National Public Radio to Juan Williams: Moderates Who Consort with Conservatives Need Not Apply for Full-Time Employment
--Richard E. Vatz
Before I support the arguments condemning National Public Radio's (now NPR) firing of Juan Williams as ideologically biased, let me stipulate that in most real-life dramas involving sophisticated players, there are contradictions and nuances that get overlooked when one generally characterizes the political biases of media. NPR is funded heavily by the government and liberal donors, but not exclusively.
My own personal experience with NPR and government-sponsored media has often been fair, with even-handed coverage, for example, of conservative political events with which I have been involved, and my experiences on Maryland Public Television have been 100% fair and balanced.
That said, the general left-leaning nature of NPR is really indisputable. Their choices of topics to cover, news personnel and their disposition on news matters do not provide a close call on this claim. There is too much evidence to specify, but just listen or watch them.
On the current matter, Juan Williams, as everyone by now outside of Iranian prisons knows, said on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" in a discussion of Bill O'Reilly's comments on "The View" regarding Muslims and 9/11, "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot, [and] you know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous...but I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all -- as President Bush did after 9/11 -- it's not a war against Islam."
That seems a not-unreasonable reaction to seeing people in Muslim garb at an airport, the site of planes being commandeered by Muslim radicals and the passengers' being killed.
NPR, however, was scandalized. According to Mr. Williams, he was asked accusatorily by the very liberal Ellen Weiss, Senior Vice President for News at NPR, "What did you mean to say," and he responded that it was an "honest statement" of his psychological reaction - psychiatrists call it "stimulus generalization" - to seeing Muslims who are similar to his memory of the Muslims who perpetrated 9/11.
Her response, as quoted by Williams, was "That crosses the line," and "she suggested that I made a bigoted statement." Told that the irreversible decision was already made to fire him, he inquired why such a decision was made regarding an employee in good standing who had worked for a decade at NPR: "I don't even get the chance...to have a conversation?"
But the outcome should leave no one incredulous. NPR resented Juan Williams' time spent at Fox and resented his sometimes centrist points of view.
The cashiering of Williams was made pursuant to a complaint issued by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In an interview on Fox news, the spokesperson for the Muslim advocacy group, Ibrahim Hooper, in an interview with Megyn Kelly may have inadvertently revealed that the Emperor's clothes are blue: "Well, he (Williams) was increasingly leaning towards the right and NPR obviously has a more liberal viewpoint, and there wasn't a good fit there, so perhaps this was the breaking point.
The most disingenuous defense of NPR's termination of Juan Williams is one widely dispersed: that, as described in The New York Times, "Like many other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to avoid situations that might call its impartiality into question - an expectation written into the organization's ethics code."
This from a news organization that has suborned Nina Totenberg and employed a phalanx of liberal reporters, talk show hosts and subjects, with a sprinkling of moderate conservatives?
If anyone doubts the ubiquity of reporters, right and left, serving ideological masters on the media, just watch Reliable Sources, the generally excellent CNN show on media criticism. Week after week liberal reporters defend their liberal biases, while a decidedly smaller population of conservative scribes defends their conservative biases. On just one week's show last year when the topic of media bias against Sarah Palin was considered, the show sported three -- count 'em, three - liberal reporters, Anne Kornblut (The Washington Post), Julie Mason (The Houston Chronicle) and Frank Sesno (CNN), who sniggered their way through their denigration of any notion so laughable as the proposition that Sarah Palin was not treated fairly by the press.
Juan Williams' making nice on-air with conservative Fox regulars was sufficient reason to NPR for getting rid of him. In an essay he wrote yesterday, he said flat-out that his firing offense was that he "[told] the truth."
The Times quotes his essay as saying further that "This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought."
It's hard to improve on that interpretation.
No surprise - Juan Williams is a superb newsman.
--Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University