NPR made a very poor decision
Let’s take the case of former National Public Radio senior news analyst Juan Williams, who not only worked for NPR but also worked as a commentator and analyst for Fox “Fair and Balanced” News.
Williams, an African-American news analyst and author of several books on civil rights, went on the Fox TV show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” and followed up on a statement by O’Reilly, who said that we had a “Muslim problem.”
Anybody who has ever felt the sting of racial or ethnic prejudice knows what they want to do when someone hurts our children or our loved ones. O’Reilly makes his living by throwing the red meat of racial and ethnic intolerance to the very people whose families have been hurt by this material but who really don’t know better.
I have never been an O’Reilly fan, but I have to confess, I have never particularly cared for Juan Williams’ work. Fox has used him on their shows and on their panels in order to demonstrate that they are “fair and balanced.” To make their case, they have always identified him as an NPR senior analyst.
Then when they put him on a panel with a bunch of sneering, right-wing sharks, he loses whatever debate he is in. He looks lame, very lame. I haven’t been shy about sharing my views on Williams and have criticized the guy for allowing himself to be used in that way.
So, it was with great surprise that when I woke up last Thursday morning and learned that NPR had fired Williams for the remarks he made on the O’Reilly show. After O’Reilly’s rant, Williams went on to admit that when he got on a plane and saw someone dressed in Muslim garb, he got worried.
NPR should not have fired Williams.
Here’s what I wrote, “We are deeply distressed by NPR’s actions in the firing of Juan Williams. On its face, there is certainly a First Amendment issue here.
“It seems to us that this action was precipitous. There are those who think that Juan Williams was used by Fox to justify much of their mean-spirited, right-wing panel discussions, with Williams offering a very weak defense of a liberal point of view.
“NPR never prohibited that, so why now? Why was Cokie Roberts permitted to appear on ABC? It appears that he is being fired for what he said, and as an analyst, isn’t that what he is paid to do? I suggest that NPR reconsider this action, which smacks of more than a little hypocrisy and gives the American right-wing the opportunity to once again call for the defunding of public broadcasting.”
The member stations began checking in as soon as the news broke.
(Remember — the member stations are independent entities with different management, policies, and budgets.) Some were aghast. Some said that they were in the middle of fund drives and people were withdrawing pledges because they were so angry.
I’m not the president of NPR, but if I was I wouldn’t have done what NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller did. As everyone’s mother once advised, I would have counted to 10. Schiller told us in her e-mails that NPR’s rules and regulations had been broken.
She told us that news analysts couldn’t offer personal opinions. This is where Schiller and I take different forks in the road. Dan Schorr sure did. Cokie Roberts sure does when she comes on. Even their reporters, acting under a guise of objectivity, do it every day.
Just the way you create a story does that. Now Williams comes off as a martyr — with a $2 million contract from Fox. I’m still shaking my head.
To be fair, he also made it clear that this was his problem and in a follow-up with O’Reilly, acknowledged that stereotyping was not a good thing. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Williams was expressing an opinion. It may have been intolerant and stereotypical; saying it out loud may have been ill-advised.
Maybe the guy was selling out to curry favor with O’Reilly and his audience. I don’t know what his motives were and neither do you. I do know that I am not happy with NPR or its administration for what they did. When I went on with my opinion at 7:32 in the morning, I said so.
Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/23/10