I appeared on the public-radio program On Point this week with National Public Radio ombudsman, Alicia Shepherd, and listened to her defend NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. NPR, the listener is invited to conclude, has no bias, but Juan Williams, a liberal with occasionally heterodox views, is too conservative for NPR.
Ms. Shepherd was in an impossible position and seemed to know it. Right out of the box, she acknowledged that the “manner” of Williams’s firing — a phone call with no face-to-face discussion permitted — was wrong. The actual termination, she went on to assert, was completely justified. It wasn’t just what Juan Williams said on The O’Reilly Factor but a “pattern” of comments over the years. This was the “last straw.”
But Mr. Williams’s comments were not a “straw” at all. He was acknowledging a feeling that is universal and not irrational in light of scores of attacks (accomplished and attempted) over the past several decades. Williams introduced his comments (which included a caution against regarding all Muslims as potential terrorists) with the warning that “political correctness” can “lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.” To maintain, as NPR does, that this was beyond the pale of civilized discussion amounts to authoritarianism — and completely lives down to Juan Williams’s prediction.
Challenged to identify the other departures from NPR standards of which Williams was guilty — any employer who terminates someone should have a file — Shepherd promised that those would be forthcoming. In the meantime, she could assure listeners that Williams’s offending comments were inconsistent with (wait for it) NPR’s “impartiality” and “neutrality.” NPR and Fox News are “two different worlds,” she continued, the former representing the dispassionate search for truth and the latter representing “yelling” and extreme partisanship.
Yes, they really are that parochial. Vivian Schiller, NPR’s CEO, betrayed the surpassing arrogance of the subsidized by suggesting, after peremptorily canning Williams, that he discuss his feelings with “his psychiatrist or his publicist.” Ah, the dispassionate search for truth!
Schiller later felt constrained to apologize, saying “I stand by my decision to end NPR’s relationship with Juan Williams but deeply regret the way I handled and explained it.”
Well, okay, we’ve known for decades that the liberals who run major networks, universities, foundations, and newspapers do not recognize their own tendentiousness. Diane Rehm and Terry Gross and Garrison Keillor and Nina Totenberg and Daniel Schorr are down-the-middle moderates, whereas you are a right-wing ideologue. (I have complained in the past, after appearing on NPR programs, that I was labeled a “conservative columnist” whereas my fellow guests, liberals all, went unlabeled.) But something is afoot this time that is new.