BS Quote of the Day: NPR Ombudsman tries to justify Juan Williams’ firing

Expected nothing less, but still worth mentioning.  From NPR Ombudsman Alicia Walker:

Williams’ appearances on Fox News, especially O’Reilly’s show, have caused heartburn repeatedly for NPR over the last few years. Management said he’s been warned several times that O’Reilly is a professional provocateur and to be careful.

In early 2009, Williams said on O’Reilly of Michelle Obama: She’s got this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking . . . her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I’m the victim. If that stuff starts to coming out, people will go bananas and she’ll go from being the new Jackie O. to being something of an albatross.”

After other inflammatory comments on Fox, in April 2008 NPR changed Williams’ role from news correspondent (a reporting job) to news analyst. In this contract position, he was expected to report, think quickly and give his own analysis – while carefully choosing his words on any given subject.

One reason he was fired, according to Vivian Schiller, NPR’s CEO, is that the company felt he wasn’t performing the role of a news analyst:

“News analysts 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,” said Schiller in an email to NPR member stations, some of which are upset about Williams’ firing.

“As you all well know,” she continued, “we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview – not our reporters and analysts.”

In 2008, I received 378 emails complaining about remarks Williams made on Fox – but I heard very little about his comments on NPR. My February 2009 blog post on the Stokely Carmichael incident drew 216 comments – many asking why NPR put up with Williams’ dual role.

In fact, since I became Ombudsman in October 2007, no other NPR employee has generated as much controversy as Williams.

That said, Williams provided a valuable voice on NPR.  His long experience as a journalist and background as an authority on the Civil Rights movement enabled him to offer insights that often enriched the network’s reporting.

Ultimately, however, it seems management felt he had become more of a liability than an asset. Unfortunately, I agree.

It can’t be overlooked that this episode is occurring in a toxic political environment where people are quick to take sides and look for hidden motives. I fear some will look for racial motivations in NPR’s decision to fire Williams, who is African-American and one of the few black male NPR voices.

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.

Instead, this latest incident with Williams centers around a collision of values: NPR’s values emphasizing fact-based, objective journalism versus the tendency in some parts of the news media, notably Fox News, to promote only one side of the ideological spectrum.

The issue also is whether someone on NPR’s payroll should be allowed to say something in one venue that NPR would not allow on its air. NPR’s ethics code says they cannot.

Right.  So an NPR “journalist” would be fired on the spot for wishing Jesse Helms would get AIDS and die, and an NPR “humorist” would be fired on the spot for saying  that the “evaporation of 4 million [people] who believe” in the doctrine of Rapture “would leave the world a better place”, right?  Wrong.

And her assertion regarding “NPR’s values emphasizing fact-based, objective journalism”?? I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.  Read this 2003 piece from a prior NPR ombudsman on NPR “legal affairs correspondent” Nina Totenberg’s opinion on George W. Bush and Lieutenant General William G. Boykin.  First, Totenberg’s remarks:

NINA TOTENBERG: The problem in Iraq is also that I think that the administration doesn’t want to really fess up that there are some serious, serious problems that maybe even they didn’t do everything perfectly. I mean, now they’ve got this guy who was the head of the intelligence section in the Defense Department who is being quoted as telling various groups while he’s in uniform that this is a Christian crusade against Muslims who —

GORDON PETERSON: You’re talking about Boykin, Gen. Boykin.

TOTENBERG: Gen. Boykin, and this is terrible. This is seriously bad stuff for us.

COLBERT KING: And the other thing about Boykin, he got it wrong. He said, God put George Bush in the White House. It’s the Supreme Court that did it.

TOTENBERG: The Supreme Court put George Bush in the White House.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: There were 5,000 yentas in Palm Beach who couldn’t read the ballot. If that was not an act of providence, nothing is…

TOTENBERG: I hope he’s not long for this world, because you can imagine —

PETERSON: You want a hit out on this guy or what? What is this, The Sopranos?

TOTENBERG: No, no. I mean, in his job. In his job, in his job, please, in his job.

