HOWARD KURTZ: NPR slams Ben Shapiro for drawing huge traffic by…being conservative

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It sounds like a parody of an NPR story.

It reads like a hit piece on a conservative commentator.

It seems blithely unaware that liberal websites use the same tactics to generate traffic that is presented as somehow nefarious.

It’s an embarrassment—but a revealing one.

The target is Ben Shapiro, a highly successful entrepreneur of the right. He’s an author, podcaster and—most annoying to National Public Radio—runs an insanely popular site, the Daily Wire. And, as NPR says, he “rules Facebook,” with Daily Wire stories drawing more likes, shares and comments than any other news outlet.

And that must be a bad thing.

Why? His rapidly expanding empire is “one that experts worry may be furthering polarization in the United States.”

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That’s the tell. The media culture is indeed fiercely polarized, but NPR—which itself leans left—is unable to see that liberal outlets are just as responsible for this deepening divide. The radio network simply can’t conceive that MSNBC or CNN or HuffPost or the op-ed pages of the New York Times or Washington Post are part of this problem. What they do is perfectly reasonable—it’s Ben Shapiro and his ilk who are playing with dynamite.

I’m not a big NPR-basher. Some good journalists work there, and yes, it receives a federal subsidy. But the place seemed to me to move sharply left during the Trump years, and this piece is just tone-deaf.

Several quotes come from Jaime Settle of the College of William & Mary, who cites the demand for “outrage politics”—and says conservatives are better at it than liberals. Then she tips her hand: “I’m depressed by it, but I’m not that surprised.”

Then there’s Judd Legum, founder of the uber-liberal Think Progress, who says Shapiro takes many “red meat culture war issues” and gives them “an intellectual sheen” so they don’t seem “crazy.”

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Seriously. Lefties don’t serve up red meat culture war issues? It’s only the conservative nutjobs? Weren’t the four years of attacks on Donald Trump an all-out culture war? The sheer blindness, or willful ignorance, is stunning.

Shapiro is punching back. If you click on the Daily Wire, you get a pop-up ad with a 25 percent discount for subscribers and a “Defund NPR” slogan.

“I enjoy the establishment media accusing Daily Wire of using outrage as a business model after spending years building their subscriptions by selling rabid, hysterical outrage over everything Trump-related,” Shapiro tweeted. “So much so that they’re STILL printing Trump stories for the clicks.”

More from NPR: It’s head-spinning that “readers still come away from The Daily Wire’s content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation’s greatest threats.” Um, have the NPR folks looked at how Republicans are savaged every day by HuffPost or Salon? (Breitbart and The Blaze also get honorable mention.) 

Matt Taibbi, the former Rolling Stone writer who now holds forth on Substack, deconstructs the absurdity of the NPR piece: “Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: ‘The articles The Daily Wire publishes don’t normally include falsehoods.’ Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro ‘publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump’s orbit,’ as well as ‘the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.’ Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, ‘publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.’”

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In fact, The Daily Wire proclaims: “We’re opinionated, we’re noisy, and we’re having a good time.” And that’s in the piece too! Maybe conservatives aren’t supposed to have a good time.

network could just as easily have aired a story on how Ben Shapiro is the most successful at the Facebook traffic game played by both liberals and conservatives. But that would have required an acknowledgment that both sides use a finger-in-the-eye approach to whip up their followers.

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