I appeared on a public radio program, "On Point," this week with National Public Radio ombudsman Alicia Shepard and listened to her defend NPR's firing of Juan Williams. NPR, the listener is invited to conclude, has no bias, but Williams, a liberal with occasionally heterodox views, is too conservative for NPR.
Shepard was in an impossible position and seemed to know it. Right out of the box, she acknowledged that the "manner" of Williams' firing -- a phone call with no face-to-face discussion permitted -- was wrong. The actual termination, she went on to assert, was completely justified. It wasn't just what Williams said on the Bill O'Reilly show but a "pattern" of comments over the years. This was the "last straw."
But Williams' comments were not a "straw" at all. He was acknowledging a feeling that is universal and not irrational in light of the scores of attacks (accomplished and attempted) over the past several decades. Williams introduced his comments (which included a caution against regarding all Muslims as potential terrorists) with the warning that "political correctness" can "lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality." To maintain, as NPR does, that this was beyond the pale of civilized discussion amounts to authoritarianism -- and completely lives down to Williams' prediction.
Challenged to identify the other departures from NPR standards of which Williams was guilty -- any employer who terminates someone should have a file --Shepard promised that those would be forthcoming. In the meantime, she could assure listeners that Williams' offending comments were inconsistent with (wait for it) NPR's "impartiality" and "neutrality." NPR and Fox News are "two different worlds," she continued, the former representing the dispassionate search for truth and the latter representing "yelling" and extreme partisanship.
Yes, they really are that parochial. Vivian Schiller, NPR's CEO, betrayed the surpassing arrogance of the subsidized by suggesting, after peremptorily canning Williams, that he discuss his feelings with "his psychiatrist or his publicist." Ah, the dispassionate search for truth!
Schiller later felt constrained to apologize, saying, "I stand by my decision to end NPR's relationship with Juan Williams but deeply regret the way I handled and explained it."