Thinking About DUQ

Like all good self-absorbed local progressives/liberals, I've been thinking this week about the WDUQ flap. Planned Parenthood wanted to sponsor "brought to you" ads on the air. Duquesne University, a Catholic institution and holder of the license that brings WDUQ to its listeners, would not allow the ads to run.

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.


11 Responses to "Thinking About DUQ"

Jonathan Potts said... 10/19/2007 12:17 PM

Well said, though in fairness, Captain Renault does do the right thing in the end. (Though his sacrifice is admittedly merely of a professional nature, not a personal one.)

Al Mon-O said... 10/19/2007 1:20 PM

Interesting analysis of a complex and troubling issue. Personally, I just can't send a check a to WDUQ that is going to be routed through Duquesne University, as a result of this flap, but I also someone who won't buy Dominoes Pizza or Coors Beer because of the political stance of their owners (although it is a lot easier in those cases, given the products they make).

I think it is worth putting some responsibility back on the president of Duquesne to come with a funding plan for DUQ in light of his statements. It is nonsensical to reject underwriting, knowing that it will anger many listeners, without a plan for how to fund the station in light of a shifting or reduced level of support from listeners. Let's stop flogging the listeners. Let's instead ask Duquesne -- OK, in light of this policy, what are you going do? Or, were they so naive that the thought no one would be bothered by the decision?

Sarah said... 10/19/2007 4:43 PM

First of all, I want to thank you for Pittsblog. I just moved to Pittsburgh and have used your blog to acclimate to the area. You've been very helpful.

As for the whole WDUQ issue, I ask you to read up on Baltimore's NPR station, WYPR, and their decision to buy the station when the were dropped from Johns Hopkins University. As a city, Pittsburgh has so much potential. It would be lovely to see that potential in the hands of those who could use it wisely.

Here's a link to the WYPR situation

And thanks to you, I just pledged to WDUQ. Because you're right: money equals autonomy.

jet said... 10/21/2007 12:03 PM

I moved here a couple of years ago and am a frequent DUQ listener, but I was still surprised to find that they were actually controlled by Duquesne. I thought they were independent of the university itself, but affiliated with the university or perhaps had a historical connection that led to them renting space or somesuch.

Now I'm wondering things like, "If I donate to DUQ, how much of that goes to the radio station and how much gets skimmed off by Duquesne? How much editorial independence does the DUQ staff truly have?"

Jonathan Potts said... 10/21/2007 1:49 PM

I have no connection to Duquesne University, but let me say that I think it is a bit unfair to assume the university is "skimming" money donated to WDUQ. I don't think there has been any evidence that WDUQ's editorial independence has ever been compromised by its relationship with Duquesne.

However, the appearance of a conflict has now emerged, and that could be a problem for the station down the road.

Frank said... 10/22/2007 1:44 PM

The thing I love about this whole thing is that NPR listeners aren't known for their conservative about biting the hand that feeds you!

Tim Murray said... 10/22/2007 2:27 PM

Mr. Potts stole my thunder regarding the notion that Duquesne University was involved in "skimming," and the more important issue of Captain Renault's heroism.

As for Duquesne, I am biased. My father is Chancellor at Duquesne.
I am watching this debate with amusement because I see few Catholics jumping into the fray, and I wonder if it is because so many Catholics seem to be lukewarm to the church's stance on reproductive issues. (Exactly why they are members of an organization they don't buy into is a topic for another discussion.)

Would anyone question a decision by Duquesne University to refuse to run an ad by, let's say, the KKK because the principles espoused by that hateful organizaiton are contrary to the University's Catholic mission? Of course not. Has the Post-Gazette, the Trib, CMU or Pitt ever refused to accept advertising from one source or another if any of them deemed the prospective ad contrary to their policies or mission? I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if they did. Recently, local television stations refused to run a Trojan condom ad that portrayed men in a bar as pigs (which, of course, is very enlightened stereotyping of an entire gender) -- until the pigs purchased Trojan condoms. Then they magically turned into men as handsome as Disney princes. I don't recall much protest from the refusal to run that delightful ad, or claims that the stations' news content was somehow compromised by such refusal.

