Fallows writes what I would have liked to write about the Juan Williams firing at NPR. First this:
The worst aspect of the Williams-NPR imbroglio is that it has allowed Fox and its political allies to position NPR as something it is not, and in the process to jeopardize a part of American journalism we can't afford to lose.
In their current anti-NPR initiative, Fox and the Republicans would like to suggest that the main way NPR differs from Fox is that most NPR employees vote Democratic. That is a difference, but the real difference is what they are trying to do. NPR shows are built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions. And while of course the selection of stories and analysts is subjective and can show a bias, in a serious news organization the bias is something to be worked against rather than embraced. NPR, like the New York Times, has an ombudsman. Does Fox? [I think the answer is No.]
Now, for some factual background about Williams and his interview with former President Dubya in 2007:
It is general political-world knowledge that the White House's condition of the interview was that Williams conduct it. The full transcript is here,...
...Apparently later in 2007 the White House offered NPR another interview with Bush, but only if Juan Williams would again do it. NPR said No, we won't take it on those terms; we want to choose the interviewer. Williams did it instead for Fox.
The gist I get here is that Fox News, which just gave Williams a $2 million contract, is more concerned with filtering news for its audience -- spinning it in a way that satisfies a niche market that wants a Republican slant on facts -- than in actually reporting the facts and letting the audience decide for itself. As a 20+ year listener of NPR, I can say that it is an information-gathering and reporting organization. The reporting itself does not spin stories, but audiences can detect bias in their selection of stories. For example, they frequently focus on the plight of Palestinians being victimized by the Israeli government's policies, but rarely do they go into the neighborhoods of Israelis near Gaza or in the West Bank to hear about civilians injured or killed by Palestinians (maybe because that is much rarer, perhaps?). Such a slant can lead one to believe that NPR is anti-Israel or liberal. However, they also frequently interview as many Republican members of Congress who get softball questions as do the Democrats. Politicians, in general, like to answer questions their own way, and get annoyed when they're pressed to answer the question the reporter is asking if the answer makes them look bad. In any event, NPR leaves the door open to interpretation, while Fox throws a leash on its viewers and leads them right to the "right" answer about how to perceive a given circumstance. Fox viewers, prove me wrong. I have seen real journalism on that station, almost exclusively in the persons of Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. But they are second-tier players to Beck/O'Reilly/Hannity elite, who could make Goldwater blush and Buckley piss himself from laughing so hard.
Williams' cries of foul against NPR for being fired -- and I'll admit NPR overreacted and now they lack a pretty solid and reliable voice for the right, losing some balance in the process -- could have been seen as someone who was done wrong. But since he was given this fat contract so soon after being fired, the truth becomes clearer. He wanted to turn himself into a news story -- a huge no-no in journalism -- and generate sympathy among his future Fox News audience. Another media whore, sorta like, You Betcha!