I was walking up Sixth Avenue a few years ago when a man stopped me.

“Are you Rob Long?” he asked.

I never know how to answer that question. The answer, of course, is “yes,” but before I confirm my identity, I kind of need to know what I’m getting into. What I wanted to say was, “Who wants to know?” But that seemed unnecessarily hostile. So I did what I usually do: I shrugged and nodded and mumbled something like, “I guess so.”

“Big fan!” he shouted. “I love your stuff!”

I thanked him and smiled and stood awkwardly until he said something more specific about the “stuff” he liked. I didn’t want to say another word until I knew which Rob Long Work Product caused him to stop me in the street and shout “Big fan!”

For I lead a compartmentalized life. I’m the co-founder of Ricochet, a popular center-right podcast network, and a writer for various conservative-leaning publications—including this one. But at the time when the gentleman stopped me on the street, I was also a weekly on-air commentator for a Los Angeles–based public-radio station where I talked about my work in the entertainment industry. And though I almost never mentioned politics, those commentaries became part of many national public-radio podcast feeds and were broadcast during the popular NPR afternoon news program All Things Considered. So for a lot of public-radio listeners, I was part of the public-radio family. You hear a guy tell show-business stories right after Queer and Trans Folx Strike Nuanced Balance As They Call for a Free Palestine and right before Decline in Math and Language Skills Offset by Increased Climate Awareness in School Findings, well, you’re gonna draw some conclusions about him.

The truth, especially back then, is a lot more complicated. I have an audience that goes from Very Trump to Trump Curious to Never Trump, and when you throw in the public-radio crowd, from Very Biden to RFK Curious to Never Manchin.

So when someone says “I love your stuff” to me, I’m never exactly sure which “stuff” it is. The way I navigate this murky territory is to say “Thank you” and then smile like a dimwit until the other party gives the game away. At that moment, on a corner of the West Village of Manhattan, I was pretty sure we were talking about the public-radio stuff.

But we weren’t. The gentleman who loved “my stuff” was talking about the political stuff and was utterly unaware of my public-radio stuff—the audiences, as you might imagine, are pretty distinct—and we spent the next few minutes talking about taxes and AOC and the Woke Mind Virus right there on the corner of Greenwich and Sixth.

The media lesson here, of course, is that when it comes to news and political talk, you can find center-right people all over the place, even where you least expect to find them. But here’s the problem: When my center-right audience discovers my public-radio work, the only reaction I’ve noticed is mild curiosity. Some even go a little further and enthusiastically subscribe to the podcast.

But when my center-left public-radio listeners find out about my right-wing leanings, it’s trouble.

You can almost hear the internal monologue: Stay calm, no sudden movements, back away slowly, do not look directly into his eyes. Once, when a National Public Radio producer had discovered my other public identity, the way she squared it with my continued presence on their airwaves was to remind herself that I was “a good person.” I know this because she cheerfully told me so: “I saw somewhere that you’re a conservative? But you’re a good person?” Those two things, in the Public Radio universe, are never found together.

In the original Ghostbusters film, you may recall, Dr. Egon Spengler, the team’s scientist, warns his colleagues that when firing their ghost-trapping proton packs, it’s crucial to keep the “energy streams” separate. Crossing the streams, he tells them, could result in the destruction of all life as we know it.

So that’s what I do, too. I follow the Ghostbusters Rule: Do not cross the streams. I learned early on to keep my two audiences in separate silos. My fan bases—and yes, as I use those words, I’m rolling my eyes, too—do not have to know about each other. The public-radio audience couldn’t handle it.

These days, of course, National Public Radio could do with a little stream-crossing destruction. Uri Berliner, a veteran journalist who served as NPR’s senior business editor, published an essay in the online journal the Free Press criticizing NPR for losing the public’s trust. Berliner argued that the network’s rigidly progressive stance compromised its work and its reputation. He cited specific instances where NPR’s coverage had become biased and claimed that management’s focus on promoting diversity and inclusion created a climate of suffocating and blind ideological conformity.

For evidence, he pointed to the steep decline in NPR’s audience since 2020—it’s down a whopping 30 percent—and the massive imbalance in its listener attitudes, with 67 percent describing themselves as “very or somewhat liberal.” When I started my commentary on public radio, in 2004, the audience profile was a lot more balanced. In 2011, for instance, audience surveys found only 37 percent were self-described “liberals.” Fully 26 percent described themselves as “conservative.” Not too long ago, in other words, National Public Radio was crossing the streams.

As you might imagine, Berliner’s essay stirred a strong reaction within NPR. The reporters, editors, and producers at the network were enraged by his treachery and refused to grant even the smallest credibility to his argument. NPR is fair and balanced, they insisted. NPR celebrates diverse political and cultural voices, they agreed in unison with each other.

NPR is so tolerant, in fact, that Berliner was suspended, and he eventually resigned. His crime, when you get right down to it, was to cross the streams.

But it didn’t end there. The controversy inspired the usual Internet sleuths to dig into the public comments of the brand-new NPR chief executive Katherine Maher. Unsurprisingly, she turned out to be exactly the kind of ideological partisan and tone-deaf progressive you’d expect to helm today’s National Public Radio, enthusiastically cheerleading every crackpot movement and liberal fad to come along. Compared with her, the producer who thought I was a “good person” is a model of intellectual tolerance.

You can sum it up this way: National Public Radio is an ossified and ideologically cocooned media company that became so captured by left-wing progressive nonsense that it is hemorrhaging its audience and losing its relevance. Current management has no idea how to stop this free fall and, worse, pretends it’s not even happening.

In that respect, at least, it resembles most of the movie studios and television networks on the entertainment side of show business. Although to be fair, when you start losing your audience in Hollywood, people notice. Hollywood has shareholders and bondholders. Public radio has taxpayers. It’s a different business model altogether.

And still, public radio could save itself so easily. Because the Ghostbusters Rule really isn’t Don’t cross the streams. That’s my rule, for getting out of awkward social situations. The Real Ghostbusters Rule is, cross away! You remember that, right? In its final battle against the supernatural monster, the Ghostbusters decide to risk it and cross the energy streams, combining their energies into one giant ghost-zapping ray.

It works. They reverse the dimensional portal, effectively neutralizing the monster, and save New York City and all of us from destruction. I wonder whether Katherine Maher has seen Ghostbusters. Probably not. The Bill Murray character in it, as I recall, has real problems with toxic masculinity.

Film still from Ghostbusters (1984), © Columbia Pictures Ghost Corps (Sony Pictures). All Rights Reserved.

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