42 Comments

John, I am so happy that you did this subject. I am a generally conservative white Male, decidedly un-woke, 70, gay and retired. I was a radio and TV news guy for 30 years, always on air. And it so happens that I’m a stickler for correct grammar and pronunciation. In fact, I frequently complain to my partner about errors I see and hear in graphics and voiceovers on CNN, MSNBC and the rest, but also on the legacy players’ newscasts: CBS News, NBC News and ABC News.

It is shocking and disheartening to see and hear what gets on the air these days. Actually, worse than bad grammar, usage and pronunciation, it is NPR’s ceaseless pandering to identity politics in its coverage and approach that make it so bad. I thoroughly support efforts to cut off NPR funding for good. That’s how offensive it is to me.

On the usage and grammar front, though, I suspect much of is due to the layoffs of the folks we used to call “copy editors.” When I retired from CNBC in 2005, I transitioned to media training, as do many of us former air folk. And I was actually paid to work on voice and diction of some well known CEOs and other C-suite executives. I generally push for calm, reassuring and authoritative.

All of which is to say I find it ironic that I ABSOLUTELY LOVE HEARING AYESHA RASCOE ON SUNDAY mornings on NPR. Yes, you can tell she’s likely African-American, but so what? Why is that bad? As long as she (like anyone else on air) uses the language responsibly, so that the vast majority of her listeners can understand her. And that’s true of those using any regionalisms or patois. Her demeanor and general diction are absolutely fine. She delivers carefully and is aware of how she sounds. She is skillful in the way she modulates her tones. Critics may say she’s “working it” a bit, but I say good!

John, I find her real and sincere and generally charming. Also curious and playful and all the things you want an anchor on that day and at that hour to be. I’m an unabashed AYESHA fan and I hope she stays on air forever!

Garrett Glaser

CNBC Correspondent (RETIRED)

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Whew! "generally charming" :-0

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Sep 29, 2023·edited Sep 29, 2023

Sorry, she's horrible in the morning. I think it's her grating and dumb features over the AAVE features. Now I just surgically tune in to the Puzzler.

edit: WHY don't I want to hear her on a Sunday morning? Her personality. Get a Brit on Xanax on the air. Ira Glass is a good match for Sundays. BBC is also in the process of letting regional dialects on their air. My criticism is specifically about Ayesha's character and intellect.

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It shocks me to learn that so many people dislike her voice!? I've always loved the way she sounds. Yes she sounds black. She also sounds great.

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I think it's a class thing as you said. And about so-called "authority" and who has it. The NPR job she has implicitly or explicitly puts her in a position of "authority" regarding 'thought-analytic political-economic-sociological content'. And someone's 'supposed to' be upper-class for that. I.e. sophisticated --- i.e. kind of untouchable, abstract, not so much a person as a voice of truth/fact for all. "An abstract white voice who speaks for all". Not a Black woman voice. Her voice doesn't sound upper-class/sophisticated in U.S. context to date. As someone not brought up in this country and not used to hearing different accents of the US, I thought her voice sounded a bit Southern and had to maneuver my hearing a bit to get the content. As soon as one focuses on the content one realizes how "authoritative" and knowledgeable she is re. content and opinion, and how appropriate it is that she has that job. So she's expressing herself as an individual person while also voicing knowledgeable content applicable to the whole country. A bit scary and too-close-for-comfort perhaps for some so-called 'mainstream-embracing' i.e. white and 'white-leaning' folk. (Omg how loaded English language is.) And ya, she's a woman, so add that! Thank you so much for doing this episode, I think it's really vital thought and commentary forging possibility for constructive change.

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I hate to hear this! I am a huge fan of hers. I listen every Sunday, and I think she does a great job.

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Sep 29, 2023·edited Sep 29, 2023

I also had never heard of her before. In my opinion, she sounds too "New York" or "Eastern" in comparison with other standard "radio voices", including yours! I had listened to an NPR story, out of WBEZ in Chicago, about accents in the 1990s and the issue was that a midwest accent was preferred. So, radio personalities took classes to develop a midwestern accent that would reduce whatever accent they felt that they had that wasn't as "radio" as the industry or the audience wanted.

Therefore, I argue that she is too "New York", not too black. Did you get any complaints about the "Car Guys"? They sounded too "New York" to me. I think that you're more spot on with the class idea than race in this case.

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They were from Boston, recent Italian descent.

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I remember them well and met one of them once. They played up the "ethnic" urban accent deliberately at times as part of their schtick. "Pahk yah cah in Hahvahd yahd -- only a [non-PC word that starts with R and subject to the "ard" -> "ahd" transformation] would do thaht.) A fair amount of that program was performative, not just informative.

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Oct 1, 2023·edited Oct 1, 2023

Yeah, you're correct, I lumped all Eastern seaboard into "New York". Sorry, there are differences. Now that you bring that Boston accent up, I find that more grating, less educated, and I know better. I was born in Chicago but never lived in the city and so do not have that accent, which also can sound less educated when too heavy, and again, I know better. How we take accents must be more deeply ingrained than we know.

