Juan Williams proving NPR’s point

Over the last few months, I’ve done a fair amount of defending the notion that journalists have and should be allowed to express informed, fact-based opinions on news, but Juan Williams’ reaction to the firing — sorry, “resignation” — of the NPR news executive who fired him disproves most of it.

As quoted by Business Insider, Williams assessed National Public Radio this way during an appearance on FoxNews, his current employer:


“They have a culture there is not open to real news, that is not open to all points of view, that is not open to the real world around us and to the many different dynamics, perspectives and life stories that animate America.”

Williams never said any such thing when he cashed a paycheck from National Public Radio (now “NPR”), so we can only conclude that his assessment stems not from an informed, fact-based reality, but from lingering hurt feelings about his firing in October. As a news commentator, his assessment of reality is too clouded by his opinion. Hurt feelings do not create an environment from which news insight comes and, at the end of the day, insight is a journalist’s job. NPR fired Williams because it felt his feelings similarly prevented him from providing that insight and discredited the organization.

It’s possible to be close to a story and have an opinion, though (and is anybody seriously doubting that in their private moments, everybody who works at NPR has an opinion on the firing of Ellen Weiss yesterday?). One need only look at — surprise — NPR to see how good journalism is done.

David Folkenflik, an NPR reporter, got the unenviable task of covering the story for NPR. He, unlike Williams, did a magnificent job by playing it straight and leaving his feelings out of it.

Put the two assessments (news stories) about NPR side by side, and it’s easy to figure out the more trustworthy source on the subject.

Ironically, Williams refused to talk to Folkenflik for his story. Clearly NPR as a news organization was open to his point of view in covering this story. Williams wasn’t. That’s on him.

  • http://www.shanghaiscrap.com Adam Minter

    “… we can only conclude that his assessment stems not from an informed, fact-based reality, but from lingering hurt feelings about his firing in October.”

    Well … we can also conclude that his assessment stems for an objective re-thinking of what he saw at NPR during his tenure there, but never catalyzed in his head until he was fired. At a minimum, I don’t think you can set up an either/or here, ie “only conclude” without confirming – that is, reporting – that hurt feelings motivated his comment.

  • Bob Collins

    You really can’t conclude that, though, Adam because Williams — or you for that matter — doesn’t provide any specifics to support the conclusion.

    There is, however, evidence to support the conclusion that Williams’ observation is more about Williams: The fact that he only contextualizes his observation around his firing.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of criticism surrounding NPR’s management of the matter. But an indictment of the quality of content produced by the news division at NPR fairly demands specifics w.r.t the lack of capacity to provide a wide-ranging perspective of the stories “that animate America.”

    NPR management’s assertion is that Williams’ translation of the world through his individual feelings hampered a quality observation of the news. Williams has basically confirmed that there’s some evidence that that is, indeed, the case.

  • bsimon

    Juan Williams reportedly said

    “They have a culture there is not open to real news, that is not open to all points of view, that is not open to the real world around us and to the many different dynamics, perspectives and life stories that animate America.”

    Are we sure he wasn’t being ironic? It has only been a couple weeks since news broke that his new employer has a policy on how to report climate change that deliberately obfuscates the facts.

    .

  • http://planeideas.blogspot.com Greg Thrasher

    I simply have loss my respect for NPR and anything they offer up regarding this saga….The NPR Board hired a law firm that has no Black partners to conduct a review of this saga that has major racial overtures

    … From it’s white ceo recommending to Juan he needs to seek medical attention for daring to have an opinon to it’s news director who during her tenure from all accounts did not value inclusion and had few if any diversity hires during her 29 year tenure…To it’s treatment of Michelle Norris( ignored her entired legacy in the NPR anniversary book)

    I don’t think Juan’s check cashing demeanor is the issue here but NPR’s culture especially with regard to Black folks….

  • Bob Collins

    // to it’s news director who during her tenure from all accounts did not value inclusion and had few if any diversity hires during her 29 year tenure…To it’s treatment of Michelle Norris( ignored her entired legacy in the NPR anniversary book)

    That’s really not accurate on a number of levels. You got the Norris part correct, though.