Uh huh.  NPR’s ombudsman at the time, Jeffrey Dvorkin, argued that NPR journalists cross a fine line and risk their credibility as “objective” reporters of the news when they appear on opinion shows:

There is a danger whenever NPR reporters appear in other media that do not have the same standards of journalism. NPR risks its own reputation by lending its own legitimacy to any media that may practice a different standard of journalism.

The overabundance of opinion, instead of reporting, in the broadcast media is growing, and some NPR listeners fear NPR has increasingly become part of that culture.

NPR journalists should be speaking, as well as writing and appearing, in other media. It is good for NPR and for its journalists, but when they do it, they should maintain NPR standards.

Some inside NPR might construe this as restricting their ability to engage in outside work. NPR may need to reinforce with its journalists that they have a choice between outside punditry or inside reporting. 

But Totenberg, and other liberal “journalists” who work for NPR who are proper liberals apparently are excluded from  having to make that choice. 

Also noted with interest is how Walker, their current ombudsman, notes that it was Williams’ appearances on Fox News that caused NPR so many “headaches.” Hmmm, so his appearances expressing his opinions on other TV/radio programs did not?  Gee, I wonder who would have such huge issues with Williams expressing his opinions on Fox?  Couldn’t be the wealthy liberal elite-funded Media Matters gang, could it? You darn well betcha it is.   As my co-blogger Anthony noted yesterday, they’re now after Fox News contributor and NPR correspondent Mara Liasson.

Basically Alicia Walker confirmed not only what many conservatives, including yours truly, were saying yesterday about the real reason Williams’ was fired: Because he appeared on Fox News and didn’t always toe the proper liberal line.  Williams’ himself wrote about this at the Fox website yesterday (via):

Years ago NPR tried to stop me from going on “The Factor.” When I refused they insisted that I not identify myself as an NPR journalist. I asked them if they thought people did not know where I appeared on the air as a daily talk show host, national correspondent and news analyst. They refused to budge.

This self-reverential attitude was on display several years ago when NPR asked me to help them get an interview with President George W. Bush. I have longstanding relationships with some of the key players in his White House due to my years as a political writer at The Washington Post. When I got the interview some in management expressed anger that in the course of the interview I said to the president that Americans pray for him but don’t understand some of his actions. They said it was wrong to say Americans pray for him.

Later on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis President Bush offered to do an NPR interview with me about race relations in America. NPR management refused to take the interview on the grounds that the White House offered it to me and not their other correspondents and hosts. One NPR executive implied I was in the administration’s pocket, which is a joke, and there was no other reason to offer me the interview. Gee, I guess NPR news executives never read my bestselling history of the civil rights movement “Eyes on the Prize – America’s Civil Rights Years,” or my highly acclaimed biography “Thurgood Marshall –American Revolutionary.” I guess they never noticed that “ENOUGH,” my last book on the state of black leadership in America, found a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

This all led to NPR demanding that I either agree to let them control my appearances on Fox News and my writings or sign a new contract that removed me from their staff but allowed me to continue working as a news analyst with an office at NPR. The idea was that they would be insulated against anything I said or wrote outside of NPR because they could say that I was not a staff member. What happened is that they immediately began to cut my salary and diminish my on-air role. This week when I pointed out that they had forced me to sign a contract that gave them distance from my commentary outside of NPR I was cut off, ignored and fired.

Gotta love that “liberal tolerance”!  And speaking of,  Michael Barone makes an interesting point along those lines:

Reading between the lines of Juan’s statement and those of NPR officials, it’s apparent that NPR was moved to fire Juan because he irritates so many people in its audience. An interesting contrast: while many NPR listeners apparently could not stomach that Williams also appeared on Fox News. But it doesn’t seem that any perceptible number of Fox News viewers had any complaints that Williams also worked for NPR. The Fox audience seems to be more tolerant of diversity than the NPR audience.  

Heh!  That ought to make a few heads spin at Media Matters HQ. ;)  I love it.  And I’m anxiously awaiting more on what Williams has to say as a “former insider” about NPR’s behind-the-scenes practices.  Clearly, he’s treating what happened to him as an opportunity to engage in a little “pay back.”  What he’s already revealed pretty much confirms what we already know about NPR.  Anything else will just be icing on the cake.

Comments are closed.