anand this was terrible because it’s arguing on Republican turf. “So if someone says to me, immigrants are animals, and I counter, immigrants are not animals, I’m correct that immigrants are not animals. Problem is, I have now gotten into a conversation about the animal-ness of immigrants. That’s the wrong conversation for me to be having.”

Transcript below:

INSKEEP: The activists Giridharadas interviewed included a woman who worked in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020.

ARI SHAPIRO [archival clip]: More protests are expected tonight in Kenosha, south of Milwaukee. Yesterday, police there shot a Black man named Jacob Blake.

INSKEEP: Violent protests followed the police shooting. Giridharadas says amid the chaos, activists tried to come up with messages that went beyond protest against injustice.

GIRIDHARADAS: A wonderful group in Kenosha called BLAK, B-L-A-K, developed this way of talking about what they were for, and they threw a rally called Justice for Jacob. After an initial rally mourning, the second rally was a celebration of his life. There was barbecues. There was voter registration. There was a bouncy castle. And a beautiful video went viral around the internet. It’s much better to say what you are for, to show what you are for and show that the kind of world you want is more appealing than the world being offered by the other side.

INSKEEP: But you follow up on a particular example here. Joe Biden, who was then, of course, a presidential candidate, cut an ad around the violent protests in Kenosha in which Joe Biden said violent protest is itself bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

JOE BIDEN: I want to make it absolutely clear. Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting.

INSKEEP: Your activists felt that was a terrible thing for Joe Biden to say. Why?

GIRIDHARADAS: I think one of the most profound lessons I learned from Anat Shenker-Osorio was that you – we often pay attention to what we are saying in a conversation or a debate, but we are often blind to what conversation we have chosen to have, right? So if someone says to me, immigrants are animals, and I counter, immigrants are not animals, I’m correct that immigrants are not animals. Problem is, I have now gotten into a conversation about the animal-ness (ph) of immigrants. That’s the wrong conversation for me to be having.

INSKEEP: Let me concede your point that if you respond all the time to the person who says the outrageous thing, you’re fighting on their turf, and you may lose the argument just by even having the argument. But in this specific example, you have Joe Biden, who is a Democratic leader, wanting to appeal to a broad coalition of people and concludes that people of all races and income strata and everything else probably do not want shops destroyed and downtowns destroyed. And he stands against that. And he concludes that most people would like to have police protection and that defund the police is a very bad slogan. Why was that such bad politics for him to say those things?

GIRIDHARADAS: I don’t think anybody was saying he should have said defund the police. And I’m not sure that Anat or anybody else would say there’s no way to talk about rioting.

INSKEEP: But she did say he should not have done this ad condemning rioting.

GIRIDHARADAS: The ad was – the thesis of the ad was condemning rioting, right? Like, the – and the problem is what you do is you demoralize your own base because now it seems to your own base, which, in Joe Biden’s case, was Black voters – you signal to your base that you are equating protests against injustice with the injustice itself. And there’s just a lot of research that that just demoralizes your most passionate supporters. Once you talk, instead, about what is a world in which all of us can thrive – right? – Republicans may have a tougher time competing on that turf. And there may be a way to say things about riots or things about nonviolent protest. But I think lecturing people about law and order in that moment, which has happened so often with Democrats, feels like an insecure kind of grasp for the white moderate vote in a way that often doesn’t succeed at wooing it and alienates people of color.

Tim Graham is the Executive Editor at NewsBusters, and he is the Director of  Media Analysis at the Media Research Center. His career at the MRC began in February 1989 as associate editor of MediaWatch, the monthly newsletter of the MRC before the Internet era.

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