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The News Biz as Show Biz

Juan Williams, persona non grata at NPR?

Williams is controversial among NPR listeners because of his long-standing contract with Fox News, which he had before he joined NPR. Currently, he appears on Fox sometimes with Bill O’Reilly and on Sunday morning with Chris Wallace. …

Last year, 378 listeners emailed me complaints and frustrations about things Williams said on Fox. The listener themes are similar: Williams “dishonors NPR.” He’s an “embarrassment to NPR.” “NPR should severe their relationship with him.”

The most recent “flap” that has NPR listeners’ Birkenstocks in a bunch is this video:

Williams rightly notes that Michelle Obama’s campaign appearances gathered a fair amount of controversy. Remember “For the first time in my adult life I’m proud of my country“? Or her thesis? There’s nothing wrong in suggesting that it would be detrimental to the first lady’s influence if she took the same revolutionary tone as she had on previous occassions. It’s not just the Politico and the Atlantic, however, that suggested this. Tapper (previously linked) and others have also noted it.

NPR feels uncomfortable, however, with such a statement, or rather, the tone that delivered it:

As a result of this latest flap, NPR’s Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O’Reilly.

What’s so bad, from NPR’s perspective, about comparing the First Lady to Stokely Carmichael? Click here for an NPR report interviewing people who felt that Carmichael was just misrepresented. As the story progresses, the legacy of the man becomes clear that it’s up for debate, with only one person (David Horowitz, who is called out as a neo-con early on) dissenting from the theory that Carmichael (a black-nationalist and pan-Africanist) was much misrepresented — even going so far as to criticize the concept of integration as much too “white-oriented.”

One example offered is his quip that the position of women in his organization is “prone.” His compatriots argue that in context, it was perfectly fine, and funny, even.

Ironic that Stokely Carmichael (a comparison with whom is considered a smear) gets a pass on an out-of-context quote, but Juan Williams, a respected reporter with no doctrinaire approach to his coverage, doesn’t.

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