I’m watching Fox News right now as Bill O’Reilly is threatening National Public Radio (NPR), his words; “NPR will rue the day”. This is all in response to the firing of Juan Williams, a NPR political analyst who has been with NPR for 10 years. Williams spends a lot of time on Fox News, as a matter of fact, he got fired for something he said on Fox News Monday night on O’Reilly‘s show. It appears his joblessness will be short-lived, he was fired on Wednesday and Friday he will be pitch-hitting for O’Reilly on his show on Friday while O’Reilly is “on assignment”.
On Fox News this week Williams stated “I mean, look Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kinds of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But, when I get on a 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.”
This is the statement that evidently got the firing ball rolling but it seems to have been a long time coming. According to O’Reilly on his Thursday night show, Williams was told in 2009 by NPR that it did not want him to be identified with Fox News and did not want him stating that he was an NPR analyst when on Fox news. I understand the views of NPR on that issue, but I don’t understand why they did not go to Williams much sooner and tell him; Look, It’s us or Fox, take your pick. Be an opinion giver or a journalist.
I always thought it was weird to see Williams on Fox News which is more or less the opposite of everything NPR stands for but I thought maybe he was a free agent and didn’t have an NPR contract. I was wrong, he had one. I was in the news business at a time when a more definitive line was drawn in the sand regarding opinion and news. Today in the news, it’s hard to tell. A true journalist is not an analyst, or a commentator, or a pundit or whatever other names the media can come up with to cloud the issue. A journalist (sometimes called a reporter) is supposed to report the news in the most unbiased way possible and let the chips fall where they may. It is then supposed to be up to the public to form their own opinion after receiving all the facts.
While I don’t think any NPR journalist should be masquerading as a Fox pundit, it is hard in today’s world to even utter the word Muslim without all hell breaking loose. I don’t think Williams meant to be insensitive but he was. TV cameras thrown into our faces tend to make us think that our feelings and opinions must be important. But if you are a journalist, they are not.
NPR is going to feel the shock waves of this more than they can ever imagine. While I don’t agree that Williams could have continued to play both sides against the middle, his NPR bosses fired the guy over the phone without even a face to face encounter. He will now get to blast NPR all over cable news and has already garnered the sympathy of many. “All Things Considered,” NPR better round-up their troops for some stellar PR moves and the first priority should be to tell NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller , to find someone to help her tone down her terse and foolish on-air statements. Or better yet, let her keep blabbing and lose more public and privately funded money.