Kim Kardashian isn’t exactly NPR’s typical guest.
Regardless, the reality star joined a recent episode of the station’s news quiz show, “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” and fans were not happy about it.
According to Us Weekly, a listener from Burlington, Vermont, wrote, “I recently gave a small gift to my local NPR station. Had I heard your Saturday show before I made my gift, I wouldn’t have donated. The Kardashians represent much of what is wrong with America today — and I listen to NPR to get AWAY from Kardashian-like garbage.”
Another listener, from Tuftonboro, New Hampshire, added, “Seriously thinking about dropping my membership. I thought NPR had a certain class/values and it looks like we might be heading in another direction that I’m not willing to go with you.”
In response to the furore over Kardashian’s appearance on the show, NPR’s official ombudsman, Elizabeth Jensen, published an article saying she just wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about.
“Many listeners seem willing to laugh until the comedy is turned on something that touches their own lives or sensitivities,” she wrote. “I’m still not sure what to make of this week’s outrage over Kardashian, who was indeed a surprising guest, given how often the show has pilloried her and her clan in the past. She wasn’t a great guest — she had a couple funny lines — but she was gracious.”
As a full-time newspaper journalist moonlighting as a pop culture blogger, I have to agree with Jensen — I just don’t see a problem with having Kim Kardashian as a guest on a comedy show, even if that comedy show is on NPR, a station that generally takes its news pretty seriously. At only 34 years old, Kardashian has amassed an online empire — her tens of millions of fans follow her every move documented via Twitter and Instagram. As Time magazine put it when it named her one of the 30 most influential people on the internet, “Anyone who writes Kardashian off as empty-headed may be underestimating her influence.” And that influence is what she uses to promote the business ventures that have resulted in her $85 million net worth.
The news business could take a lesson from the self-promotion Kardashian has perfected. NPR is listener-supported, after all, and boasts 3.6 million Twitter followers, compared to Kardashian’s 32.7 million. Kardashian’s widespread influence certainly makes her newsworthy and could even earn the station some new listeners. It’s shortsighted and pretentious of NPR listeners to eschew Kardashian for being a reality star when, in reality, she’s a savvy businesswoman with an enviably successful brand.