Quality control, not polity control: Talking Points

Posted by Tyler Reny

Have you heard the new gem from Roger Ailes? During an interview with the Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, Ailes went off the rails, calling the executives of an opposing news organization, "Nazis," with a "kind of Nazi attitude," who "don't want any other point of view." No, ironically, Ailes is not an angry liberal berating Fox News. He is the chairman of Fox News, fuming at NPR over its recent high profile firing of Juan Williams.

At the time of his discharge, Williams was working both as an opinion commentator for Fox and a senior news analyst for NPR. He apparently overstepped his boundaries on the Bill O'Reilly show in late October when he proclaimed that Muslim men wearing traditional garb on airplanes worried him. While it would possibly break egalitarian social norms to admit it, I would guess that the vast majority of Americans would agree with Williams' statement.

What troubles me is not Williams' words but NPR's poor choice of action. While Williams may be the world's dullest news analyst, and may deserve to be fired, NPR's attempt to maintain political correctness thrust it into the spotlight and allowed conservative bloggers, politicians and Fox to portray the organization as something it is not – a partisan news organization that silences opposing points of view.

Fox News immediately offered Williams a sordid 2 million dollars to provide more of his dull opinions and to prove that Fox is both "fair and balanced" and morally superior to NPR. Ailes then went on a media stint to sell Fox's moral superiority by making the level headed and not-at-all-over-the-top Nazi comparisons (never mind that fascism is a radical right-wing ideology).

The spat couldn't be occurring at a worst time. NPR has been bogged down recently in an ongoing spat with Glenn Beck, the alcoholic-cum-mormon-cum-libertarian-entertainer-cum-religious-crusader, over money that George Soros, the billionaire liberal philanthropist, gave to the network. In addition to the $1.8 million dollar gift to NPR, Soros gave Media Matters, a media fairness watchdog group, $1 million to hold Fox accountable for the "false and misleading information they so often show." As if Soros' contribution wasn't enough ammo to prove NPR's "liberal bias," the Williams firing made him so giddy he almost cried…again.

Conservative politicians, ever a fan of Beck's programming, agree. Last week, House Republicans' first action after returning from break was a vote to de-fund the network. Thankfully, Democrats overrode the attempt. Eric Cantor, part of the Republican House leadership, cited NPR's actions as proof of its liberal bias. While fighting to cut funding for NPR has been popular ever since the Nixon administration, the conservative Tea Party base is again lighting fires below Republican leadership to cut the flow of tax dollars to the "liberal mouthpiece."

Nobody, except for maybe Rachel Maddow, ever points out the fact that NPR's bias tends to reflect who is in power in Washington. An independent watchdog group, FAIR, did a study of NPR programming in 2003, and actually found that Republican sources outnumbered Democratic sources by 3 to 2, capturing the top seven spots in frequency of appearances. I imagine that if the study was done today, they would find that Democratic sources would outnumber Republican sources.

NPR is built around gathering and analyzing the news, rather than using it as a springboard for opinions and commentary, as both Fox and MSNBC do today. We need to recognize this crucial distinction and help prevent Congressional Republicans from cutting quality programming. Democrats in Congress will hopefully continue to stymie efforts to de-fund NPR and they deserve our full support.

While NPR clearly should have just let Williams's contract expire and avoid this whole controversy, it didn't. Fox News won. Juan Williams got a massive paycheck. And the media got a new controversy to report. Let's hope it stops there. I don't want NPR to disappear. What if I have car troubles and Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers are gone? Glenn Beck certainly couldn't answer my automotive questions.

Tyler Reny is a senior government major who enjoys good food politics and jazz.

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