In the fury of the firing of Juan Williams much of the tenor of what is happening at NPR is being overlooked. His firing is completely outrageous but it is a symptom of a larger problem at the news organization.
NPR is saying that Juan Williams crossed a line with his opinion. I have been covering The White House since 1993, and I have heard plenty of opinion. Most of it has not made it into print or on air, but journalists are human and they have opinions, hopes and fears. Most consumers of news, I think, would rather know the viewpoint of who is delivering the news rather than a “let’s pretend”-game of being objective. When training interns, I tell them it is not what is in the story but it is what the journalist left out that shows real bias.
Juan was giving a personal viewpoint, one that is, like it or not, shared by many Americans. Personal rights and viewpoints have no place at NPR. In fact, their control of staff goes beyond anything I have heard of in the nineteen years I have been in the news-gathering business. Last week NPR issued a directive that NPR staff members could not attend the Oct. 30th Colbert-Stewart Comedy Central rally on the mall.
It is fully understandable that NPR would decide which staff members they would like to cover the rally. It is fully understandable that NPR might make a decision not to cover the rally. It is fully understandable that NPR would decide not to have employees attend a rally on company time. However, to direct an employee not to go to the mall, not to observe the event, not to be at a public place on their personal time is purely the work of a news agency aimed at controlling their employees. That kind of control is what takes place in one party, dictatorship countries, not the United States of America.
NPR CEO Vivian Schiller’s true colors showed through during a speech she was making where she said that Juan’s feelings about Muslims should be between his psychiatrist or his publicist. She later apologized for the remark, but it gave a huge insight into Ms. Schiller’s personality. It is a personality that wants complete control not only of the news product but also of the people working at NPR.
People accuse Fox News Channel of all sorts of things. I’ve worked for Fox as a contributor since 1997, and as a liberal I found a wonderful home for my viewpoints. It’s too bad that NPR has become a top down, controlling news organization where all have to fall in line. NPR should just call itself National Politburo Radio. It operates like one.
Ellen Ratner is Washington bureau chief for Talk Radio News Service and a Fox News contributor.