The Juan Williams flap at NPR

Posted on 2010-10-22 06:15

When you run an organization that is supposed to be impartial, and in fact by law HAS TO BE impartial (because it takes public money) you cannot allow employees to act (even on their own time) in a way that undermines that perception of impartiality. As Brian Stelter put it,

Like many other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to avoid situations that might call its impartiality into question — an expectation written into the organization’s ethics code.
FOX News and Bill O'Reilly are standing by their man, but it seems disingenuous of an organization that makes its money with polarizing, propagandist, opinion pieces to call NPR (perhaps the very last real journalistic bastion left in America) on the carpet for trying to ensure that the public has access to journalists whose impartiality are above reproach. This same code of ethics applies to teachers, police, politicians, even sports figures! We have an expectation that our role models and public servants are fair and impartial. This is not a code that FOX News is concerned with, and they've fired plenty of folks through the years that didn't share the opinions of FOX News - including black folks!

The people that are the most vocal opponents to the public funding of NPR seem to be the very ones who would never listen to it. Perhaps that's why they feel so strongly against public funding for it, and thats understandable. However, most of NPR's funding comes from the people who listen to it (like me) as well as Corporate Underwriters who now get a mention (but aren't allowed to advertise their products). NPR only gets about 16% of its funding from public money. Amazing, considering it has NO COMMERCIALS and offers programming that you won't find on any commercial stations - and if you'd like to bitch about that, consider that these grants are largely intended to serve parts of the population who would have no educational programming otherwise: inner city and rural poor folks in our nation who can't afford to pay $100 a month for cable or can't receive much over the air broadcast TV. This public funding helps bring classical music, secular news (there is lots of free religious programming available in these areas), and science programming to folks that would have no access to this in their lives otherwise. The reason this funding exists is because in a free market the poor have no say because they have no money, and so as a compassionate nation we are trying to correct the situation. I recognize the advantages I had growing up, and I appreciate them. They made me who I am today, and I am happy to think that in some small way I can contribute to providing access to great programming to those who wouldn't otherwise have any access to it at all. You might consider that socialism, but I think of it as being a good neighbor. If you'd like to be more pragmatic about it - an educated kid who sees a future for himself is less likely to mug you.

Bill O'Reilly's quip that NPR wouldn't be able to compete in the marketplace without the pittance of public funding that it currently receives is right, but its a misdirection that most FOX viewers probably won't catch. Of course it wouldn't be able to compete, it's not supposed to! Its mission is to supplement programming in areas to provide alternate content or educational content where access to it would otherwise be lacking. Here's an example: There are no commercials on public radio (or public TV) and because of that, public stations are free to provide content that otherwise would not be aired on for-profit media with advertising deals with those corporations. BP (British Petroleum) is a major underwriter of the Glenn Beck program on FOX. During the Gulf oil spill you could tune in to Beck to hear him spin FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about how the administration was thinking about taking over BP (a company headquartered in the UK - wouldn't that constitute an act of war?) or that Obama was making big profits from the spill!? The purpose of public radio is to serve the public with programming that the public can't get otherwise, its not to compete with it. You will hear classical music and jazz on NPR stations - not Lady Gaga.