In the past few years, listeners to National Public Radio have been hearing frequent announcements that “America’s natural gas” is an underwriter of NPR programming. These spots, created by America’s Natural Gas Alliance, an industry group, claim that increased use of gas is reducing greenhouse emissions and making the world a greener place.
Yesterday, NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen addressed the numerous complaints that she has received from listeners about the ANGA spots. She concluded that “despite the passionate arguments of some listeners, I don’t see any evidence that the ANGA underwriting has compromised NPR’s reporting. As has been noted by ombudsmen before me there is a ‘firewall’ that separates the fundraising and editorial sides of the organization . . . I believe that firewall works and I am confident that NPR’s reporters simply aren’t paying attention to who is paying the bills when they set about to report a story or cover a beat.”
I suggest that we give NPR the benefit of the doubt and take Jensen’s word for it that its reporters are not thinking about who is paying the network’s bills when they’re working on a story. Even then, there’s still plenty of reason to worry about the message that’s coming through. Thanks to ANGA’s ads (yes, I know, as Jensen makes clear, they technically are underwriting announcements, not advertisements, but as even she admits in her article, they sure sound just like ads), NPR listeners are exposed to praise of natural gas far more often than they hear reports addressing highly contentious issues like leakage of methane (natural gas’s chief component and a powerful greenhouse gas); water contamination by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking,” the technology that made the current gas boom possible); cheap gas’s suppressing effect on development of renewable energy; and, most importantly, the fact that if all of the new gas reserves that have become available because of fracking were to be extracted and burned, efforts to save this planet from runaway atmospheric warming would be doomed.