Guest post by Jazz from The H2.
Unlikely anyone at this site hasn’t heard, but NPR fired Juan Williams last night.
NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel. . . .
The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”
Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.
He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” . . .
NPR said in its statement that the remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
I would normally preen over this news with glee; I find Juan Williams to be obtuse and tedious, even if he is occasionally on the right side of an issue, and I generally embrace every opportunity to throw stones at our liberal betters. But this is different – he actually IS on the right side of this issue, and NPR’s persecution of him is duplicitous and shameful.
“[I]nconsistent with our editorial standards and practices” is an interesting turn of phrase. Let’s briefly look at some of those editorial standards and practices.The Gwen Ifill SickGwen Ifill moderated the vice-presidential debate between candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin on October 2, 2008. The Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) vetted Ms. Ifill for the role. When she was chosen as moderator, Ms. Ifill was completing a book entitled “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” which she failed to disclose to the CPD. Ifill had a monetary interest in the outcome of the election, and her failure to disclose would seem to be a rather substantial ethical breach. Not only did she fail to disclose to the CPD, but she casually brushed aside questions of her impartiality and never disclosed the book before or during the debate itself. Like Williams’ Fox News gig, the debate was not an NPR-affiliated event, yet Williams was sanctioned for merely expressing his opinion while Ifill wasn’t, even though she concealed a conflict of interest. Evidently, concealing conflicts of interest do not violate NPR editorial standards and practices.
Terry Grossly PartisanIn 2003, Terry Gross, host of NPR’s “Hot Air,” interviewed Al Franken about his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, which is devoted in part to assailing Bill O’Reilly’s credibility and conservative opinions. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Gross interviewed Bill-O. Gross’ O’Reilly interview spawned an influx of reader feedback to Jeffrey Dvorkin, the NPR Ombudsman. Mr. Dvorkin’s response to reader concerns included this gem:
I believe the listeners were not well served by this interview. It may have illustrated the “cultural wars” that seem to be flaring in the country. Unfortunately, the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR’s liberal media bias.
(Emphasis added.) Unlike Williams’ Fox News gig, Terry Gross was actually working for NPR when she engaged in blatantly partisan reportage, yet Williams was sanctioned, and Gross? Gross endured no public reprimands, no disciplinary action, no consequences whatsoever. Evidently, engaging in partisan reporting under the guise of objectivity does not violate NPR editorial standards and practices.Nina Totenberg Lettuce HeadOn July 8, 1995, National Public Radio and ABC News reporter Nina Totenberg reacted to Senator Jesse Helms’ claim that the government spends too much on AIDS research with this quote on Inside Washington:
Inside Washington host Tina Gulland: “I don’t think I have any Jesse Helms defenders here. Nina?”Nina Totenberg: “Not me, I think he ought to be worried about what’s going on in the Good Lord’s mind, because if there is retributive justice, he’ll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.”
(See also here.) Evidently, wishing torturous death on a sitting US Senator does not violate NPR editorial standards and practices.
NPR’s Eminently Transparent Editorial Standards and PracticesSo what are the NPR editorial standards and practices? Well, when you Google “NPR editorial standards and practices,” Google doesn’t really return any info other than Juan Williams’ firing. I was, however, able to locate NPR’s Ethics Code. It’s a rather amorphous lot of relativistic dreck, but there appear to be a couple of portions that may influence editorial policy. Section III of the NPR Ethics Code:
Our coverage must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest. At NPR we are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves no question about our independence and fairness. We must treat the people we cover and our audience with respect.
“Fair” means that we present all important views on a subject. . . . [A]t all times the commitment to presenting all important views must be conscious and affirmative, and it must be timely if it is being accomplished over the course of more than one story. . . .
“Unbiased” means that we separate our personal opinions – such as an individual’s religious beliefs or political ideology – from the subjects we are covering. We do not approach any coverage with overt or hidden agendas.
