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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Did Firing Juan Williams Help the Republicans?

A friend in DC wrote to say how disappointed he is with NPR's firing of Juan Williams. My friend is a conservative in some ways, a Democrat in others and a regular NPR listener.

When Juan was fired, my friend wrote to me to complain that Juan at least brought a "common sense" style of conservatism to NPR - something he felt was sorely needed. He also agreed that Juan's appearances on Fox did not add anything to the national discussion since, like much of what passes for political discourse these days, it's mostly visceral rather than intelligent. Management's tussles with Juan (including my own) were beside the point. Juan needed editorial management, not firing, claimed my friend.

He also felt disappointed and let down by NPR. He made the comment that the desire for pack journalism and uni-thinking seems about same on Fox as it is on NPR. Ouch!

I thought that was a bit harsh, but it got me thinking about the political waves that must be emanating from this high-profile and ill-timed event.

One of my bosses at NPR always used to ask whenever we were faced with a complicated decision: "What's the downside?" Was that question ever asked inside NPR?

I decided to google "NPR and Juan Williams." To my amazement, there were as of today, 720,000 hits on that tandem. I doubt if every one of them refer to the recent events, but I stopped counting after I downloaded 12 pages of online references, all of them discussing the firing, and most of them attacking NPR.

It's doubtful that the Democrats can point to NPR as the cause of their present dilemma.

But my guess is that this was one more small media eruption that ended up contributing to the larger Republican tsunami.


  1. Too much, Jeffrey. Compared to the sense of outrage felt by middle America over the variation from the American mean, the firing of Juan Williams was small potatoes.

  2. One wonders what problems Williams gave you as a manager and ombudsman at NPR. Wish you would divulge those if possible.