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Can Alec Baldwin and David Mamet overcome Juan Williams?

If you didn’t hear this on The Current last week, I meant it as a Monday morning grin — a treat for fans of “Glengarry Glen Ross” (and “30 Rock”) and a cure for the excruciating public radio pledge drive. Ladies and gentlemen, Alec Baldwin’s “Always be pledging”:

There are three more clever bits for New York Public Radio station WNYC here. The “Don’t Give” spot is the best of the rest, though after the deluge of criticism last week for NPR’s Juan Williams firing, it may cut closer to the bone than comedy writers intended.

I was working on local stuff last week so didn’t really have time to weigh in on the Williams canning. I wondered how long he would last at NPR after he decided to become Bill O’Reilly’s Alan Colmes, the allegedly liberal foil who all-too-frequently reinforces Fox News prejudices. NPR clearly waited too long; Williams’ “Stokely Carmichael in a dress” reference to Michele Obama in 2009 is a Molotov’s throw away from the “Radical-in-Chief” meme tracked by Katherine Kersten on a network that’s elevated two “New Black Panther Party” nuts in Philadelphia into the most egregious case of voter intimidation in America.

So the problem with Williams is that he is something of a charlatan, or a courtier to some. NPR doubled down on that from a different direction, insisting Williams be some sort of objective news analyst, the jumbo shrimp of journalism oxymorons. NPR has certainly stumbled over its political rectitude lately, what with the “no-grinning-at-the-Jon-Stewart-rally” staff memo and now this.

I like that NPR (and MPR) is a refuge from screaming matches and a credible crucible for public debate. I know people there work hard to be fair; the staff’s intellectual integrity is not a pretense. But management needs to drop other pretenses, like the hemmed-in commentator or the politically celibate staff. One reason Jon Stewart doesn’t need to import “news analysts” like Juan Williams is that he has the confidence to analyze the news himself (backed by a dazzlingly comprehensive video library). It’s one less affectation.

Really, everybody on your staff should be analyzing the news (and newsroom choices and emphases mean they do, even if it’s not labeled that). NPR should include outside opinions — in fact, there’s a shortage of politically unconventional voices — but call them guests or commenters, let them speak freely, and label appropriately.

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by B Maginnis on 10/25/2010 - 10:06 am.

    Anyone who has watched Juan on O’Reilly knows that he was positioned as a left leaning centrist.

    At least the fair and balanced Fox makes the attempt to include voices from all spectrums.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/25/2010 - 10:35 am.

    I think good journalism requires some degree of courage, an ability to withstand intimidation and criticism. I don’t now how to interpret NPR’s “explanation” of their restriction on attending the Stewart rally as anything other than an admission that they are so afraid of Republican bloggers that they want to restrict employees behavior outside the workplace. Any news organization that can’t think of any way to maintain it’s integrity other than to capitulate to intimidation has already lost it’s integrity. What kind of journalism can such an organization produce… at the end of the day.

    Williams entered the fray of the right wing noise machine of his own accord, and I think he damaged his credibility by doing so. At some point an organization has the right to question whether or not an individuals damaged credibility is going to color the integrity of the organization. I don’t know if this is the case with Williams, frankly I NPR and MPR lost their credibility with me a long time ago. They promoted the WMD argument before the war, and they completely missed the Great Recession until is was literally beyond denial. I think Williams is the least of their problems. It looks to me like a corporate mindset will be their undoing. Ms. Schiller’s memo reads more like something you’d expect from the CEO of
    Wallmart than does a public radio organization. This also reminds of the recent flap at the U. over the attempt to stop the screening of a movie. It takes real talent to generate bad publicity with an attempt to avoid bad publicity. My standard offer- whatever your paying these people I’ll do the job for half that amount.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/25/2010 - 10:36 am.

    //At least the fair and balanced Fox makes the attempt to include voices from all spectrums.

    He he, fuuuuny.

  4. Submitted by B Maginnis on 10/25/2010 - 04:30 pm.


    Many of the lefties that are being bounced next week have refused to appear on various Fox news shows despite repeated invitations.

    Why is that?

  5. Submitted by Hénock Gugsa on 10/28/2010 - 02:40 pm.

    “Many of the lefties that are being bounced next week have refused to appear on various Fox news shows despite repeated invitations.”
    What?… And lose any of the little self-respect they may have?

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