“Accurate” means that each day we make rigorous efforts at all levels of the newsgathering and programming process to ensure our facts are not only accurate but also presented in the correct context. . . .
“Honest” means we do not deceive the people or institutions we cover about our identity or intentions, and we do not deceive our listeners. . . . Honesty also means owning up publicly and quickly to mistakes we make on air or online.
“Respect” means treating the people we cover and our audience with respect by approaching subjects in an open-minded, sensitive and civil way and by recognizing the diversity of the country and world on which we report, and the diversity of interests, attitudes and experiences of our audience.
One could legitimately dispute whether Section III would actually apply to Williams in the context of Fox News, but I included the bulk of the section for perspective. Williams wasn’t covering anything for NPR, but I expect that NPR would argue that the general principles espoused in Section III should be adapted to whatever extent possible for any situation in which an NPR reporter finds himself.
In relation to the present situation, the most applicable precept of Section III would be “Respect.” Did Juan Williams treat Muslims in an open-minded, sensitive and civil way during his O’Reilly appearance? He expressed a rational fear. He did not denigrate or cast aspersions on Muslims. He engaged in a discussion that included give and take, and didn’t engage in rhetoric designed to foment discontent. Williams was exceptionally civil, he was not insensitive, and was open to discussion. NPR would be hard-pressed to find Williams in violation of its standard of respect.
A later section of the NPR Ethics Code addressed media appearances. Section V. of the Code states:
9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Senior Vice President for News, or their designee, to appear on TV or other media. . . . Approval will not be unreasonably denied if the proposed work will not discredit NPR, conflict with NPR’s interests, create a conflict of interest for the employee or interfere with the employee’s ability to perform NPR duties. . . . It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
Note that, under section V.9., Williams was required to obtain NPR permission to appear on the O’Reilly program. While section V.10. arguably could restrict Williams from participating on The Factor (“[NPR journalists] should not participate in shows . . . that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis”), one would have to have his head buried in the sand not to know what O’Reilly is all about. The imprimatur on Williams’ O’Reilly appearance effectively excuses compliance with the punditry prohibition. Moreover, what exactly was Williams role at NPR? He was a news analyst, i.e., a pundit. NPR’s ostensible prohibition on punditry hardly makes sense when applied to Williams.
As to the behavioral guidelines of V.10., could NPR set a more subjective standard? Williams “should not express views [he] would not air in [his] role as an NPR journalist”? The clarity set forth is slightly more opaque than mud. For all intents and purposes, the NPR Ethics Code gave Williams no guidance on opinions he was allowed to or prohibited from voicing.
NPR should publish its editorial standards and practices publicly, not only so that its employees know what is expected of them, but so that the public can compare NPR’s product with the label. As the situation stands, there is a substantial question of the organization’s impartiality, and the network appears mired in political correctness, which is nothing more than liberal mental masturbation. Millions of the public’s dollars have been sacrificed at the NPR altar, and they’ve now tried to make Williams a blood sacrifice. It’s time for this travesty to end.
UPDATENPR CEO Vivian Schiller justified Williams firing in an e-mail today:
“A critical distinction has been lost in this debate. NPR News analysts have a distinctive role and set of responsibilities. This is a very different role than that of a commentator or columnist. 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. As you all well know, 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.
“Second, this isn’t the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments. Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan has continued to violate this principal.
“Third, these specific comments (and others made in the past), are inconsistent with NPR’s ethics code, which applies to all journalists (including contracted analysts): ‘In appearing on TV or other media. … NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows … that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”
“More fundamentally, ‘In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.’
“Unfortunately, Juan’s comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.”
I addressed #3 specifically, but point one is easily disposed of. I have knowledge of only one instance relating to point 2 (Williams caused an uproar when he referred to Michelle Obama as “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress” – HAHAHAHAHAHAAH!), and it amused me, so he’s off the hook there with me.
UPDATE IIThe Atlanta Journal Constitution conveniently had an interview with Vivian Schiller scheduled for today. Check it out for more information straight from the horse’s ass.