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.