Juan Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The canning of “analyst” Juan Williams by NPR over his comments on Cluster Fox News has created a firestorm of conservative protest, as well as no small amount of consternation among radio activists — who are not altogether opposed to the Republican call to de-fund the organization. Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin make very strange bedfellows, after all. As reported here, in a post called “The CPB: Bull in the China Shop,” and again here, in a post entitled “All Things Beggared,” and in numerous other posts, the influence of Corporation for Public Broadcasting largesse has had a deleterious effect on local public radio stations, which are more often the beneficiaries of the beneficence — as long as the money is used as directed. Therein lies the rub, as money snatched from local hands is poured into junk HD channels (40 percent of those nationwide are run by public radio stations), pumped-up local news organizations à la Project Argo, and the like at the behest of the CPB and NPR and its lab.

Moreover, as often mentioned herein, NPR has all too often appeared to be drifting to the right — contrary to its claim of consummate objectivity and diametrically opposed to the “liberal media” claptrap of the far right. The genius of the Republican party over the past decades has been its ability to control the agenda, define the talking points, outflank the opposition with its “death” panels, “death” taxes, and more (subsidized, now, by the anonymous industry barons they rail against in their evangelistic fervor directed at the masses). The “liberal media” sobriquet has long been a bad joke among those left of center.

But it is indeed interesting to hear that NPR has been inundated with protest emails and calls, to the extent that its overworked server crashed in the onslaught. So all these conservatives actually listen to this radical radio? Not entirely likely.

The story has appeared on all the networks and in the papers. The Washington Post website had this to say about it:

However poorly NPR handled the Williams incident, the notion that NPR is “left wing” is ridiculous. Williams’ presence on the network is emblematic of the network’s milquetoast approach to political analysis. The reason Williams was let go wasn’t because of the all powerful left, but because NPR is so concerned with the perception of bias that it didn’t want one of its analysts associated with a network that works as a staging ground for Republican presidential hopefuls. NPR’s commitment to a contrived form of journalistic objectivity may be counterproductive from the point of view of informing its audience, but there’s no question that even prior to this incident Williams’ appearances on FOX went against NPR’s code of ethics, which advises employees to “not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.”

And in the comments section, readers had more to add:

I have to say that 1) Williams’ remarks were not isolated, but rather illustrate a pattern that goes back almost 20 years, 2) Williams’ remarks did not represent the standards of practice of NPR, and so Williams undermines his employers, and 3) Williams is gonna be just fine without NPR . . . and NPR will be fine without him. There is a difference between “milquetoast” and “choosing not to insert personal viewpoints” . . . and what’s more, Williams failed to address the epidemic of hate speech coming from Fox News and thereby failed to stand up for justice for an oppressed group. So, Williams didn’t break some rule of journalism. He broke a rule of NPR News. Time for both to part ways.

Or this:

I think the arguments from the right are, as usual, canards drifting away from the salient issue in Williams firing.

He was really, really bad as a political commentator at NPR (wimpy as they are). He sucked as a replacement for Ray Suarez on “Talk of the Nation” and he has remained a very unimpressive paperweight since. NPR can certainly find better, more coherent and incisive commentators. Williams is content to play a Colmes-type role at Fox in an illusion so let him. If he is more comfortable in the entertainment business, fine. But please, don’t fall for the conflation that Fox burps out.


Juan Williams today called for NPR to stop taking Government funds. He says they are on the dole. Juan got religion on that issue, on the day after he was taken off the dole. Up until then, he had no problems with it.


NPR has the very same right to determine who gets to speak on air, as Rush Limbaugh does. He screens the calls, and decides who he will let speak, and not speak. Furthermore, NPR has not done anything to stop Juan Williams from speaking. All they have done is decided to stop paying him for saying stuff on their broadcasts. Juan was not engaging in free speech on NPR. He was being paid by them. He was engaging in Fee, not Free Speech.

Be that as it may, the whole imbroglio has turned attention to a subject that has long passed under the radar: the funding of the CPB and the CPB’s effect on local “public” radio. The righteous indignation on the right now is more than a bit contrived, in our point of view, given the fact that bunches of emails have been sent to various Republican congress members concerning CPB funding — including Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison — and to date, not one has replied. They’ve found religion over Juan Williams going cuckoo?

We would encourage everybody energized by the threat to local radio to follow the link on the left entitled “What Can I Do?” Therein you’ll find the arguments as they should be presented to congress. Add your voice and interpretation to help penetrate the babble, but above all, strike while the iron is hot. If nothing else is accomplished, any “public” station that receives taxpayer funding should be required by law to give full financial disclosure. The fact that many of our public stations — particularly those run under the auspices of universities, which entail 63 percent of public radio stations — can hide their improvidence behind state laws smacks all too much of a politics bought and sold on the market to clandestine operators. Let’s put the “public” back in public radio.


2 Responses

  1. My question is how can we keep Public Radio alive if the audience doesn’t carry its financial weight in supporting their stations? While the monetary levels for membership may be high, people should donate whatever they feel comfortable in giving. We can’t expect too much from the government regarding matching funds, especially since the mood is to make public broadcasting quasi-commercial through corporate underwriting. Add in that local stations HAVE to belong to NPR, CPB, PRI, etc. to receive that programming.

    Seriously, it makes more sense to have government support local public broadcasting, but the mass media won’t tolerate that. You can’t have unsanctioned messages being broadcast to the public.

  2. The CPB should be defunded — not because they “prop up liberal bias,” but because they have single-handedly done more damage to public radio and tv than any rabid right winger ever could. How many jazz, folk and classical stations have been turned into automated “all news and talk blabber all the time” stations because they had to follow CPB rules regarding the number of employees, benefits, etc? How about tricking stations into adopting HD radio — which is just an pretense to make stations purchase even more NPR, PRI, APM content?

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