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.