January 06, 2011

Juan Williams Rides Again

After an exhaustive investigation into its firing of Juan Williams, National Public Radio has announced that it acted entirely legally, that its Senior Vice President for News, Ellen Weiss, is resigning, that its CEO Vivian Schiller will lose her 2010 bonus, and, oh yes, NPR sort of kind of wishes it had handled things a little, you know, differently and will take steps to ensure that it handles such things sort of kind of differently in the future. Those interested in reading NPR’s various statements and the statement of their ombudsman, Alicia C. Shepard, can find that information here.

For those who have not closely followed the case, in October of 2010, the news broke that Juan Williams, who had worked for NPR for a decade, had been fired for a statement he made on an edition of The O’Reilly Factor. Williams, billed as a liberal commentator on Fox, told O’Reilly that he experiences a moment of anxiety when he sees people in obviously Muslim garb about to board the same aircraft on which he is flying. Williams was careful to note that this did not mean that all Muslims should be considered terrorists. Weiss soon fired Williams--by phone. She refused to speak to him in person and generally treated him shabbily.

One might think that Williams’ progressive friends and colleagues would have immediately rushed to his aid in outraged defense of diversity and the First Amendment. One would be wrong. While some few progressives did offer some words of support, Fox News not only ran with the story in a big way, but promptly hired Williams at a salary far higher than he lost at NPR. Public outcry against NPR was swift and merciless, and there were public--and most frightening for NPR--Congressional cries for complete federal defunding of all public broadcasting.

In the immediate aftermath, Williams’ comments were restrained. He did explain the shabby way he had been treated by Weiss, and expressed his opinion that he was fired because NPR is a progressive shop that does not tolerate other views. He also suggested that his firing was the direct result of NPR’s long-standing discomfort with the fact that he often appeared on Fox programs. One might reasonably wonder why Williams worked for NPR for 10 years knowing its nature as he did, but that’s an issue for another time.

NPR immediately struck back accusing Williams of being a serial violator of their ”standards.” At a news conference defending NPR, Schiller crudely commented that William’s comment regarding his anxiety in seeing Muslims boarding an aircraft indicated that he needed to see a psychiatrist. Her comments raised such a firestorm across the nation that she was quickly forced to issue a lengthy written apology to affiliated stations and NPR staff. She was not specific about her wrongdoing, but merely expressed regret that the process was not well handled. She said: "In any event, the process that followed the decision was unfortunate — including not meeting with Juan in person — and I take full responsibility for that.” Of interest is that NPR affiliated stations around the nation were, at the time, actively engaged in one of their periodic fund raising drives, fund raising which NPR’s actions directly jeopardized.

Responding to the news of the outcome of the NPR investigation, an investigation in which he declined to participate, Williams restated his belief that NPR is a closed, liberal shop that does not tolerate other beliefs, opinions or stories. Williams characterized Weiss, who had worked at NPR for three decades, as one primarily responsible for that orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that prevents NPR from fully and competently covering the news.

Is NPR a closed, liberal shop more concerned with progressive opinion and causes then in truth? In the years that I have, upon occasion, followed NPR programs, I’ve had no doubt whatsoever about the progressive nature and practice of NPR. It should not be forgotten that on October 9, 2003, NPR’s Terry Gross, on her “Fresh Air” program, lured Bill O’Reilly by promising to discuss his recently published book, but instead unleashed a hostile progressive ambush that was so egregiously partisan and unprofessional even NPR’s ombudsman agreed with O’Reilly. It would not be unreasonable to suspect that lingering hostility over that incident had some bearing on NPR’s treatment of Williams. Progressives tend to have long memories about such things.

One need only read the NPR stories available at the link to understand that Williams is entirely correct in his assessment of NPR. Like so many progressives, NPR employees apparently live in a hermetically sealed bubble such that no other ideas or beliefs intrude upon their consciousness. Their worldview allows for no conclusion other than that their thinking is fair, balanced and the only thinking any intelligent, rational human being could possibly have. Their outlook is so far to the left that even Juan Williams, a man who has never described himself as other than liberal, can seem, to them, to be an evil conservative attacking the one, true faith.

