I stopped listening to NPR several years ago. This was mostly because after the World Trade Center came down I couldn’t receive the signal in my home for a long time — the main signal came from the top of one of the towers — and I got out of the habit of listening to the radio when I’m home or driving anywhere.
So, while I’ve heard much bellyaching from NPR listeners about Juan Williams and Mara Liasson, I can’t say I have an opinion about what they do on NPR, because I haven’t heard it myself. However, I have come across Williams in other venues, mostly newspaper op eds, so I am familiar with his perspective. Liasson I have so far managed to avoid.
My impression is that Williams and Liasson were hired at NPR as part of an “affirmative action” for righties program. Nobody expected them to be any good, but at least NPR could point to them and say NPR doesn’t just hire liberals.
I’ve read the comments Williams made that allegedly got him fired. They’re stupid, but then so is the other commentary I’ve ever bumped into by Williams. So I’m actually a bit surprised NPR decided to react to this bit of drivel, when they’ve ignored so much other drivel over the years. I wonder if there isn’t more to the story than we’re being told. Like maybe NPR had already made up its mind to fire him and was just waiting for an excuse to break his contract.
As Matt Yglesias says, “If Williams had never made these remarks about Muslims and NPR announced his firing this morning on the grounds of general lameness and lack of valuable contribution to their programming, I would have applauded the move so Iâ€™m hardly going to deplore what actually happened.”
I notice that many of the same right-wing bloggers who cheered when Helen Thomas was fired for saying something stupid about Jews, and who crucified David Weigel for opinions he expressed on a bleeping private listserv, are now screaming that Juan Williams is being deprived of his right to free speech. Standard hypocrisy noted.
But the fact is that journalists or commentators who are associated with a media outlet do have to be careful about expressing personal opinions in public, as Thomas and Weigel learned (and Weigel’s remarks weren’t supposed to be public) because those opinions call their objectivity into question and make their employers look bad. And, right or wrong, that’s how it is.
That said, Williams’s remarks by themselves don’t seem to add up to that much, so by themselves I don’t think they add up to a firing offense. Which, again, makes me suspect the remarks weren’t the real reason he was fired. But NPR doesn’t consult with me on these matters, so I’m only guessing.
Juan Williamsâ€™ firing did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in the context of him having been the official Fox News
lawn jockeystooge for years. Hereâ€™s the NPR ombudsman 18 months ago expressing concerns about Williamsâ€™ appearances on Fox, for example. Williamsâ€™ appearances on Fox clearly violated NPRâ€™s guidelines for its employees.