Juan Williams, Revelations and the Phony NPR Ethics Code

We have learned a lot from the Juan Williams firing. For example,

  • We learned that at NPR, opinions that run counter to the officially sanctioned culturally-diverse cant are not merely regarded as mistaken, but crazy.  NPR’s CEO stated that Williams should have kept his opinions about Muslims “between himself and his psychiatrist.” This is how the Soviet Union used to treat anyone whose opinion varied from state Marxism, too, and the dissidents were sent to mental institutions. Does it bother anyone else that the head of a state-funded radio network treats dissent so disrespectfully? Yes, Vivian Schiller later apologized for her “thoughtless”—as in, “I don’t want people to know I think this way”—remark. It was telling nonetheless.
  • We learned that Juan Williams had always known how intolerant and ideologically biased his bosses at NPR were. In a “Ok, now that I’m fired I can tell the truth” piece, Williams today confirmed what anyone who isn’t a Left-wing ideologue could discover by listening to NPR for an hour or so:

“…now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

Fascinating, Juan, but one question: if you have the integrity you claim to have, why did you continue to work for an outfit like that? Your criticism would have had a whole lot more impact and influence if it wasn’t coming from an angry ex-employee who was just called nutty by his former boss.  Sorry…no Ethics Hero award for you.

  • We learned about phony ethics codes. Schiller didn’t do NPR any favors by using the network’s ethics code as one of the excuses for firing Williams, because it invited people–me, for example—to actually read the code. It is a classic example of the kind of impressive-sounding code of ethics organizations create to provide cover but never to be taken seriously within the organization. For example, consider the NPR Code’s “Statement of Principles”:

“Our coverage must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest. At NPR we are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves no question about our independence and fairness. We must treat the people we cover and our audience with respect.

“Fair” means that we present all important views on a subject. This range of views may be encompassed in a single story on a controversial topic, or it may play out over a body of coverage or series of commentaries. But at all times the commitment to presenting all important views must be conscious and affirmative, and it must be timely if it is being accomplished over the course of more than one story. We also assure that every possible effort is made to reach an individual (or a spokesperson for an entity) that is the subject of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in a story in order to allow them to respond to those assertions.

“Unbiased” means that we separate our personal opinions – such as an individual’s religious beliefs or political ideology – from the subjects we are covering. We do not approach any coverage with overt or hidden agendas.

“Accurate” means that each day we make rigorous efforts at all levels of the newsgathering and programming process to ensure our facts are not only accurate but also presented in the correct context. We make every possible effort to ensure assertions of fact in commentaries, including facts implied as the basis for an opinion, are correct. We attempt to verify what our sources and the officials we interview tell us when the material involved is argumentative or open to different interpretations. We are skeptical of all facts gathered and report them only when we are reasonably satisfied of their accuracy. We guard against errors of omission that cause a story to misinform our listeners by failing to be complete. We make sure that our language accurately describes the facts and does not imply a fact we have not confirmed, and quotations are both accurate and placed properly in context.

“Honest” means we do not deceive the people or institutions we cover about our identity or intentions, and we do not deceive our listeners. We do not deceive our listeners by presenting the work of others as our own (plagiarism), by cutting interviews in ways that distort their meaning, or by manipulating audio in a way that distorts its meaning, how it was obtained or when it was obtained. The same applies to text and photographs or other visual material used on NPR Online. Honesty also means owning up publicly and quickly to mistakes we make on air or online.”Respect” means treating the people we cover and our audience with respect by approaching subjects in an open-minded, sensitive and civil way and by recognizing the diversity of the country and world on which we report, and the diversity of interests, attitudes and experiences of our audience.”

No overt or hidden agendas? Separating the reporter’s ideology from the facts? All views? Does this sound like National Public Radio to you? Does it sound like the kind of organization that would fire Juan Williams? No; this is the Code of Ethics of an organization that needs to create the illusion of objectivity and integrity in order to push an ideological agenda.

“Fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest” in the Ethics Code is every bit as false a description of NPR as the slogan  “fair and balanced” is as a description of Fox News, though I’ve never heard Jon Stewart mock NPR. The difference is that Fox News knows it has an ideological slant, and doesn’t deny its bias. NPR is at least as biased, but 1) denies it 2) denigrates Fox for the same degree of bias NPR engages in every day and 3) unlike Fox. is a public, taxpayer supported entity, which makes its bias far more objectionable, improper, and even sinister.

Hereare the sections of the Code as they were explicitly cited by Schiller:

“…these specific comments (and others made in the past), are inconsistent with NPR’s ethics code, which applies to all journalists (including contracted analysts): ‘In appearing on TV or other media. … NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows … that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

Oh…you mean like NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg, who engages in reliably liberal punditry as a regular panel member on the public policy program “Inside Washington”?  Why isn’t this part of the Code applied to her? Answer: because the Code isn’t there to be applied, followed, or even read. It is there for management to use when it wants to denigrate a fired employee as “unethical.” Totenberg’s punditry follows the NPR script, so she’s “ethical.”

Schiller continued:

“More fundamentally, ‘In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists  should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.'”

Oh? Williams writes that he would have made the same comments about Muslims on NPR, and told the woman firing him (by phone) as much. Schiller is, therefore, calling him a liar. Why wouldn’t he express the same views on NPR? There are only a couple of possibilities: he wouldn’t because a politically incorrect opinion would upset NPR listeners, who really don’t want to hear “all important views on a topic,” or because his bosses have made it clear that non-conforming opinions will have dire consequences for those expressing them. Either way, this code provision has nothing to do with ethics, and everything to do with intimidation and enforced conformity with a predetermined message.

Which Schiller more or less admitted with her final line:

“Unfortunately, Juan’s comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.”

What standards? Surely not “fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest!” Williams was accurate. He was honest. His opinion is essential to completely understanding the dynamics of the story. He was not giving a biased opinion but expressing his feelings, and there is not a thing wrong or unfair about admitting that he has the fears he expressed, rational or not. He “offended many”? So what? NPR offends people every day; truth offends many; opinions offend many.

Shameless hypocrisy offends many. Today I was listening to my local NPR station —I enjoy NPR, biased as it is—and the hostess of the fundraising portion of the afternoon began describing what NPR stands for. “It stands for arguing different points of view without screaming at each other,” she said, reverently.

No, NPR doesn’t scream at you for having an opposing point of view. It just fires you.

Good to know.

2 thoughts on “Juan Williams, Revelations and the Phony NPR Ethics Code

  1. Pingback: Juan Williams, Martyr to Tolerance « Ethics Alarms

  2. Well folks, this is funny. Funny because it goes to the heart of the matter that is killing this country – nation. And that few wish to discuss it, and even fewer wish to address its solution. This really isn’t political, or economic, or does it deal with the subject matter used within the conversation of issue. No Folks, this is just more evidence of the real problem that plagues this country. We have become a nation of YIN. Everything is YIN, and when anything isn’t YIN, or YIN leaning, it gets fired, burnt, exiled, or at least demeaned. These actions are totally consistent with a YIN controlled society. This malady infects our education system, our courts, our families, our churches, our political parties. I know some of you think it hasn’t infected the great body of so-called Conservative Thought, but in fact it has. you have to be willing to see it in action.
    It is long past time to return to the notion that a well lived Life contains a balance of YIN & YANG.
    With out that balance we can’t even begin to have a descent dicussion about ETHICS.

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