Taxpayer-funded NPR’s ‘Disinformation Team’ faces backlash

Critics pointed out NPR’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop story, which the taxpayer-funded outlet refused to cover.

Updated: July 18, 2022 - 11:44pm

National Public Radio has announced a new “disinformation team” that is sparking controversy. NPR has covered disinformation formally since last year but is now expanding to a full team this summer.

Critics noted that NPR receives taxpayer funds and raised concerns about the weaponization of the phrase for political purposes.

“Defund NPR,” U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said in response to the announcement.

Other critics pointed out NPR’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop story, one that went mostly uncovered during the last presidential election as many mainstream outlets denied either its veracity or newsworthiness. Later on, outlets like the New York Times confirmed the authenticity of the laptop in coverage after the election.

“We don't want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories, and we don't want to waste the listeners’ and readers’ time on stories that are just pure distractions,” NPR Managing Editor for News Terence Samuel said in an interview in October 2020. “And quite frankly, that's where we ended up, this was … a politically driven event and we decided to treat it that way.”

In April 2021, NPR reported that Hunter Biden’s laptop had been “discredited” by intelligence officials, but then issued a correction.

“A previous version of this story said U.S. intelligence had discredited the laptop story. U.S. intelligence officials have not made a statement to that effect,” the correction read.

The term “disinformation” has been thrust front and center in part because of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s recently created “Disinformation Governance Board.” The new board, which was immediately criticized as a threat to free speech, is under Congressional inquiry.

NPR did not respond to a request for comment.

“NPR just announced the creation of a disinformation team,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., wrote on Twitter. “NPR deliberately covered up the Hunter Biden laptop story by labeling it a distraction. NPR’s first target needs to be itself.”

The Hunter Biden coverage has been a focal point for criticism of NPR.

“I thought [NPR] was already a disinformation team,” said Ilya Shapiro, a Constitutional expert at the Manhattan Institute.

On its website, NPR stresses the need for federal funding, particularly for member stations, saying 8% of their funding comes from federal appropriations via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and another 4% from state, local and the federal governments.

“Federal funding is essential to public radio's service to the American public,” NPR says on its website. “Its continuation is critical for both stations and program producers, including NPR. Public radio stations receive annual grants directly from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) that make up an important part of a diverse revenue mix that includes listener support, corporate sponsorship and grants. Stations, in turn, draw on this mix of public and privately sourced revenue to pay NPR and other public radio producers for their programming.

“Elimination of federal funding would result in fewer programs, less journalism – especially local journalism – and eventually the loss of public radio stations, particularly in rural and economically distressed communities,” the group adds.