It seems that value judgments underlie most of the protests against the University's decision to ban Planned Parenthood advertising. One such judgment is that Planned Parenthood serves a very worthwhile purpose, and another is that the Catholic Church's teachings on reproductive issues are antiquated, harmful and ill-advised (I personally agree as to the "antiquated"). The consensus among the protestors seems to be that Duquesne University's Catholic mission should not trump the public's right to hear these ads.

Now, I must admit I've never heard of a protest over the public's right to be subjected to advertising, but that's also a topic for a different discussion.

In any event, assuming for the sake of argument that the Catholic Church's teachings on reproductive issues are ill-advised (I disagree, but I suspect I am in the clear minority), should the University be expected to support services that contradict its beliefs by implicitly endorsing the supplier of such services?

I do think there are legitimate questions raised by this incident. For example, should Duquesne, or any religious institution, be in the public radio business? I don't know, but I am fairly certain that most of the anger by those threatening to withhold donations etc., is being expressed by people who either loathe or simply don't buy into the Catholic Church's teachings on reproductive issues. And that's fine. Wouldn't it be healthier to refocus the debate to the real issue?

Jefferson Provost said... 10/22/2007 3:34 PM

What I find most odd about this is the notion that their not accepting some underwriting (i.e. advertising) is a statement about their editorial independence.

Since when is the selection of advertisers an editorial decision at all? In an entity with true editorial independence, the two should be unrelated, right?

This isn't about editorial independence, and it isn't about censorship in some abstract sense, it is absolutely about the specific political slant of the advertising being refused, and its relationship to the leanings of the DUQ listenership and the Church, respectively.

If Duquesne had chosen to reject underwriting from the Army because if the Catholic Church's fundamental opposition to war, there would be no controversy. DUQ listeners would have cheered.

Anonymous said... 10/22/2007 10:06 PM

True, a weakened WDUQ has less leverage. But that's not the same as saying that NPR has less leverage.

What I mean is that if Duquesne University is going to censor DUQ, perhaps NPR would find a better home at either Pitt or CMU or even at WYEP. In other words, NPR isn't going to disappear from Pittsburgh if WDUQ is no longer viable.

I would suggest that anyone who is a member of WDUQ should withold their support until the university reverses course or until NPR finds another home in Pittsburgh. It's as easy as that. :)

Mike Madison said... 10/22/2007 10:23 PM

Well, no, it's not.

WDUQ isn't NPR and NPR isn't WDUQ. DUQ is an NPR member station. It's difficult to see how keeping $$ from DUQ will somehow force Duquesne's hand. If you want to do something that might make Duquesne notice, then stop *listening* to DUQ. If you want to hear NPR in Pittsburgh, tune in to WQED (89.3 FM) or see if you can pick up WVPN (88.5 FM, from Morgantown).

Of course, Duquesne still may not care, and may not change course, but in that case you have what you want, no? A viable, independent NPR affiliate?

EdHeath said... 10/24/2007 12:29 PM

So Duquense University has decided DUQ should not accept money from Planned Parenthood. Obviously what would have far worse would be if Duquesne U ordered DUQ to stop airing "Fresh Air" or some other program. Of course, because of misguided actions like MacBooker’s, that may still come to pass, if DUQ can not raise enough money to keep going. It might be better if DUQ, the NPR station, were not housed at Duquesne, but they are, and if the school feels its mission objectives are violated by underwriting from Planned Parenthood, that seems a small price to pay, in fact, no price for DUQ’s listeners. It’s something of a shame, of course, as many of us see Planned Parenthood as fairly benign, but the outrage seems misplaced.

Search Pittsblog

About Pittsblog

Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

All opinions expressed at Pittsblog 2.0 are those of their respective authors and of no one (and no thing) else, least of all the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

Comments are moderated.
Subscribe to Pittsblog comments


Blog Archive

Header Background

Header background images licensed from (left image) lemonad and (right image) plaskota under Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.0 Generic licenses.


Copyright 2003-2010 Michael J. Madison - WP Theme by Brian Gardner - Blogger Blog Templates,