God I love a good media hissy fit. The current finger pointing, backbiting and name-calling of the NPR/Juan Williams/Fox News scandal is just too delicious to ignore. At this juncture of the scandal, it appears that NPR is the clear looser and Fox News comes out smelling closer to a rose than reeking like a titan arum.
One day before NPR decided to give Juan Williams the boot, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller was quoted saying this in an interview in the Wall Street Journal about NPR, “No, we don’t have a particular political persuasion.” Funny how authoritative statements like that do have a way of coming around and biting you in the rectum. Talk about bad timing.
Regarding Juan Williams now infamous statement on Fox News, it’s interesting how few news organizations have really pointed out the pure irony of its full context. The pretext of his statement dealt with how political correctness stifles journalism and the news industry. Quoting Juan Williams: “Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.” Williams then illustrates his observations about feeling a bit unsettled when he sees Muslim’s boarding an airplane, as an example of the kind of story journalists steer clear of, due of the social implications and the backlash from discussing that kind of “politically correct” story. So essentially NPR fires Williams for discussing and giving an example of the kind of news story that has created an environment of self censorship in journalism.
The next day NPR Borg queen Schiller reacts in a full interview saying that Williams’ comments should have been “between him and his psychiatrist or his publicist.” Hold on here a moment. Even a rookie journalist knows the basic golden rule of libel and slander, “You can say anything you want, as long as it’s true.” It’s certainly not a stretch for any lawyer worth his or her salt to whisper possible slander here. If Mr. Williams does not have a psychiatrist or indeed have clinically verifiable mental illness, the quip smells like slander to me. How does the CEO of NPR make a mistake of such monumental proportions? Reading between the lines of her interview, it’s obvious to me that Schiller reacted emotionally, not logically to Williams’ statements on Fox News. Not smart at all. Check that at the door girlfriend. How in the wild, wild world of sports does the CEO of NPR make a error this egregious. It’s unforgivable.
No, Juan Williams firing by NPR’s Schiller isn’t about the First Amendment. After all, any corporation, including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, can pretty much fire anyone they damn well please, if they feel the employee isn’t acting in the best interest of the corporation. (Although the fact that NPR does receive funding from taxpayers does muddy the waters a bit) To make the charge that NPR is trouncing on Juan’s First Amendment rights is a bit of a leap.
Who comes out smelling like a rose in the end? Well, Fox News for jumping on a PR opportunity of Gotham proportions, signing Williams to a multi-million dollar contract. (Hell, you can’t buy that kind of press… well, I guess you can) Of course Williams keeps his cool and emerges looking like a pro. NPR manages to hit this pothole just as fall funding begins, Vivian Schiller? Well, I believe it is in the best interest of the corporation, to sever their relationship with a leader that handled this cluster fark like a two-year-old throwing a hissy-fit.