Now long-time DUQ supporters are up in arms about the station's lack of independence from the Catholic Church (see, for example, Mac Booker's comment here) and the mainstream media is clucking about the station's lack of editorial integrity (Post-Gazette editorial; New York Times coverage).
Is the university's decision a smart one? Consider a couple of possibilities. First: It's pretty far-fetched to imagine that anyone listening to the station would think (i) WDUQ is sponsored by Duquesne University, and (ii) WDUQ is also sponsored by Planned Parenthood, and therefore (iii) Duquesne endorses Planned Parenthood's mission. Second: If Duquesne is worried about its collective conscience quite apart from what DUQ listeners would think, the connection still strikes me as pretty tenuous. But I'm not Catholic and can't pretend to know the nuances of the mindset or belief structure. The bottom line is that Duquesne is likely entitled to make this call, and they made it.
But protest by suspending my occasional contributions? Stop listening? The critics are performing like Captain Renault in Casablanca. I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to discover that Duquesne is a Catholic university.
The trouble here is that the DUQ listening, underwriting, and contributing communities deal with some deep ambiguity in the fact that some of DUQ's programming comes from National Public Radio. The Catholic university connection seems to have completely disappeared from public consciousness. (If so, then Duquesne may have made the wrong move for a third reason: It shouldn't have dumped Planned Parenthood; instead, it should have dumped the station.) The Public is the source of the trouble. DUQ is not a "public" enterprise in the sense that it is owned or run by the state or federal government, but people tend to treat it (like many but not all "public" radio stations) more or less as if it is. NPR is allegedly the "people's radio" (having appropriated that status from Pacifica Radio). How can a mere licensee (Duquesne) meddle with what the people own?
But DUQ isn't "public" except in that very loose sense. DUQ is really a private enterprise that acquires programming from NPR and from other sources (American Public Media, for example) and that produces its own programming. Suppose the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review or the Post-Gazette (which produce their own content and acquire other content via various wire services) were approached by Planned Parenthood, which wanted to run a full-page display ad at market rates. And suppose that the Trib or the PG declined to take the money and run the ad, declaring that it didn't want its advertising pages used to advance PP's mission. If you like, remove PP from the hypothetical and substitute "the Catholic Church."
Wise move on the paper's part? Almost certainly not.
A reason not to buy that particular paper? Maybe, but only if the decision leads to legitimate suspicion about the paper's editorial integrity. Personally, knowing as much as I do about the news business, I'm pretty skeptical about the mythology of "editorial independence" in journalism.
Would that decision be a surprise? Depending on your history and biases, maybe yes, maybe no.
In DUQ's case, there is no evidence that the editorial integrity of the station has been compromised. Even if there were, the decision to reject the underwriting at the behest of the university is no real surprise.
If you want to fight for Planned Parenthood, give to Planned Parenthood and help the organization find ways to publicize its mission and help people. If you want to fight for "the public's radio," then I think that you should give money to DUQ (and other "public" radio stations). A financially weakened DUQ has even less leverage against the university than it has right now.
Rick/DUQ: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault/the outraged public: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!
We know which one of these two turns out to be the hero.