NPR Should Have Let Juan Williams Go Years Ago

by Abe Sauer


Juan Williams had been warned. The move by NPR to terminate the contract of news analyst Williams has thrown the usual suspects into the expected histrionics of victimization. Karl Rove managed to keep a straight face when he went on Fox News and exclaimed “Shame on NPR” while actually wagging his finger. That Williams hasn’t been challenged to specify what he meant by “Muslim garb” is just another journalistic failing in a human centipede of journalistic failings around this story. Williams’ fear of Muslims (since overcome or not) as terrorists is not the problem; it’s that he thinks he can easily identify “Muslim garb.” (Anyway, as The LA Times’ Meghan Daum pointed out, “Personally, when I see Muslim garb on an airplane I feel LESS nervous. The 9/11 hijackers were wearing Dockers.”) Williams’ real problem is that he made these comments on Fox News. For those appearances alone, his contract should have lapsed years ago.

Williams seems to have sorely misunderstood his role at Fox News. Williams probably believes he was a contributor to real political discourse. More likely, Fox needed him to merely to show up and be African American, making doubly sure to identify himself as an NPR host (something NPR asked him to stop doing in 2009 after he went on O’Reilly and said Michelle Obama was “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress”). Having an African American NPR host on Fox allowed the news leader to maintain lip-service to its “Fair and Balanced” branding. For another excellent example of how people get used, see gay former Clinton White House advisor Richard Socarides — now a Fox News contributor.

Displaying a weird lack of self-awareness, Williams complained to Bill O’Reilly, “I don’t fit in their box. I’m not a predictable, black liberal,” and then went on to call NPR’s management “vindictive.”

Juan needs only worry about fitting into one box now. Fox News immediately snatched up Williams, signing the star to a $2-million deal and freeing him to never again have to cleverly craft his bigotry ever again. I’m sure the Fox viewers are excited to hear Williams speak about his areas of expertise, such as the struggles faced by the Washington DC public schools and his history of America’s Civil Rights Years. Although, Williams’ essay comparing his departure from NPR to “ being sent to the gulag” shows he might just have what it takes after all.

So as for his claim that NPR fired him because “I appear on Fox” — he’s right, or at least he should be. NPR, and any other news organizations that want to maintain their legacy as institutions of respectable journalism, should institute policies immediately that terminate the employment of any person under their umbrella that appears on Fox News. Fox only invites on guests that produce a veneer of impartiality. Without these sad dupes and willing accomplices, even Fox News would have a difficult time convincing its echo-chamber-partial viewers that they were watching real news.

Fox News itself has thrown (clean?) coal in the propaganda machine, accusing NPR of everything from the legitimate (Andrei Codrescu) to the absurd “National Palestine Radio.

And now come the threats to terminate NPR’s government funding. NPR should respond by telling the blowhards to bring it on. Federal funding makes up about 2 percent of NPR’s budget. Even by the most extreme maximum estimates, including indirect sources, less than 10 percent of NPR’s annual budget is from the kind of federal funding its enemies like to say it depends on. Losing that (still-valuable) 10 percent might be worth finally being rid of the “publicly funded” albatross that has plagued the NPR brand.

It’s also possible that the anti-NPR activists are underestimating the number and devotion of NPR’s fans. Keep in mind, O’Reilly may pull just over 3 million viewers a show, but Prairie Home Companion bests that by a million. Even Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me has as many listeners as Bill has viewers. Recently, O’Reilly’s audience surged to over 4 million following the hissy fit on “The View.” That’s a regular week for Car Talk, listened to and loved by 4.4 million. Even gratingly twee This American Life (1.7 million) pulls just about the same numbers as Fox News superstar Glenn Beck.

One of the leaders of a proposal taking away NPR’s federal allowance is Jim DeMint. DeMint, it seems, has proposed cutting a number of other things during his political tenure. The Republican Senator from South Carolina has proposed that openly gay Americans should be barred from teaching in public schools. DeMint has also proposed cutting teaching jobs for single mothers who live with men out of wedlock. Another proposed cut by DeMint? Access to adoption for gay couples. What a political legacy Mr. DeMint is constructing, opposing teachers, adoptive parents and The News from Lake Wobegon.

Air America and such “liberal” answers to right-wing radio and TV news have failed in part because that media outlet has always existed in NPR and its local public radio members. But the programming found there isn’t a “liberal” answer to right-wing outlets, it’s a intelligent and reasonable answer. It’s just that in the vacuum of sense represented by nearly every single other news source in modern America, that may seem “progressive.”

Abe Sauer listens to the radio and watches TV.