Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kill NPR?

Once again, the battle cry was sounded to oust NPR from the American airwaves. The flash point this time is the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who made it known on Fox News Network's "O' Reilly Factor" that he feels nervous when seated next to a devout Muslim during a flight. To quote Chandler on "Friends," can open; worms everywhere.

As a result, NPR - that's NPR, not National Public Radio, for heaven's sake, don't mention radio anymore - fired Williams because...

"Juan's comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so," said NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller in an internal memo obtained by Fox News.

"This isn't the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan's public comments," she wrote. "Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan continued to violate this principal.”

Bad air talent! No biscuit! But improper use of the word "principal" aside - so much for NPR being elitist - Ms. Schiller has the authority and a track record to back her firing of Williams. This is exactly how it's done in any media organization, be it public or private funded, including Fox. If I worked for Fox and went on CNN and said "George W. Bush is only saying things right now that will sell his book," my boss would call me in and say, point one: what the hell were you doing on CNN? and point two: You're fired.

Ah, but what about the first amendment? Didn't NPR censor Juan Williams when they fired him? Yep. The same way CBS censored the Smothers Brothers, and the same way the cast of "Saturday Night Live" has to run everything by Standards and Practices before the next show goes out. Being on a mass medium is a privilege, not a right. You gain that privilege by agreement with those who own control of that particular medium source. If you work for Disney, you answer to the Mouse. If you host a radio show sponsored by the NRA - yes, there are - you better not get caught at a rally for gun control legislation. Let me put it another way: let's say you work at Ford. Now, as an American citizen, you have the right to buy and drive any brand of car you want. Yes you do. But just try parking a Kia in that UAW parking lot.

Which is why the ballyhoo to drive NPR out of existence is a silly spotlight grabbing bit of congressional theater. Like it or not, NPR was exercising the same managerial tactics any other media organization uses. Oh, and even Mike Huckabee knows Congress doesn't "cut checks" to NPR or PBS or any other media organization. That would be a state run media, and we don't allow that in the USA. What Congress does allow is a federal funding go-between called The Corporation for Public Broadcasting which provides some funding for non-profit broadcasting for everything from "All Things Considered" to "Sesame Street" to "Antiques Road Show." The CPB funding accounts for something between 1% to 3% of total funding collected by public broadcasters, so yeah, cutting federal dollars would hurt, but not wipe NPR from the face of the earth. I wouldn't mind if public broadcasters were to be weened off of the CPB, but shutting off the spigot would only increase on-air fund drives and tie up Congress in a Battle Royale over something that isn't really a priority over, say, health care, or our troops in Afghanistan.

And besides... isn't outlawing an entire national radio network censorship?

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