Paul Greenberg

A network that hides its political prejudices, calling subjective judgments news, makes me a lot more nervous than Muslim women going about their business, bless 'em. A friend of mine tends to turn on NPR in his car and wait till the first editorial comment is made in the guise of news. Then he changes to the classical music station. He usually doesn't have to wait long. Maybe between 10 and 30 seconds. What a blessing classical music can be at such annoying times, not to mention what it does for the mental health and heart rate. Mozart beats Michael Moore any time.

NPR had to do something after this mess broke. At last count, it had received some 23,000 e-mails protesting Juan Williams' firing. The natives were restless and NPR had little choice but to offer up one of its sacrificial vice presidents, who may be on the payroll for just such occasions. This time it was one Ellen Weiss, who went quietly, almost noncommitally. She knows the code.

The chief executive of the network is one Vivian Schiller, whose own reaction to Juan Williams' comment at the time was to suggest that he might want to consult a psychiatrist. Did she ever apologize for that crack? If not, she should have. And the sincerest form of apology remains resignation.

Besides, shrinks have more important things to do than tend to the well balanced, and if there's anything disturbing about Juan Williams, it's his eerie equanimity on air. (As a newspaper columnist, he'd be entirely too sane. The job requires a certain temperamental eccentricity for the copy to ring with the occasional Menckenesque outburst.)

Ms. Schiller remains NPR's CEO, to no one's surprise. How's that for justice? Which is one primitive concept that progressive NPR long ago outgrew. She was, however, denied her annual bonus. At NPR, the worst punishment high-ranking miscreants can expect is not to be rewarded for their bad decisions -- instead of just being fired. And this is called accountability. Which is how bureaucracies work, or rather don't. In NPR's case, public funding pretty much renders it immune to the discipline of the marketplace.

If the suits at NPR want the network to be just a classier version of MSNBC, they have every right to aim for that (lack of) distinction. But let 'em do it on their own dime, not the public's. Rather than have everybody in the country subsidize their politics, why not just cut off their water?

There'd be no better time to do that than now, when the federal budget needs to be not just trimmed but sheared. Let NPR find out what earning your keep in a free market is like. It might instill some new values, and news values, at National Political Radio -- like letting commentators comment and keeping the news the news, not opinion by another name.


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.