So says Michael Barone in a must-read analysis of the firing of Juan Williams. But don’t take his word for it, because NPR’s omsbud says essentially the same thing in NPR’s defense. First, let’s start with conservative analyst Barone, a long-time friend of Williams and also a Fox News contributor:
I’ve known Juan Williams for 28 years. In 1982, when I joined the Washington Post’s editorial page staff, I took over what had been Juan’s office and his telephone number, as he was moving from the editorial side of the paper back to the news side. In the preceding weeks, Juan had been working on stories about prostitution in Washington, and during the first several weeks I received some pretty weird telephone calls—something we’ve laughed about ever since. Over the years I’ve admired Juan’s journalism and his excellent books—a history of the civil rights movement, a biography of Justice Thurgood Marshall. Most of all I admired him for writing Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It, which I think was a national service—and one that exposed him to a lot of criticism. He has faced all that with steadiness which is apparent in his angry but measured response to his firing today.
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.
The right-wing intolerants of Fox News’ audience didn’t complain as much about an explicitly liberal commentator on Fox as the tolerant, diverse audience at NPR did? Barone has to be joking, right? Not according to NPR, where omsbud Alicia Shepard tried claiming that Williams had been the radio network’s biggest problem for years:
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.
So …. it’s safe to say that Williams’ appearances on NPR weren’t a problem at all. NPR’s entire problem with Williams is that he shared his liberal perspective with the supposedly intolerant right-wing audience at Fox News, where people enjoyed an actual debate. It’s also pretty clear that NPR was looking for a reason to cut Williams, and leaped at what appeared on the surface to be their best opportunity without actually watching the whole clip and hearing the context of Williams’ remarks, which actually argued against the point of what Bill O’Reilly was making.
And so we have the rather amusing, if destructive, spectacle of a radio network casting out a true believer solely because he dared to take the faith outside the chosen circle. NPR insists that it hosts the most diverse forums for political debate, but based on their own actions, they’re not interested in diversity or even debate. Rather than relish having a liberal point of view presented in what they see as a conservative forum, they prefer to keep their liberal point of view within the compound — and so do their listeners.
For another perspective on this, Sean Hannity welcomed Dana Perino and Bob Beckel onto his show last night to discuss NPR’s treatment of Williams. Will Beckel become persona non grata at NPR after admitting to the same uneasiness that Williams disclosed, and for which NPR fired their eleven-year correspondent?