Published March 14, 2011
It just keeps happening. NPR's leadership keeps tripping over its microphone wires and then asking everybody else to plug them back in.
I know everybody thinks I must be in a vindictive mood, celebrating the sudden departure of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller after her hand-picked personal fundraiser was caught on tape disparaging Tea Party activists, Jews and taking more shots at me. I'm human and do have some thoughts but it's okay to keep them to myself.
I will not slander her in the way that she impugned my intellect and my integrity with condescending comments after my firing. She said my comments on Fox News violated journalistic ethics and should have been kept between "him and his psychiatrist or his publicist." Schiller's missteps have been very public and all too visible to the world, allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions about her.
I'm not being vindictive when I say that NPR leadership had become ingrown and arrogant to the point that they lost sight of journalism as the essential product of NPR. People like Schiller and Ellen Weiss, the head of news for NPR, who made it her life's work to fire me, came to think of themselves as smarter than anyone else. They felt no need to answer to any critic. No other point of view had any importance to them. They came to personify anti-intellectual resentment and arrogance in journalism. Any approach at variance with their own was considered traitorous and a basis for exiling them to the Gulag or in my case, firing me.
The recent videotape showing NPR chief fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller) is just an open microphone on what I've been hearing from NPR top executives and editors for years. They are willing to do anything in service to any liberal with money and then they will turn around and in self-righteous indignation claim that they have cleaner hands than anybody in the news business who accepts advertising or expresses a point of view.
Ron Schiller's performance on videotape -- which included lecturing two young men pretending to be Muslims on how to select wine -- is a "South Park" worthy caricature of the American liberal as an effete, Volvo-driving, wine-sipping, NPR-listening dunderhead.
The work of NPR's many outstanding journalists is barely an afterthought to leadership with this mindset and obsessed with funding. NPR has many, very good journalists. But they are caught in a game where they are trying to please a leadership that doesn't want to hear stories that contradict the official point of view. I'm not just talking about conservatives but also the far-left, the poor, anybody who didn't fit into leadership's design of NPR as the official voice of comfortable, liberal-leaning upper-income America.
This just confirms my belief that it is time for our government to get out of the business of funding NPR. NPR's management had been wanting to not only maintain current funding but expand the network to create a much larger BCC-style institution in the United States. The idea to me of government-funded media doesn't fit the United States. No matter the good intentions about protecting journalists from the excesses of the marketplace such as sensationalism and the dominance of entertainment news, journalists should not be doing news to please any party or any elected official -- out of fear of losing funding. And the tremendous variety of sources for news -- in print, broadcast, on the radio and on the Internet, does not suggest that there's any reason for the U.S. government to make a priority of supporting NPR while cutting funding for school breakfast programs or college scholarships.
The New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News may have budget struggles but they do fine journalism while accepting advertising. Over the last several years, NPR's leadership had become so obsessed with the money issue, as evidenced by Ron Schiller's behavior, that it had started to corrupt the news gathering process because non-profit fundraising has devolved into an underworld cesspool.
The result is that NPR's leadership under the likes of Weiss and the two Schillers has been diminishing their own brand. They created an anti-intellectual environment that took delight and pride in censoring journalists like me for honestly admitting that people dressed in Muslim garb make me nervous at airports. They had lost slight of promoting debates and providing information that is essential for people who want to be well-informed as citizens of a thriving democracy.
I am still insulted when I hear Ron Schiller, no doubt reflecting his boss Vivian Schiller, still making the case that my firing as a good thing, it was just handled badly. This was not a process problem. I said nothing, I violated no journalistic standard that should have resulted in me being fired. It's only in the very small world and small thinking of NPR's leadership that appearing on Fox News Channel and speaking about a feeling in the context of a larger debate somehow makes for a bad journalist who needs to be muzzled.
My hope is that the great journalists who are at NPR will carry on and that the NPR audience will support them, especially at the level of local member stations where in many places NPR is a community treasure. Those stations often provide coverage that is hard to find as local newspaper and TV coverage declines due to economic pressures.
So, I'm still an NPR fan, but I'm no fan of the self-serving, self-righteous thinking that is at the top level of NPR in Washington and that has corrupted a once great brand.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. Click here to read his recent five part piece for Fox News Opinion on "The Children of Juarez" His most recent book is "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It."