I don’t have an out-box on my desk, but I do have one of those toast-rack-looking things. And each slot is crammed with to-do items: receipts, bills to pay, orphan phone numbers, that sort of thing. Right now, the first slot is occupied by two pieces of mail: a notice from KCRW, Los Angeles’ most prominent NPR radio station, reminding me to renew my membership and a note from the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign, reminding me to send in the maximum allowable individual contribution.
The Bush check is an easy one to write. He’s a good president, and I want him around for another four years. The KCRW check, though, is a tricky one. I like the music programming, but the rest of its NPR schedule drives me up a tree: the squeaky-voiced commentators oozing smug self-satisfaction, the unfunniness of its “funny” pieces and, of course, its ludicrous and geriatric liberal bias.
But I listen. And I contribute. And I’m not sure why.
In Britain, the BBC is entirely funded by a compulsory fee that every television and radio owner must pay in return for its reflexive, increasingly inaccurate anti-Iraq war and anti-Tony Blair tantrums. But it’s different here. Sure, there’s aggravation, but at least it’s voluntary. Plus, in my case I get a T-shirt and a coffee mug, not to mention a cool new CD every month. In Britain, by contrast, they get an arrogant, left-wing twist on the news and a little visit from the police if they forget to send in their fee. (Note to Ruth Seymour, KCRW general manager: This may seem like a better system, but really, it’s not. Really. Just put that thought out of your head.)
Why do I voluntarily send in my money to support programming that mostly irritates me? Do I secretly like the dichotomy, sort of like the patient, besieged Republican dad listening with fond resignation to his children around the dinner table calling him a fascist for eating meat and threatening to get tattoos?
Or is it because, as a liberal friend of mine said the other day, “maybe deep down, you’re actually not a Republican, and there’s something about NPR’s liberalism that you find attractive.” When I pointed out that for the previous two hours she had strenuously denied any bias at all in NPR’s programming, she was silent for a moment. “Where are the weapons of mass destruction?” she finally countered.
I think the true reason that I’m such a loyal NPR listener is because I feel as if the people who write, edit, report and produce it are people I know, and have known, all my life. They’re my 10th-grade history teacher who tearfully told us the morning after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory that the world was probably going to explode in a nuclear fireball sometime before our senior prom. (Which meant, near as I could figure it, no need to bother with the SATs.) Or the young woman with the homemade “Howard Dean ’04" button who made my double decaf espresso this morning. Let’s face it: It’s an NPR world that I live in, here in the 310.
Last week, I was stuck in traffic, listening to an inane NPR report about the proposed prescription drug giveaway to the elderly. When they began to interview an old guy who complained about the cost of drugs, the reporter started using her “sad, concerned” voice with the “things are better in Scandinavian countries” overlay filter. (You know the voice.)
I found myself getting angrier and angrier and repeating over and over, alone in my car: “What’s his net worth? Tell me his net worth!” Which, of course, they didn’t. Because it was probably $1 zillion, like a lot of old people. I shouted: “Why don’t we send the money directly to Carnival Cruise Lines and eliminate the middleman?”
I got home, exhausted but happy. Exploding at the inanities on NPR is about the only release we repressed, uptight Republicans allow ourselves. There’s something wonderfully therapeutic about spraying your own dashboard with angry spittle. It’s like having an argument with friends, but with a crucial distinction: These friends can’t argue back. They just play that silly, car-horn-sounding “All Things Considered” theme song and we retreat to our corners, no hurt feelings, no lingering resentment, pals for another day.
Where’s my checkbook?