Paul Greenberg

When it comes to bureaucracies, corporate or public, it's not just jobs that can be delegated but any sense of responsibility. This isn't just a familiar pattern, it's standard operating procedure by now. When the head of the outfit is confronted by a scandal that can no longer be ignored, and the public has grown more outraged than usual, protocol demands that the top exec submit ... somebody else's resignation.

It could almost be Washington's motto: The buck stops somewhere else. Now it's happened at NPR. Which is one of the many public-private hodgepodges that gets all kinds of funding from all kinds of sources -- and so is hard to pin down when things go embarrassingly wrong. There are more of those around than ever -- Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Government Motors, AIG, American health care in general ... you name it. Their structure tends to resemble that of a medieval chimera, only without the charm.

NPR never looked so much like the politically correct fraud it's long been than when it fired Juan Williams, one of its news commentators, for daring to comment on the news -- on FOX yet.

It took a while for the suits at national headquarters to come up with some transparent excuse. In this case, Mr. Williams was said to have been hired as an analyst, not a commentator, and so had overstepped his bounds. As if NPR standbys like Mara Liasson, Cokie Roberts and the late Daniel Schorr, who may have been the most party-lining of them all, never let an opinion escape their depoliticized lips. Even though they, too, were listed as "analysts" or "correspondents" rather than commentators.

The line between news and opinion isn't just hazy at NPR; it doesn't exist except in the official table of organization. And it's invoked only when a commentator violates not a code of ethics but NPR's unstated but always present political code.

All the usual excuses and evasions were rolled out in the not-so-mysterious case of Juan Williams. But it was clear he had to go because he'd violated NPR's political prejudices by commenting openly about how he felt when he saw someone wearing a hijab or burqa ("Muslim garb," as he put it) in an airport, though he also made it clear he wasn't proud of how nervous it made him. Mr. Williams is a candid and decent sort (a rare combination), which may be another reason he had to go.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.