A mostly left, feminist perspective of current events.

Monday, October 25, 2010

NPR and the politics of fear

I admit I haven't listened to NPR news in a while; since moving to Minnesota I've greatly enjoyed listening to their Current radio station that mostly pays a mix of indie bands or other less than popular musicians. But I have always respected their news programs as balanced, well-done and of the highest ethical standard. What has happened to Juan Williams is lamentable, but has not changed my opinion of NPR.

On October 21, 2010, NPR terminated Juan Williams' contract after the remarks he made on a FOX news program. I honestly don't understand how he was allowed to be a part of that news program in the first place. It seems an obvious conflict of interest to me, but admittedly I do not know very much about how journalism or news stations run. Maybe it's an incestuous world of corporate owners, and no one higher up really minded?

Politico has this Juan Williams' comment, "Look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality." As a journalist, his comments seem a bit naive to me. It's not like he hadn't been at NPR ten years, and couldn't have guessed how they would react to such statements regarding a blanket fear of Muslims. I agree with the NPR ombudswoman Alicia Shepard who compared his statements against Muslims to another race saying, "But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see an African American male in Dashiki with a big Afro, I get worried. I get nervous." You just don't say things like that when it's your job to be unbiased and without prejudice.

The NY Times also did an article describing how NPR's Shepard stated "she had received 378 listener e-mails in 2008 listing complaints and frustrations about Mr. Williams." They also quote Shepard's piece where she said that Williams tended to show one face to NPR and another to FOX. Maybe it was just time for a change? As Williams has been given a highly lucrative position at FOX, I doubt he's too upset. And his confusion over whether Muslims are terrorists by default should fit right in. I also disagree with this Slate piece that says acknowledging your fear of a large group of innocent people on national television is the best way to transcend your fears. Wrong. The best way to transcend irrational fears is to look them in the eye for what they are: irrational. Then move on. And that's not proclaiming to "merely hold consciously egalitarian views." No one is perfect; no liberal is claiming to be a saint. Suggesting otherwise is just silly.

Huffington Post has a similar take from Mark Green who says Williams should have been given a choice to stay at NPR and shape-up, or go to FOX where his more opinion-based commentary would be acceptable. I especially agree with his comment on "William's [writing] in the New York Post after his firing that the events were 'a chilling assault on free speech.' This is a Christine O'Donnell-level misunderstanding of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from enacting any law limiting speech. So everyone has a right to free speech but everyone does not have a right to an on-air job at NPR. That's up to them and them alone."  If you're interested in some further misinterpretations of free speech and the whole affair by conservatives, I suggest taking a look at the NY Magazine Daily Intel piece.

More on Juan Williams' Firing
An hour by hour breakdown from NPR
NPR CEO Apologizes For Handling Of Williams' Termination

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