All kinds of insights and lessons to get from the firing of Juan Williams from NPR. First, I listen to NPR whenever I am in the car and one of their news programs is on. I highly value its "old school" style that insists its moderates try to maintain a neutral position. I highly affirm its insistence that its reporters not participate in pundit shows like O'Reilly's Fox program. In that sense, I agree that it would be difficult for him to be on the "opinion circuit" and work for NPR.
The first observation I have is thus that this firing was a long time coming. NPR had warned him and moved him around more than once already for dabbling in the much more lucrative and popular opinion circuit. In these sort of situations, institutions often are looking for an excuse to let someone go. Given the legal complications and potential lawsuits, the presenting reason for firing often is not the real reason. It's a fine line institutions walk.
Was this the right moment? A little weak, I think. NPR and other shows disgrace their own code by only playing Williams' initial comments without putting them in their full context. The CEO of NPR made another classic mistake by mentioning a "psychiatrist" in her explanation. It is so hard to hold your tongue as an administrator of this sort when doing this sort of thing. So she did exactly the same thing she is criticizing him for.
In a postmodern world, we know no one is objective. It is a blogger's world where I can blog my opinions without anyone fact checking me before I post. But we must have venues where moderators try to maintain objectivity. I don't know what I would do without some news outlets where I can't tell what position the moderator holds. I agree with the rule that says an NPR reporter can't appear on pundit TV shows. It is not for this comment, but for going on O'Reilly in the first place that Williams should be let go.
Meanwhile the outcry from Republicans is a sham. I am disappointed with the CEO of NPR, but NPR's presentation is one of the most objective I know. Even earlier this week I was thanking the Lord for having a source of news in the middle, whose position on the issues they cover is not immediately obvious to me. I was thinking it was because it is supported by donations from people like me rather than from advertisements and money moguls.
When you do not know the position of the reporter or moderator--that is a truth seeking operation. But when you know where the moderator stands and it is your position, you are most likely to be feeding your own bias and missing part of the bigger picture. We learn the truth by hearing the sides we disagree with on their own terms.