Al Jazeera connections stir questions about NPR ‘patriotism’

If memory serves, not since Walmart sponsored NPR newscasts have public radio fans arisen to challenge the sponsorships — underwriters, if you will — that accompany content.

NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, writes that some NPR listeners are challenging the “patriotism” of NPR because it’s allowing the new Al Jazeera America, the Oman Qatar-owned cable TV channel, to underwrite NPR programming.

It’s not entirely clear, though, whether the complaint is that Al Jazeera is mentioned at all, or whether the concern is NPR reporters will tilt their stories to please their advertisers — an absurd contention given that journalists and the advertising departments that support them tend not to associate.

If it’s the former, Schumacher- Matos has good advice for the flag wavers on this Constitution Day.

Being a veteran myself of an earlier war, Vietnam, I am viscerally sensitive to the treatment of American soldiers by the enemy and by the news media. But this has to be balanced against the need to protect the freedoms that we fight to defend in the first place. One of the most fundamental of those freedoms is free speech, even — or especially — when it is speech we don’t like.

I am not one of those journalists who believe that there are almost no limits to free speech or free press. But the Al Jazeera ads and the objectionable earlier Al Jazeera coverage come nowhere near what I think any reasonable American would consider the limit, once we stop to think about it.

Schumacher-Matos concedes Al Jazeera might be more skeptical of American intervention in Syria, but that might be more a reflection on the American news media than one owned by a Mideast state.

Yet, little of this international reality comes through in the American news media, which is largely Washington-centric or views the world as a matter of internal American political debates. We should in fact welcome that Al Jazeera might bring a more global view into our living rooms, if only to better know what others are thinking.