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Conservatives declare war on NPR

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, October 21, 2010 18:42 EDT
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Juan Williams accepts Fox News gig less than 24 hours after being fired from NPR, accuses NPR of not being interested in racial diversity

Less than 24 hours after NPR news analyst Juan Williams was fired for saying he felt “nervous” and “worried” when he saw Muslims at airports, he has accepted a nearly $2-million, three-year contract with Fox News.

And conservative politicians, long opposed to NPR’s publicly-funded status, have seized on the opportunity to call for a de-funding of NPR and even a congressional investigation into the media company’s activities.

The Hill notes
that three potential contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 have spoken out against NPR’s decision to fire Williams.

Former Arkansas governor and current Fox News personality Mike Huckabee declared Thursday that he is boycotting NPR over its decision.

“While I have often enjoyed appearing on NPR programs and have been treated fairly and objectively, I will no longer accept interview requests from NPR as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship, and since NPR is funded with public funds, it IS a form of censorship,” Huckabee said in a statement, who also called for the broadcaster to be defunded.

In a Facebook posting, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin called on Congress to defund the broadcaster. Williams was fired “for merely speaking frankly about the very real threat this country faces from radical Islam,” she asserted.

“If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it’s time for ‘National Public Radio’ to become ‘National Private Radio.’ It’s time for Congress to defund this organization,” she added.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich said Congress “should investigate NPR and consider cutting off its money,” and added that Williams’ firing was “a total act of censorship.”

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly earlier this week. “But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Williams’ firing has angered people on both the left and the right end of the political spectrum. Mediaite notes that The View‘s Whoopi Goldberg — who just last week stormed off the set of her show in anger at Bill O’Reilly — today agreed with O’Reilly that Williams’ firing was wrong.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Williams has already accepted a nearly $2-million, three-year contract with Fox News. The paper reports Williams’ new job may begin as early as Friday, when he will guest-host The O’Reilly Factor.

In his first column at FoxNews.com, Williams argued that NPR fired him “for telling the truth,” and accused the broadcaster of having “no use for … a diversity of staff,” as he was the only black news analyst at the network.

Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.

This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber — as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals — are Christians but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without the fear of having your throat slashed. Bill and I argued after I said he has to take care in the way he talks about the 9/11 attacks so as not to provoke bigotry….

This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller responded to Williams’ claims, arguing that Williams broke company rules for reporters by voicing opinions he would not voice as an NPR reporter.

A critical distinction has been lost in this debate. NPR News analysts have a distinctive role and set of responsibilities. This is a very different role than that of a commentator or columnist. News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation. As you all well know, we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview — not our reporters and analysts.

She added that Williams’ feelings about Muslims at airports should be between himself and “his psychiatrist or publicist.”

While the effort to defund NPR may gain media attention in the coming days, it may not have as much impact as NPR’s detractors may be hoping. According to the LA Times, NPR’s national operation only receives about one percent to 3 percent of its revenue from federal grants; local stations depend on federal grants for about 10 percent of their revenue.

 
 
 
 
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