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Posts Tagged ‘The O’Reilly Factor’

Last week, NPR (National Public Radio) committed ‘news’ when they terminated the contract of news analyst Juan Williams for remarks he made on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor about Muslims.  This was a move which brought both cheers and boos from all those commenting, with cheers coming from many media analysts who asked why it took NPR so long to act, and boos coming from conservative political apologists like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich as well as Williams’ considerable fan base.

NPR’s Ombudsman Alicia Shepard notes that the firing of Williams brought forth a firestorm of controversy, which much of the anger levelled at NPR.  More than 8,000 emails regarding the firing were received, more than for any other incident taken up by the network, enough to crash the email response program used for collecting such user feedback.  People were, and are, mad as hell.

Since then, people have been posting pictures of Muslims who are part of all walks of life on Facebook or their blogs, showing some wearing traditional religious clothing, others not (to illustrate, they say, that Muslims are part of all fabrics of our life and can be religious people no matter what their attire); reaming NPR for their actions, applauding Fox for increasing Williams’ air time on their network in the aftermath; and declaring war on the public funding NPR receives to keep it on the air.  It’s ugly and in some cases, petty, and once again, the liberals are lining up against the conservatives to wage social warfare.

Whatever side of this issue you land on — whether you liked Juan Williams and his commentaries on NPR or his role on Fox; whether the President of NPR picked a really bad time to take action or not; whether you think NPR should receive public funding or not; it seems to me that many folks have just missed the boat on the essentials of this matter.  Juan Williams was hired to be a news analyst on NPR.  He was not hired to be a commentator (to offer his opinion) on stories, but to probe them in greater depth to help us understand them.  Daniel Schorr, now of blessed memory, was also a news analyst, and Ted Koppel, late of ABC, has filled that role as well.  Both Schorr and Koppel have performed admirably in this role, bringing deeper perspective to a story to help listeners gain understanding.

Providing analysis requires you to delve into a story but not to offer your opinion.  And NPR rightfully should expect that if one of their employees accepts a position on another network, his work there will not conflict with his role working for NPR.  This was not the first time Williams had drawn controversy for expressing his opinions.  Whether NPR waited too long to take action, or took action precipitously as a knee-jerk response to Williams’ appearance on Mr. O’Reilly’s program, may be fodder for other columns.

For me, however, there should be little debate about the key issue:  Juan Williams forgot, or ignored, the requirements of his position at NPR and became part of the story he was discussing with Bill O’Reilly.  That may be what Fox wants from him, and if so, I hope that Williams and Fox and O’Reilly have a long and happy and fruitful relationship.  But NPR was right to expect and demand that their employees not cross the line by inserting themselves into the stories they cover.  This is basic journalism 101 for reporters and broadcasters, and it should not be mysterious to anyone, least of all a media veteran.

Let us, then, maintain our focus on the essentials of the matter – what any media outlet requires of its reporters and analysts (as different from commentators expressing opinion).  And let all who act as spokespeople for businesses or as reporters or analysts for media outlets remember that you simply can not have it both ways.

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