Media Criticism

NPR's Katherine Maher Is Not Taking Questions About Her Tweets

"I am not in the newsroom," the embattled NPR chieftain said over and over again.


Who is Katherine Maher, and what does she really believe? The embattled NPR CEO had the opportunity on Wednesday to set the record straight regarding her views on intellectual diversity, "white silence," and whether Hillary Clinton (of all people) committed nonbinary erasure when she used the phrase boys and girls.

Unfortunately, during a recent appearance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to discuss the journalism industry's war on disinformation, she repeatedly declined to give straight answers—instead offering up little more than platitudes about workplace best practices. I attended the event and submitted questions that the organizers effectively ignored.

That's a shame, because Maher's views certainly require clarity—especially now that longtime editor Uri Berliner has resigned from NPR and called out the publicly funded radio channel's CEO. In his parting statement, Berliner slammed Maher, saying that her "divisive views confirm the very problems" that he wrote about in his much-discussed article for Bari Weiss' Free Press.

Berliner's tell-all mostly took aim at specific examples of NPR being led astray by its deference to progressive shibboleths: the Hunter Biden laptop, COVID-19, etc. He implored his new boss—Maher's tenure as CEO had only begun about four weeks ago—to correct NPR's lack of viewpoint diversity. That's probably a tall order, since Maher had once tweeted that ideological diversity is "often a dog whistle for anti-feminist, anti-POC stories."

Indeed, Maher's past tweets would be hard to distinguish from satire if one randomly stumbled across them. Her earnest, uncompromising wokeness—land acknowledgments, condemnations of Western holidays, and so on—sounds like they were written by parody accounts such as The Babylon Bee or Titania McGrath. In her 2022 TED Talk, she faulted Wikipedia, where she worked at the time, for being a Eurocentric written reference that fails to take into account the oral histories of other peoples. More seriously, she seems to view the First Amendment as an inconvenient barrier for tackling "bad information" and "influence peddlers" online.

But interestingly, she did not reiterate any of these views during her appearance at the Carnegie Endowment on Wednesday. On the contrary, she gave entirely nonspecific answers about diversity in the newsroom. In fact, she barely said anything concrete about the subject of the discussion: disinformation.

When asked by event organizer Jon Bateman, a Carnegie senior fellow, to address the Berliner controversy, she said that she had never met him and was not responsible for the editorial policies of the newsroom.

"The newsroom is entirely independent," she said. "My responsibility is to ensure that we have the resources to do this work. We have a mandate to serve all Americans."

She repeated these lines over and over again. When asked more specifically about whether she thinks NPR is succeeding or failing at making different viewpoints welcome, she pointed to the audience and said that her mission was to expand the outlet's reach.

"Are we growing our audiences?" she asked. "That is so much more representative of how we are doing our job, because I am not in the newsroom."

Many of the people who are in the newsroom clearly had it out for Berliner. In a letter to Maher, signed by 50 NPR staffers, they called on her to make use of NPR's "DEI accountability committee" to silence internal criticism. Does Maher believe that a diversity, equity, and inclusion task force should vigorously root out heresy?

At the event, Maher did not directly take audience questions. Instead, audience members were asked to write out their questions and submit them via QR code. I asked her whether she stood by her previous tweet that maligned the concept of ideological diversity, as well as the other tweets that had recently made the news. Frustratingly, she offered no further clarity on these subjects.


This Week on Free Media

In the latest episode of our new media criticism show for Reason, Amber Duke and I discussed the Berliner situation in detail. We also reacted to a Bill Maher monologue on problems with liberal governance, tackled MSNBC's contempt for laundry-related liberty, and chided Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) for encouraging drivers to throw in-the-way protesters off bridges.



This Week on Rising

Briahna Joy Gray and I argued about the Berliner situation—and much else—on Rising this week. Watch below.


Worth Watching (Follow-Up)

I have finally finished Netflix's 3 Body Problem, which went off the rails a bit in its last few episodes. I still highly recommend the fifth episode, "Judgment Day," for including one of the most haunting television sequences of the year thus far.

But I have questions about the aliens. (Spoilers to follow.)

In 3 Body Problem, a group of scientists must prepare Earth for war against the San Ti, an advanced alien race that will arrive in 400 years. The San Ti have sent advanced technology to Earth that allows them to closely monitor humans and co-opt technology—screens, phones, presumably weapons systems—for their own use. We are led to believe that the San Ti want to kill humans because unlike them, we are liars. Eccentric oil CEO Mike Evans (Jonathan Pryce), a human fifth columnist who communicates with the San Ti, appears to doom our species when he tells the aliens the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The San Ti are so offended by the Big Bad Wolf's deceptions that they decide earthlings can't ever be trusted, and should instead be destroyed. "We cannot coexist with liars," says the San Ti's emissary. "We are afraid of you."

The scene in which Evans realizes what he has done makes for gripping television but… I'm sorry, it's nonsensical. Clearly the San Ti already understand deception, misdirection, and the difference between a made-up story and what's really happening. After all, they were the ones who equipped Evans and his collaborators with the virtual reality video game technology they use to recruit more members. The game does not literally depict the fate of the San Ti's home world; it uses metaphor, exaggeration, and human imagery to convey San Ti history. It doesn't make any sense that they would be utterly flummoxed by the Big Bad Wolf.

Then, in the season finale, the San Ti use trickery to taunt the human leader of the resistance. They are the liars, but no one ever calls them out on this.