NPR's dopey dismissal of Williams is worthy of a dunce cap
10/22/10 09:14 AM
By ED BARK
Way to go, NPR. You've managed to re-jeopardize your taxpayer funding, given Fox News Channel a pick ax to swing at you and even gotten on the wrong sides of the women of The View.
That's a tough trifecta to pull off, particularly the last part. But the ill-considered, knee-jerk firing of longtime NPR analyst Juan Williams, who dared to express a feeling on FNC's The O'Reilly Factor, casts NPR in an immensely bad light. Outside of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, few have come to the defense of a decision that makes one of radio's erstwhile shining lights look like a petty, partisan tyrant. Even NPR's ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote that a "more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare." Maybe she'll be sacked, too.
Until Wednesday's abrupt dismissal, Williams had worked at NPR for the past 10 years while also regularly appearing on FNC and Fox News Sunday as a representative of the liberal point of view. On Monday night's edition of O'Reilly's Factor, Williams said he's no bigot, but did admit to feeling "nervous" when boarding a plane whose passengers also included people in "Muslim garb."
He didn't say that everyone should feel that way, although countless air travelers likely do. O'Reilly baited the hook by speaking of a "Muslim dilemma" in the United States before asking Williams, "Where am I going wrong?"
Williams then let his gut feelings be known, but also added, "We don't want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O'Reilly and they act crazy."
For this he was fired by NPR president Vivian Schiller, who said in a memo to member stations that "news analysts" (employed by NPR) may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that's what's happened in this situation." (And here I thought analysts were supposed to have opinions.)
Schiller added that Williams had "continued to violate this principal" over several years "despite many conversations and warnings." Schiller also said that NPR management was "profoundly sorry that this happened during fundraising week." (Wait, isn't every week fundraising week at NPR?).
In subsequent remarks Thursday to the Atlanta Press Club, Schiller ridiculed Williams by saying that "whatever feelings Williams has about Muslims should between him and his psychiatrist or his publicist." She later apologized for "my thoughtless remark." (Sorry, Vivian, but that was an opinion. You're fired!)
Williams is hardly heading to the poor house. FNC immediately signed him to an extended three-year deal reportedly worth $2 million. And during his appearance with O'Reilly on Thursday night, the host noted that Williams will be the show's fill-in host Friday night.
In a very bluntly worded blog posted Thursday on foxnews.com, Williams said that his comments to O'Reilly on Monday night's program "are being distorted by the self-righteous ideological, left-wing leadership at NPR. They are taking bits and pieces of what I said to go after me for daring to have a conversation with leading conservative thinkers. They loathe the fact that I appear on Fox News."
Williams also noted that he was the "only black male on the air" at NPR. "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."
Let's be honest. Williams would have been in no trouble at all had he offered this opinion on MSNBC: "As an open-minded journalist, it comforts me to get on a plane whose passengers include Osama bin Laden lookalikes. We all need to get past 9/11 and understand that terrorists come in all shapes, sizes and faiths."
Instead Williams picked the wrong network to express what in reality was his feeling, not his opinion. And now, of course, Fox News Channel is taking this to the bank, joyously calling for an end to taxpayer-funding of NPR.
Whatever rhetoric it chooses to explain its decision, NPR and its clumsy leadership now wear undeniable ideological overcoats of their own. Fox News Channel has been right of center since its inception, with "Fair and Balanced" a hollower come-on than "Jumbo Shrimp." NPR and MSNBC are kindred spirits on the left, no matter what slogans they flaunt.
No one in their right -- or left -- mind should believe otherwise. At least that's my opinion. And here at unclebarky.com, I can say that without fear of being fired. It's the overriding good thing about being your own boss. Williams has his $2 million consolation prize and your friendly content provider to date this month has made $37.59 in amazon.com commissions from readers who generously click on the unclebarky.com ads before making their purchases.
Thanks for that. It's the price of independence.