National Review Online had an email exchange with NPR regarding the sacking of Juan Williams. Asked what exactly Williams said that NPR deemed inappropriate, Anna Christopher, NPR’s senior manager of media relations, wrote: “We aren’t going to get into a back and forth over semantics. The comment violated our ethics guidelines, and offended many in doing so” (emphasis added).
The last phrase caught my eye. I assume that NPR’s audience consists primarily of leftists (I know few non-leftists who listen to it these days). Thus, many audience members possess sensibilities not unlike those of Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg. Williams’ comments offended those sensibilities.
NPR cannot afford to offend its base very much. So even if its senior decision-makers did not regard Williams’ comments, coupled with those he has made in the past, as a firing offense, letting him go was the smart move.
I take no position on what the decision would have been if the decision-makers were not constrained by their lefty audience. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, by and large, their sensibilities mirror those of the audience. After all, how did NPR end up with that audience?
UPDATE: Vivian Schiller, the CEO of NPR, told an audience at the Atlanta Press Club that Williams should have kept his opinions between himself and “his psychiatrist or publicist.” Schiller later apologized. However, it seems clear that her contempt for the substance of Williiams’ opinions was a factor in her decision to sack him. This undercuts the official NPR line, set forth in an email from Schiller to NPR’s member stations, that Williams was fired not for the opinions he expressed, but because NPR standards require that its news analysts not express opinions at all.
NPR’s official line was already laughable. Nina Totenberg, NPR’s longtime legal reporter, appears weekly on a show called Inside Washington. She expresses opinions, if that’s not too lofty a word for them, almost non-stop.
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