Daniel Schorr has been gone since July, but he’s missed more than ever right now. That’s because if the late 93-year-old news sage had lasted just a few months longer we might have heard what he had to say tomorrow morning to Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition about the firing of their now-former NPR colleague Juan Williams. And wherever Schorr came down on the issue, you know it would be an on-target take about this latest head-snapping moment in the culture wars.
Yesterday, top Republicos from Sara Palin to John Boehner to Mike Huckabee were calling for an end to even the meager federal pipeline that helps fund National Public Radio after station bigs pulled the plug on Williams’ contract for his comments on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox TV show Monday.
Williams confessed that seeing people in Muslim dress aboard an airplane gave him a case of post-9-11 shudders. In terms of Islam-bashing, a sport that Fox has been turning into a national Olympics event, Williams’ comments barely register on the Allah-Be-Gone meter. As the Daily News‘ David Hinckley puts it today, “Measured against what Michael Savage regularly says about Islam, it’s a mash note.” But NPR decided that he’d finally taken one step too far from its ethics handbook, saying Williams had “undermined his credibility as a news analyst.”
Actually, you could make a much stronger case that Williams was undercutting his credibility just by sitting down next to O’Reilly without immediately snapping at the Fox Terrier for his own verbal mishap last week when O’Reilly shouted during an appearance on “The View” that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” O’Reilly later tried to walk that one back a bit, insisting that he wasn’t trying to blame all Muslims for September 11th, and the show with Williams was part of that patch job.
Williams is probably right when he says that the decision to sack him had more to do with NPR’s long-standing discomfort with his dual role as a Fox News talking-head where he inevitably managed to sound a good deal more conservative than he did on NPR’s airwaves. His mini-Muslim-phobia confession was presumably the last straw for managers who didn’t appreciate having one of their stars helping to prop up Fox as its top African-American commentator.
Still, this one has to be scored Fox 10, NPR 0.
The Greater Murdoch empire celebrated its coup today by giving Williams a new 3-year, $2 million contract, a substitute host slot for O’Reilly tonight, and a full-page spread in the New York Post headlined “NPR Fired Me For Telling the Truth.” The guest column is filled with the kind of bile build-up that frequently accompanies the sudden end of bad marriages. He blasts the station for its “self-reverential attitude” when it tried to keep him from identifying himself on Fox as an NPR analyst and for being too nice to President George W. Bush in an interview. They also handed him the ultimate insult, he reveals, when they “cut my salary and diminished my on-air role.”
He goes on to vent a lot like his Fox pals, condemning his longtime employer for “one-party rule and one-sided thinking” that “lead to enforced ideology, speech and writing.” The proof is that he has now been sent to “the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”
This is the first I’m hearing that these gulags come with $2 million in Murdoch Money. Lock me up now!
As for one-sided thinking, NPR proved long ago that it is endlessly tolerant of hypocrisy. This occurred when it didn’t even blink after its once top political star, Cokie Roberts, was revealed to be taking down upwards of $40,000 in speaking fees from the largest corporations in America whose policies she was supposed to be helping to decipher for those of us on the listener end of the airwaves.
At any rate, this all makes for a lousy pledge week for the listener-supported radio. Memo to managers: Maybe it’s time to roll out some old tapes of Dan Schorr. And since it’s almost World Series time, include some of those great Red Barber — Bob Edwards exchanges. “The Old Redhead” was always good for whatever ailed you.