When NPR sacked top news executive Ellen Weiss earlier this week, Juan Williams (whom Weiss had sacked) called her the representative of the “very ingrown, incestuous culture” at NPR. He also said her departure is “good news for NPR and people who care about the news.”
Unfortunately, “NPR” and “people who care about the news” as other than a vehicle for advancing a political agenda may be, for the most part, non-overlapping subsets. In any case, according to the Washington Post, Weiss’ ouster isn’t considered “good news” within the public radio community. Rather, it has produced much hand-wringing.
For example, the Post cites Peter Block, a member of the board of Cincinnati public radio. He told an email group consisting of public radio managers, that “we have allowed Fox News to define the debate.” Block went so far as to claim that “democracy” itself “is on the line” because “NPR is one of the last bastions of its possibilities.”
Block and others quoted by the Post believe that Weiss was fired to placate Congress, some of whose members will no doubt cite the firing of Williams as a ground for defunding NPR. Frankly, I find this a more plausible explanataion for the discharge than any desire by NPR improve its personnel practices, and a vastly more plausible one than any desrie to change course substantively.
But Block doesn’t explain how a government subsidized radio operation that doesn’t have to answer for its decisions to the nation’s democratically elected representatives can serve as “a last bastion of democracy’s possibilities.” Democracy would be best served by a full divorce between the government and NPR. The best option in the absence of such a divorce is to hold NPR more accountable to our elected representatives. The current arrangement strikes me as the worst of the three from a the standpoint of democracy and overall.
The bottom line is that Congress should not view the sacking of Weiss as offering any prospect that NPR will reform. The problem with that outfit is not the way it fired Williams. The problem is that NRP is so much in the thrall of political correctness, and so hostile to Fox News, that it would consider firing him over his expression on Fox that he is personally uneasy when he gets on a plane with Muslims who, by their garb, identify themselves as such.
And the source of this problem wasn’t Weiss (though her ascendancy may symbolize it). The source is the mindset of folks like Block, the vicious public radio producer who publicly fantasized about Rush Limbaugh dying of a heart attack, and the managers and staffers who are shaken by the departure of someone Williams calls “the keeper of a flame of liberal orthodoxy.”
That flame cannot be extinguished; nor is there any reason why it should be, as long as taxpayer money isn’t helping to fan it.
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