Particularly revealing is the statement of Ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard, which must be read in its entirely to be fully appreciated. Shepard begins her statement with a thinly veiled attack on Williams: “Juan Williams once again got himself into trouble with NPR for comments he made at his other job, at Fox News. And NPR's reaction has unleashed an unprecedented firestorm of criticism directed not at Williams – but at NPR.” Shepard goes on to describe the thousands of outraged listeners who bombarded NPR in response to its treatment of Williams, and attempts to invoke reader sympathy because NPR was treated so badly. Shepard does eventually get around to admitting that NPR treated Williams improperly, but sticks to the party line that he essentially deserved it. Shepard defends NPR’s dedication to diversity: “It's not about race. It's also not about free speech, as some have charged. Nor is it about an alleged attempt by NPR to stifle conservative views. NPR offers a broad range of viewpoints on its radio shows and web site.”

Anyone taking the time to read NPR’s own reporting on this matter may have considerable difficulty in detecting any commitment to “...a broad range of viewpoints.” What the objective reader will likely find is an organization deeply offended that any dare question it. They will find an organization that is blatantly partisan and one-sided in its thinking and presentation of “news.” They will find an organization that is far more interested in protecting itself than in admitting wrong doing or in preventing wrong doing in the future, particularly wrong doing toward those who stray off the progressive reservation.

Ironically, the primary person benefiting from this debacle is Juan Williams, who while clearly liberal, is a generally reasonable, personable commentator who can actually engage in debate without resorting to name calling, red-faced expectorating and righteous indignation. Also benefiting is Fox News which continues its institutional practice of constantly employing liberals to balance conservative opinion on its many opinion and commentary programs, all of which continue to dominate cable news, providing a model of balance that any objective analysis would reveal NPR incapable of matching.

There seems little doubt that NPR’s public pseudo mea culpas have little to do with any recognition of individual or institutional wrong doing. What worries NPR is that Congress, newly energized by a Republican-controlled house, will follow through on its threats and defund NPR. While NPR has, over the months following William’s firing, tried repeatedly to minimize the amount of money it receives from the Federal government and its effect on NPR’s viability, without that government support, NPR would almost certainly quickly go the way of Air America and every other failed attempt at openly, exclusively progressive media.

Newsweek magazine, for example, not long ago announced that it would no longer trying to present unbiased news, but would be a journal of elite liberal opinion. Shortly thereafter, on August 2, 2010, it was purchased for one dollar by liberal stereo billionaire Sidney Harman and currently exists as his wholly supported project. Such was the fate of the late, unlamented Air America until its wealthy liberal benefactors tired of throwing away good money.

Obama administration attempts to regulate the internet, which are still ongoing, clearly reveal that progressives understand that their message cannot stand on its own in the marketplace of ideas without government support, financial and regulatory, to handicap not only openly conservative commentary, but unbiased, professional news presentations.

The Congress should defund all support for “public broadcasting.” The First Amendment creates no obligation for government to subsidize any expression, nor does it create a right to such subsidies. Let NPR strike out boldly on its own. Allow it to operate free of the fetters of government funding. Let it burst forth, once and for all, as a proud source of elite, liberal opinion, free to express its true beliefs without the need to keep up dishonest and distasteful appearances. How much better and more righteous would NPR executives feel if they could say, “sure we fired Williams. He deserved it. He betrayed the one, true faith. He sounded like a conservative and we don’t allow that.” We’ll all be the better for having the extra bandwidth when NPR goes the way of its predecessors.

Posted by MikeM at January 6, 2011 07:45 PM

Let's face it. The only thing that NPR took issue with Ellen Weiss and Vivian Schiller was that they brought ridicule on NPR in a very public way.

This is a warning shot to everybody still working at NPR to tow the line.

Posted by: Neo at January 7, 2011 03:54 PM

Liberals have no honor, honesty, loyalty, bravery. So NPR acted as they are, Liberals.

Posted by: gDavid at January 7, 2011 05:52 PM
Newsweek magazine, for example, not long ago announced that it would no longer trying to present unbiased news, but would be a journal of elite liberal opinion. Shortly thereafter, on August 2, 2010, it was purchased for one dollar by liberal stereo billionaire Sidney Harman and currently exists as his wholly supported project.

I laughed out loud when I heard that Newsweek, the whole operation, had been bought for less than the cover price of one issue of Newsweek magazine -- but I stopped laughing when I learned that Sidney Harman (who is 91 years old, BTW) is the husband of liberal Democrat congressional fixture Jane Harman, who (alas) is my Congresscritter.

Great. Jane Harman has her very own "news" magazine in which to spew propaganda and a rich husband to fund the whole thing.

Posted by: Mary in LA at January 7, 2011 09:43 PM