Public radio is at heart, a public service. But it's a complicated public service that doesn't operate like other media.
Just yesterday, a man raved about how he listened to NPR all day long.
I corrected him. Nicely. "Actually, what you listen to all day long in Washington, DC, is WAMU, which hosts NPR programming as well as BBC, American Public Media, Public Radio International and independently produced shows."
No matter how often it's explained that NPR does not own any public radio stations, people often assume their local station is NPR-run because it broadcasts public radio staples: Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
So where am I going? Because of this understandable misunderstanding, some listeners are firing off emails and phone calls (and even a letter) condemning NPR for running Monsanto underwriting spots. Several blog posts are equally critical.
They are incorrect.
NPR is not taking any money from Monsanto, a large agribusiness concern that specializes in genetically engineered seeds designed to grow crops bigger and faster.
If, for example, a Washington, DC, listener tuned in to WAMU on a recent morning, he or she might have heard two underwriting spots for Monsanto around 8 a.m.
"Marketplace is supported by Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture: creating hybrid and biotech seeds designed to increase crop yields and conserve natural resources. Produce more conserve more dot com."
WAMU too has accepted sponsorship money from Monsanto for this spot:
"Support for WAMU 88.5 comes from Monsanto, committed to sustainable agriculture and creating hybrid and biotech seeds designed to increase crop yields and conserve natural resources. More at Produce More, Conserve More dot come."
Neither of these spots is affiliated with NPR. Nor has Monsanto approached NPR to buy corporate sponsorship spots, according to John King, operations manager for sponsorship
On June 1, however, Morning Edition ran a story about organic farming in India, which did mention Monsanto and provided a sound bite touting Monsanto from a company video. But the piece also includes correspondent Daniel Zwerdling saying that activists do not all support Monsanto's claims:
Announcer: Global agriculture faces one of the most important challenges of the 21st century.
ZWERDLING: That's a video from Monsanto, the huge agribusiness firm.
SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO
Announcer: By 2050, there will be nine billion people on Earth.
ZWERDLING: Monsanto says genetic engineering will help save the day. As you might know, Monsanto scientists are taking genes from animals and bacteria and they're inserting them in plants, so the plants grow faster and fight insects naturally.
Monsanto's spokesman in India is Christopher Samuel. He says over the next 20 years, they're going to invent crops that produce twice as much food.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER SAMUEL (Monsanto Spokesman in India): That's the first part, produce more, while reducing the amount of land, water, and energy and that's fertilizer there by 30 percent by 2030 - so protecting the environment and its natural resources.
ZWERDLING: But activists say we've heard Monsanto's kind of promises before about the green revolution, and it turned out that the system caused serious side effects. They say why should anyone assume that biotechnology won't cause long-term problems, too? So activists have been preaching that organic farming...