Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Juan Williams

First confession: I’m a National Public Radio person. “Car Talk”, “A Prairie Home Companion”, “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me”, “Fresh Air” … most times NPR strikes me as the only thing on radio that doesn’t consist of screaming. Guitars, or voices.

Second confession: some years ago, one of the news anchors hosting “Morning Edition” phrased several questions and made several assertions during an interview about education that were so anti-public-education in tone that for the first time ever I flirted with the notion that NPR News wasn’t as politically neutral (never mind left-leaning) as I had imagined. Shortly thereafter, news stories began to surface regarding the distinctly right-wing and even anti-public-broadcasting people who had been installed as the heads of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting during the time of the Bush Administration. For me, that was a time when I really started to question the balance and neutrality of any and all journalists. If NPR wasn’t immune to passing along the talking points, who was?

OK, so maybe I was late to that party.

I love to listen to Keith Olbermann, perhaps not quite as much for his politics (which I largely share) as for his delivery, which takes me back to the days when ESPN’s Sportscenter was less of a gigantic corporate shill, and actually, you know, funny. I grit my teeth a bit when he refers to “Countdown with Keith” as a news hour, because there’s enough commentary thrown into that hour that it surely is not purely an hour of news. And I love to listen to Rachel Maddow, because her style is just the same as it was when I could hear her radio program – she’s full of good-natured snark, and backs that style up with what is clearly the biggest jones in cable broadcasting for good old-fashioned research and scholarship and doing your homework before you go on the air and grill some unsuspecting news figure until he wishes he hadn’t been suckered into being interviewed by somebody so well-informed and articulate.

But Keith and Rachel are in the entertainment business. They’re entertaining, so it works. But they are commentary people. Not that there’s a thing wrong with that.

But if you’re an allegedly straight-shooting news organization and your questioning of an interview subject, or your approach to a news story from the beginning, is easily identifiable as to one side or the other, then you’re not really a news hour either. You’re not journalism. You’re opinion. Never mind “allowing me to decide”: you don’t report in the first place.


Which is why I’m all in favor of National Public Radio’s recent firing of commentator Juan Williams.

Not because he has been a regular contributor to Fox News for years – in such a way that National Public Radio seriously asked him to stop allowing himself to be identified (during those contributions) as an NPR personality!

Not because years ago he was the host of NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” afternoon current-affairs call-in program and frankly was almost unlistenable — not nearly as good as the original host, Ray Suarez, in any way, from his on-air style to his apparent grasp of the little detail-y nuances of the given subject.

But instead, because of the quote that appears to have taken him down, finally. This past Monday, Williams went on Bill O’Reilly’s evening cable TV program (the pompously- and faintly absurdly-named “O’Reilly Factor”), which is commentary and not a news program either, thank you … and said this:

I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Identifying themselves first and foremost…?! … Never mind the white male Christians in this very country who for years and years have been unable to go two complete sentences without reminding you that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Saviour and they have such a personal relationship with Him that if He were to return to earth this very night, these particular white male Christians would of course be His first choice of people with whom to sit down and play a game of Holy backgammon. (A lot of these Bible-thumpers are pro athletes, have you noticed?)

And I’m a lifelong Methodist and a church choir director, so let’s have none of that Christian-basher talk.

Let’s get this straight. Right-wing, left-wing, no-wings, centerfield, or with whatever adjective you identify yourself … if you can manage a statement like that, which implies that regardless of what a person may actually be like, or may actually think or believe inside their heads where you can’t see or hear it immediately … if you categorize people strictly because of what they look like or wear … if you feel comfortable going on national television and hiding behind what meager books you may have written and then say something that proves you don’t know a damn thing about your own thesis …

then you’re certainly no longer qualified to consider yourself an unbiased journalist. Because of the laws of this great land, you’re allowed to make an ass of yourself in any way you see fit, and several ways you have no idea of at the time. But most importantly …

yeah, in fact you ARE bigoted.

Or worse … someone’s paying you good money to say bigoted things for them, so you’re “aiding and abetting” … and you’re nothing more than a puppet.


Rob Hammerton is a former journalism major whose major marketable skill is run-on sentences.  His politics tip him slightly to port, but he insists that conservatives and many Republicans are in fact human beings.  He would prefer that comments to this and all other posts be nice ‘n’ civil.  Let’s not be like those louses in Washington who can’t disagree politely, or without invoking the Second Amendment.  This is a blog of Sweetness and Light.  Thanks!


October 22, 2010 - Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons, journalism, media, news, npr, politics, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Like your analysis, Rob. :o)

    Comment by Holly | October 22, 2010 | Reply

  2. This is why I consider The Daily Show to be, sadly, the most “fair and balanced” news source on television. It’s sad that Jon Stewart, doing a fake news comedy show, is nearly alone in his willingness to point out the absurdities at any point on the political spectrum. That said, I feel like I should be watching Rachel Maddow more.

    Terry Gross recently interviewed Stewart at a live event, and it was so good she ran two differently edited versions of the 90 minute interview on Fresh Air. Highly recommended.

    Comment by Steve Robinson | October 25, 2010 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: