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NPR: Bringing Us Together

It is not easy to get Sarah Palin and the Daily Beast on the same side of an issue. But both are aghast at NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. Palin tweeted: “NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it.” Howard Kurtz commented:

Did National Public Radio really fire Juan Williams for his remarks about Muslims—or the forum in which he made them?

I suspect that if he’d said the same thing to Charlie Rose, rather than on the O’Reilly Factor, he’d still have his radio job.

It’s no secret that some NPR folks have been uncomfortable with Williams’ role on Fox News, where he’s also a part-time commentator. Last year, Politico reported, NPR tried to persuade its White House correspondent, Mara Liasson, to give up her Fox gig.

What Williams said makes me uncomfortable, but it isn’t close to being a firing offense—not for someone who is paid for his opinions.

In these divisive times, it’s nice to see this outbreak of bipartisan horror. In the unscientific readers’ poll at the Washington Post, which one can assume has a healthy contingent of Democrats, 80 percent said NPR was wrong to fire Juan Williams. NPR pretends to be serving the “public” — but the public doesn’t countenance its wholly unreasonable actions.

On the left, there is embarrassment. So some hasten to add that they opposed the firing of Helen Thomas. Which would be like the Juan Williams situation in exactly what way? (Williams explained the regrettable sensation citizens feel when observing those who put their Muslim identity first; Thomas wants Jews to go back to the Holocaust countries.) The mind reels. That wins some prize for moral equivalence but conveys just how uncomfortable are those who might otherwise feel warmly toward NPR.

The NPR debacle is, of course, an example of the same sort of hypocrisy we see in universities. The latter are all about “academic freedom” — even to the point of inviting Ahmadinejad to speak on campus. But that doesn’t extend to conservatives, who generally are not acceptable on campuses of self-regarded elite institutions.

Now, in the legal sense, universities and institutions like NPR can hire whomever they want and fire whomever they want provided they are not in breach of employment agreements or state and federal discrimination laws. But for establishments that trumpet themselves as high-minded exemplars of vigorous debate and intellectual open-mindedness, there’s a hypocrisy problem, to say the least, when that freedom and open-mindedness is limited to those with doctrinaire liberal views.

And it is one heck of an argument for defunding NPR. That and Juan Williams’s $2M contract with Fox are the silver linings in all this.