Saturday, October 23, 2010
Farai Chideya: What Everyone Is Missing About NPR's WilliamsGate
"juan, gettin ugly. wonder if it will result in him severing ties, or mutual"
That was my note at the top of an email I sent back in September of 2007 to a colleague at NPR. In full disclosure, I am a former employee of NPR, let go in 2008 as part of the cancellation of three shows, including one I hosted. In the email, I'd forwarded a Washington Post column by Howard Kurtz dissecting a Fox/NPR/Juan Williams triad of recrimination. The headline: "NPR Rebuffs White House On Bush Talk -- Radio Network Wanted To Choose Its Interviewer." In Kurtz's words:
The White House reached out to National Public Radio over the weekend, offering analyst Juan Williams a presidential interview to mark yesterday's 50th anniversary of school desegregation in Little Rock. But NPR turned down the interview, and Williams's talk with Bush wound up in a very different media venue: Fox News. Williams said yesterday he was "stunned" by NPR's decision... Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news, said she "felt strongly" that "the White House shouldn't be selecting the person."
This incident is more telling than the oft-dissected statement Williams made on Fox that Michelle Obama had "this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going." Juan Williams and NPR have been a mutual mismatch for years. In this volley, Williams -- with his reported new $2 million over 3 year contract with Fox -- is the clear winner; with Fox a close second; and NPR left holding the bag. It need not have been this way.
If NPR had such clear concerns over how Juan Williams fit into their organization, in the amorphous role of "news analyst," then they had an opportunity to let him go a long time ago. They could have decided he didn't fit their needs, and moved on in a less polarized time. But by firing him now, in this instance, after years of sitting uncomfortably with his dual roles on NPR and Fox, they made a few crucial errors. They chose to fire him for doing what he has done for years... be a hype man for Bill O'Reilly. Why now? And they also showed tone-deaf communication with member stations by firing Williams during a pledge drive season. I know to many that will sound like nit-picking, but the relationship between NPR and member stations has oft been strained, and the Williams matter does so more, as evidenced by station disclaimers like this one from WBUR.
Please continue reading the whole article at The Huffington Post. It is excellent.
John H. Armwood