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I don’t find her voice disturbing (and I’m really picky about female voices) but I do dislike when people pronounce “s” as “sh” as in Strike vs Shtrike.

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I talk like this! My whole family does. Check this video out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2X1pKEHIYw

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Is you dissing Michelle, homes?

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founding
Sep 30, 2023·edited Sep 30, 2023

I admit I found Ms. Rascoe’s accent off-putting — and I felt bad about my feeling, well aware of its racialist implications. Dr. McWhorter’s observations helped me pinpoint the one sound that makes me wince a little — the pronunciation of “ah” far back in the mouth (and with less rounded lips), especially on a stressed syllable. Knowing just what irks me will help me “get over it.”

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Ira Glass has talked about consciously changing his radio voice from trying to sound like every other NPR reporter to just being himself:

“I thought it wasn’t as effective at getting something across, and that a more conversational, more casual style actually penetrates more and has more feeling. So I tried to train myself to do that. I don’t have a good radio voice. But this thing happens now. People say “you have such a nice radio voice.” And I say, that’s the force of repetition. You’re used to hearing me on the radio, so it seems like I should be on the radio. But when you hear me versus someone who should really be on the radio, you can tell, that I really have no business being on the radio. ”

https://www.stlpr.org/2011-06-15/ira-glass-explains-his-decision-to-sound-different

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founding

I had never heard of her before, but I'm sorry, she sounds like any of the news readers or journalists on local news networks across the North East. This is very simple and I don't think there's anything wrong with calling it out... NPR has listeners that want their news read by people who sound like the white, Northeast, academic or media voices they've heard for years. But, white is the main characteristic. Going back even to the infamous SNL skit, NPR has had the infamy of sounding like white middle aged geographically north east USA. This is about people not liking any non white sounding voice, thinking that if you let this one more "black" sounding voice on the air, the next thing you know NPR will sound like some young urban station. I have a family member who works at NPR and I can tell you this is an image thing they are aware of and that I believe they don't do enough to combat out of fear of losing their listeners that are already in rather steady decline.

But lets have the openness to call this out: if one doesn't like her voice, it's because she sounds black and that, for some, doesn't gel with what they think NPR should be.

If you'd listen to her syntax, her grammar, her vocabulary, you'd actually find she speaks -- actually -- better than a lot of younger white people now speak. And I'll tell you something else: if it was a guy with the same voice, they wouldn't mind one bit.

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Public broadcasting demonstrates what McWhorter calls "Woke Racism" by PROMOTING black voices and issues over others.

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I think you're right about there being not a little sexism mixed into the reactions. I'm reminded of the to-do made of "Valley-girl" speech a while back, without the same put-downs about Valley guys.

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founding

Or, it WAS done by people like Keanu Reeves and other late 80s actors but they were just considered funny, or at worst a bit dense. It did not carry the stygma of women speaking like that.

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Oct 1, 2023·edited Oct 1, 2023

As I remember it, it's been a long time since I saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High, there was also the class difference. Sean Penn et al were middle class and the "Valley Girls" were richer, at least from a higher level of income, so it was also a mocking of their "better than you" attitude. Also, I think that Julie Brown made it part of her schtick whereas no male actor or comedian did so much. I'm not an entertainment or cultural expert, so correct me if I'm wrong.

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Well, they did push out Juan Williams

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Juan was too far Left? Boooowahahaha!

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As I recall, the complaints NPR received about him were about his voice, not his politics.

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I agree. I do not like her voice.

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I'm from Indianapolis and I didn't hear most of what you were pointing out. For what it's worth, I went to college in New England in the 60s and my classmates thought I had a southern accent. I didn't think I did although I learned that if I talked slower my "Hoosier Twang" became closer to southern. This could be about geography and tempo as much as race or class.

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Geographic origin probably mattered more than too. Although southern accents of various kinds, white and black, remain highly distinctive.

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Fascinating and nuanced exploration of this, thank you. Do you all think that the perceived youthfulness of her speech might also play a role? The perceived threat of irreverence as opposed to the radio voice of authority?

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The NPR podcast “Code Switch” had a really superb episode on how American institutions from the Pentagon to the Pulitzers are “rap washing” their appearance, are decorating their cultural clout with dressing their messaging in the various grammars of Blackness. As Dr AD Carson notes, “I think the Pulitzer got a Kendrick rather than Kendrick got a Pulitzer“. https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1190798156 I thought of this as you were discussing the melanation of modern pop culture

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It’s now November 4 and we haven’t received a new Lexicon Valley since September 29. What’s up with that?

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The only thing that jarred me a bit was her pronunciation of “with” as “wit.” On the other hand MSNBC Joy grates on me totally--it’s the personality, not her speech or race.

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