Wednesday, October 27, 2010


As I write this post Juan Williams’s (JW) firing from National Public Radio (NPR) is fast becoming stale news though I would prefer that Jon Stewart and his The Daily Show on Comedy Central continue their always refreshing vigil. Their take on JW’s firing while being funny as Hell was absolutely spot-on and has been by far the brightest consequence and best perspective on this issue. Please catch it on You Tube. Kind of makes ya want to see more incredible gaffs consistent with NPR’s, “never say anything interesting policy.” Fodder, fodder everywhere.

That said, we do need to keep this issue alive and give it legs, at least a while longer. While I am really torn on Juan William’s termination by NPR there is no doubt that it was so poorly handled that it rises to a textbook example of, “How Not to Terminate an Employee.” When you see the entire interview on FOX it’s apparent that Williams’ remarks were taken and interpreted out of context - as it suited NPR’s purpose. It was equally naive and ill-advised for Williams no matter how he couched his language to go down that path.

While NPR tends to lean left, listeners could always have confidence that Williams even with a mostly liberal perspective would try to honestly and objectively report the news. For many NPR listeners (whatever their political persuasion), a sincere and eloquent Juan Williams was one of the more critical and popular elements of NPR’s news coverage. Williams, then, was a most valuable and critical part of NPR’s attempt at rational, responsible and, yes, balanced reporting. Maybe some folks don’t like Williams, but the so called “378 listener e-mails in 2008 listing complaints and frustrations about Mr. Williams” out of the millions of listeners in that same year seems totally insignificant and, frankly, well below predictable, yea, normal levels. Bottom line is that there is always a segment of our population that’s going to take offense, no matter the intent, or how benign the subject matter.

With William’s firing NPR has finally dropped the charade and publicly admitted that they can be almost as subjective and biased a news organization as FOX - dedicated only to their perspectives and viewpoints. This action begs the question: Why are other unnamed NPR analysts allowed to appear on other networks and offer their mostly liberal and sometimes outrageous perspectives and opinions without any discipline, sanctions or even termination? Methinks there is a double standard?

NPR appears to be the pot calling the kettle black in what is a case of incredible hypocrisy. Were I an analyst, correspondent or commentator on NPR I would question the integrity of an organization that does not value discourse all the while trying to figure out what I could or could not say in any public venue. NPR lost a valuable opportunity here – to sit down with JW and discuss what they considered legitimate concerns. Maybe, just maybe, they might have been able to resolve their difficulties or at least part as Friends.

Ill-advised ultra conservative Republicans have long been trying to cut any federal funding of NPR and PBS and this may just be another convenient trigger to resurrect those efforts. By the reaction of the Republican Right, now itching for a bare knuckled fight, that appears to be a given. I say, so what? If NPR is doing such a bad job I would want to preserve them and hold them up as an example of how not to do business!

John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, told National Review Online that “I think it’s reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers’ money to support a left-wing radio network — and in the wake of Juan Williams’s firing, it’s clearer than ever that’s what NPR is.” While our federal monies do not appear to support the overall news operations of PBS to pull any funding would be as dramatic and negative as NPR’s clumsy and illogical firing of Williams.

Almost as funny as NPR’s knee jerk reaction is the idea that the far right Republicans would rally to the cause of a liberal that some of that ilk are now even calling a ”closet conservative”. Nor do I think that being open minded and receptive to open debate on any issue is the exclusive bastion/domain of Conservatives or Liberals. It gets more ridiculous every day though I guess that I could adopt a more conservative posture for a two million dollar, three year deal.

Now, I consider myself a progressive with sometimes conservative, moderate and liberal perspectives on all issues. I am not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green or a “Yellow Dog” anything and choose to judge each issue/candidate on merit alone. I listen to NPR every day and appreciate much of what they report and the programming they produce. I also watch and listen to the mostly conservative and most times less than objective Fox News Network with the same mindset in order to entertain and educate myself and to cultivate an open personal dialogue with all viewpoints and perspectives. Seems simple

Williams’ firing – while handled very badly – would appear to be within the legitimate rights of any US employer with a strict at will mentality. NPR or at least the upper echelon of NPR management made a decision (and I suspect without the input of their HR gurus) that seems perfectly in line with the mostly divisive and adversarial perspectives that dominate our society today and keeps folks of good faith from openly sharing and debating legitimate opposing viewpoints. Armed with their concerns NPR had the opportunity to forge a positive dialogue with JW though instead took the low road and chose to dwell in the shadows of arrogance and indifference – to their ultimate and continuing detriment. The scary part is that they couldn’t see that coming? NPR and FOX News are diametrically opposed to each other and despite their ideological differences, they are now the same.


Ned Buxton

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