Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Juan Williams versus National Public Radio

What is National Public Radio? A media outlet for pinko commie reds, or what?
Actually, no. People who think that might be surprised to learn that it's a product of the Richard Nixon presidency. No doubt Nixon was influenced by the noted liberal thinker Daniel Patrick Moynihan; but we may take it for granted that if Nixon thought NPR was a good idea there were no pinko commie reds in the offing, nor did he think there was a chance there ever would be. Whatever you may think of President Nixon, he was not exactly an encourager of Marxists and others of that ilk.
Today NPR is a refuge for millions of Americans who love unusual kinds of music--jazz to opera and beyond--and of course what we firmly believe to be the most detailed and straightforward news anywhere. (Not that it doesn't have flaws. I find myself questioning what I perceive to be an Arab bias in its coverage of the Arab-Israeli situation, for example. But that, alas, is shared by all too many "mainstream" news organizations--and most of the others are, in my view, far worse.)
Who are NPR listeners? Pointy-headed intellectuals? I am sure we have many of them. We also have students, senior citizens, truck drivers, and just about any other type of person who happens to tune to a public radio station. We are an elite that anyone can join. And many of us pay to help support our radio habit. It is largely because of the (sometimes fierce) determination of NPR listeners that the enterprise survives. We give, and we advocate.
On the other hand, take the Fox network, media capital of the land of Great Right-Wingia, home to the likes of Glenn Beck. For many of us, and not just NPR listeners, this is the antithesis of NPR. I think of it as a place where truth is always the first casualty.
So, when--several months ago--I learned that senior NPR news analyst Juan Williams also worked for Fox News, it came as a shock. I even wrote to NPR about it; and I got an answer from Williams that, I must admit, I was too afraid to open. But I continued to believe that Jesus was right--nobody can serve two masters. Sooner or later something would happen to change matters. And it did--with a suddenness that almost stunned me.
I immediately saw problems. NPR's reaction seemed like entirely too much for the immediate offense. Williams is alleged to have admitted that he got tense when he saw a passenger in Moslem costume on a plane. Millions of us, without being bigots, probably would have the same reaction. We would not have had it before sunset on 9/10/2001; but we certainly would have felt it--and in many cases still do--after the late morning of 9/11. We have been badly shaken, and nothing reassuring enough to restore our confidence has yet happened.
So this one statement should not have been fatal to Juan Williams' NPR career, especially coupled with the disclaimers he made. But it seems that this episode was only one of many. Perhaps the most offensive that I have heard of was a slap at Michelle Obama, who he seems to have said resembled Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. (I heard the entire quote twice, but did not catch it either time; so I am only approximating.)
I believe the best way to have handled the matter would have been one that did not attract the fire of the likes of Sara "Railin'" Palin. Something like a quiet conference which left Mr. Williams with the choice of NPR or Fox.
Well, it didn't happen that way. It has made some trouble that would better have been avoided. But I remain a stalwart fan of NPR, and will help it in any way I can. Just because something isn't perfect doesn't mean it isn't very good.

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