'White Silence is Complicity': NPR’s New CEO Sounded More Like an Activist Than a Journalist in 2020 Tweets

Katherine Maher said ‘it’s hard to be mad’ about riots that caused up to $2 billion in damage

The headquarters for National Public Radio / Getty Images
April 14, 2024

NPR’s new CEO, Katherine Maher, shrugged off widespread looting and property damage during the 2020 riots, saying it was "hard to be mad" about the destruction.

"I mean, sure, looting is counterproductive. But it’s hard to be mad about protests not prioritizing the private property of a system of oppression founded on treating people’s ancestors as private property," Maher wrote in a May 2020 social media post. "White silence is complicity. If you are white, today is the day to start a conversation in your community," she wrote one day later.

The Black Lives Matter riots, which took place in the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s death, caused a historic level of damage to private property and businesses. A September 2020 report found that damage caused by demonstrations from May 28 to June 8 of that year cost insurance agencies anywhere from $1 to $2 billion—more than any other event of civil unrest in U.S. history.

The riots had human costs, too. David Dorn, a 77-year-old retired St. Louis police captain, was killed on June 2, 2020, while defending a local pawn shop from looters. That same day, four St. Louis officers were shot and wounded while responding to riots in the city.

Maher's posts are emerging as NPR battles claims that it suffers from a left-wing bias that has gotten a lot worse over the past 10 years.

On April 9, senior editor Uri Berliner wrote an op-ed for the Free Press titled, "I’ve Been at NPR for 25 Years. Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust," in which he lamented how the outlet developed a "devastating" bias over the years.

"It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent, but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding," Berliner wrote. "In recent years, however, that has changed. Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population."

Berliner, a senior editor "on the business desk," admitted to having a liberal bent himself. Still, he argued that the publicly funded outlet lost its "open-minded spirit" over time, leading to an audience that he said does not reflect the United States.

"By 2023, the picture was completely different: only 11 percent described themselves as very or somewhat conservative, 21 percent as middle of the road, and 67 percent of listeners said they were very or somewhat liberal," Berliner wrote. "We weren’t just losing conservatives; we were also losing moderates and traditional liberals. An open-minded spirit no longer exists within NPR, and now, predictably, we don’t have an audience that reflects America."

"That wouldn’t be a problem for an openly polemical news outlet serving a niche audience," he continued. "But for NPR, which purports to consider all things, it’s devastating both for its journalism and its business model."

NPR did not respond to a request for comment. The outlet's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, stood behind NPR's work in an April 10 statement.

"We're proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories,"  Chapin wrote. "We believe that inclusion—among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage—is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

The newsroom will have discussion on how to "serve the public as a whole," Chapin said.

"None of our work is above scrutiny or critique. We must have vigorous discussions in the newsroom about how we serve the public as a whole."

Maher echoed Chapin in a memo two days later.

"Asking a question about whether we're living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions," Maher wrote. "Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning."