I'm also foresquare against simple-minded knee-jerk reactions, and foresquare in favor of free, often rambunctious, sometimes offensive, but especially complex and thoughtful speech. All indictations are that Juan Williams was attempting to engage in the latter. His judgment in attempting it while sitting next to Bill O'Reilly was open to question, but thoughtful, complex, and honest commentary are what we should hope for from news commentators, even if it begins with an unflattering admission.
If you get that, great. If you don't, I can't help you.
So, without further ado, here is a letter I was forced to send to my local NPR station this morning:
I feel WBUR is entitled to hear from a listener about their interactions with NPR, and how those interactions will affect WBUR:
I was, although I am personally and politically opposed to almost every word I have ever heard come from Juan Williams, disgusted and appalled by NPR's firing of him, so I sent a message to NPR to let them know of my disapproval.
The conversation, as it occurred, follows:
I'm as lefty-liberal as they come, I dislike Juan Williams intensely, and I find almost everything he says irritatingly ill-thought-through, superficial, and partisan.
NPR was absolutely wrong to fire him over his comments on Bill O'Reilly's bloviation festival on Fox News. The fact is that what was widely reported was a small and out-of-context part of a larger statement that was, to his credit, both thoughtful and honest. He started out by discussing his feelings and reactions -- not thoughts and opinions, but visceral reactions -- in a way that many Americans share. You have to be able to look at something honestly if you're going to be able to deal with it helpfully.
NPR's knee-jerk firing sends the message that analysts and commentators should be afraid of honest discussion. That's a disgrace to journalism.
Dana Davis Rehm, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications, and External Relations, NPR:
Late Wednesday evening we gave Juan Williams notice that we’ve terminated his contract as a Senior News Analyst for NPR News. We didn’t make this decision lightly or without regret. Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years.
However, his remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday violated our ethics guidelines. Unfortunately, this has occurred several times in other media. Our decision to end our contractual relationship with Juan has come after repeated conversations and warnings about some of his public comments. This was a difficult, but principled decision.
We’ve been contacted by listeners who have passionately agreed with our decision, as well as those who have disagreed with it, with equal conviction. We hear you both and respect your perspectives. At the same time, we believe that the public is better served by NPR holding firm to the values and standards that have guided us for many years.
As some listeners have also asked for more details about our funding, you can find a detailed overview of our funding on our website in our “About” section: http://www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/ Of note, and as is explained in that site, NPR, Inc. has received no direct operating support from the federal government since 1983.
I recognize that this decision has sparked a strong debate in the blogosphere and elsewhere, and that you have a firm position on the matter. While we stand by our policy, we also regret that we were compelled to take the actions that we did.
Dana Davis Rehm
Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications, and External Relations
I'm sorry, but if your "ethics guidelines" prevent making a complex statement that is prefaced with a personal observation about an analyst's emotional reactions, when discussion is of public emotional reactions, then those guidelines are far from ethical. If this is what NPR calls a "principled" decision, that calls the organizations's ethical credentials into serious question.
Moreover, your response is smug, self-serving, and condescending, being, after all, no more than a repetition of the talking points NPR has released to its member stations and existing press releases, it amounts to no more than a self-justifying implication that I hadn't bothered to educate myself before contacting you, which is, frankly, insulting.
You include a paragraph on your funding which is simultaneously irrelevant to my criticism, sophomorically provocative, and misleading. This forms three powerful blows against NPR's reliability and reputation. It's juvenile and contemptible.
Your closing paragraph, again, is smug and condescending, amounting to no more than "We understand that you don't like our decision, however, you're too ignorant to understand that we're right, and you're wrong."
Well, you're not right, and I'm not wrong, and while I will stand foresquare in opposition to just about every editorial opinion ever mouthed by Mr. Williams, NPR's decision to fire him was so grossly unethical and improper, and your response so thoroughly inappropriate and self-congratulatory that it leaves me thoroughly regretting the $700.00 my family donated to WBUR, my local NPR station, in 2009. You can rest assured, we will not be repeating that donation anytime soon.
WBUR's takeaway from this is simple: The only lever I have with which to affect NPR is my willingness to donate to my local station. WBUR is my local station. This year, I have been unemployed, and we have been unable to donate to WBUR, but the previous year, we donated $700.00 -- small change for you guys, but a substantial amount for a family donor. We will be unable to donate further to WBUR until either NPR acknowledges that its handling of both Mr. Williams, and, more importantly complaints about him, were wrong, or until WBUR is no longer associated with NPR. I am not trying to militate for the latter: I know it is impossible and pointless. The former, while incredibly unlikely, is at least somewhere within the realm of possibility, but only if enough listeners make it known to their local stations, and NPR, that this sort of unethical, unprincipled conduct is unacceptable, and has a cost.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
Leviathan of the GEI (Detached.)
"What'dya expect? I'm a New Yorker!"
-Anonymous New York Firefighter, 9/12/01