A recent National Public Radio interview with reality superstar Kim Kardashian has provoked outrage and indignation among loyal NPR listeners, and prompted the question: Who belongs in the NPR sphere?
"Had I heard your Saturday show before I made my gift, I wouldn't have donated," Kerry Castano, of Burlington, Vt., wrote to the NPR ombudsman. "The Kardashians represent much of what is wrong with America today – and I listen to NPR to get AWAY from Kardashian-like garbage."
The eleven-minute interview, in which Ms. Kardashian discussed potential baby names, recently renting out the Staples Center for her husband Kanye West's birthday, and her new book Selfish – a 448 page book filled with photos of herself – was featured on the weekly NPR humor show Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
"Of course we tried to book her, because she's huge. She is a favorite in our lives," Michael Danforth, the executive producer of WWDTM, told NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen.
Mr. Danforth said Kardashian was "a totally normal booking. We always try to book people who are culturally relevant." He admitted that the production team "did not anticipate" the strong protests from listeners.
WWDTM guest host Mike Pesca, who interviewed Kardashian, addressed the backlash in a podcast for Slate.
"There is a type of NPR listener – and it’s a type of media consumer, it goes way beyond NPR – that defines themselves by what they are not," Mr. Pesca wrote. "To some extent, we all do this. The bands we like, the foods we don’t eat. But with them, it’s a much huger deal. They’re closed-minded, they use affiliation with NPR or Fox or Christian Broadcasting not to experience a larger outside world but to congratulate themselves on the purity of their own world. Insularity does not wind up being an unfortunate by-product of striving for equality – it is the point of the choice in the first place."
Pesca's podcast drew strongly-worded comments from Slate readers, many of whom claimed that they didn't have a problem with Kardashian herself but felt that NPR, which they consider "one of the few places listeners can turn to for in-depth ideas" rather than "gossip, bling, and booty," was not the appropriate forum for discussing "celebrity nothingness."
"My objection to having Kim Kardashian on NPR has nothing to do with snobbery. I follow quite a lot of celebrity gossip and don't mind saying so," writes Slate commenter J. Sarayda Shapiro. "But if I opened my latest copy of Consumer Reports and found a story on Kim Kardashian instead of new product ratings, I would be quite upset."
Other listeners believe it is possible for the two cultural worlds to co-exist in public radio. Emmanuel Hapsis, a producer with NPR affiliate KQED, blogged this week that he went to grad school and read Ulysses in its entirety – and also keeps up with the Kardashians.
"Learning that information didn’t cancel out my degrees or any of my brain cells," he writes. "Neither did listening to this radio segment. Kim Kardashian is a part of our culture, whether we like it or not. She doesn’t have the power to destroy you or your favorite public radio show. But she could probably school some of us on how to lighten up."