by John Dankosky – On a recent flight to Denver, I struck up conversation with an airline employee who asked about my business there. When I mentioned public radio, the first thing I heard was, “I love Juan Williams.” The employee knew the long-time NPR analyst from his work on the Fox News program, “The O’Reilly Factor.” Other that this connection, I could tell…he was not a fan of public radio.
That relationship got Williams – and NPR – introduced to a lot of people who view Fox as their main source for news. It’s also what got him kicked off the network. Here’s the comment in question: O’Reilly asked Williams to talk about the idea that the U.S. is facing a dilemma with Muslims.
Williams responded: “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.”
According to NPR, this statement violated a key section of the network’s ethics code: “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.”
But this isn’t a case of “one strike and you’re out.” According to the memo released by Vivian Schiller, President and CEO of NPR, “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.”
This is similar to what NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard told me when she appeared on Where We Live September 7th. She said that both Williams and National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson have been in violation of this policy on other occasions, and have been asked by NPR to reconsider their work as analysts on Fox. According to Shepard, Liasson told NPR “she believes she’s entitled to go on there (Fox).”
“I think it absolutely creates a perception problem,” Shepard said of Williams’ 50/50 role with the two networks. “I feel that, in an ideal world, Juan Williams would choose one or another,” she told me.
Shepard said that, at times, the ongoing controversy over Williams’ role on Fox has made her feel like the “Ombudsman for Fox News.”
The content of Williams’ statement notwithstanding, the continued presence of the two NPR veterans on Fox presents another perception problem for NPR: That it’s being used by the unabashedly conservative Fox network to “balance” its ranks of commentators. Now, with Williams’ dismissal, that problem (partially) dissolves. It’s replaced by this:
Please know that I and my extended network of family and friends will not give a dime to NPR until Vivian Schiller has formally apologized to Juan Williams and is gone from the network.
I wanted to think that NPR is an organization that is not afraid to present different ponts of view on the stories that it produces. With the firing of Juan Williams for expressing a point of view that I too hold is totally out of order.
Just want to say that while I have made contributions to NPR in the past, I will no longer, having heard that Juan Williams was terminated for expressing an honest common-sense opinion.
Those are just three of many comments I’ve gotten from angry listeners about the way NPR has handled the situation. What do you think? Let me know in the comments section below.