I’m against censorship and don’t approve of journalists being punished for their views, but I also believe that journalists should avoid discussing their personal opinions in public. Much of the troubles of American journalism today stem from too much opinion being expressed by reporters. And so for that reason I think Juan Williams had to leave NPR — even though it touched off a firestorm.
NPR clearly handled the matter badly, but I think the more important issue is opinionated journalism, which has gotten out of hand. We need to get back to the basics of reporting — telling the public the facts and letting the public make up its own mind. Journalists need to regain the public’s trust by being true, reliable, unbiased reporters, not “analysts” or pundits.
If Juan Williams had said “I have spoken to airline passengers who say they are afraid when the see passengers in Islamic garb,” that would have been an example of useful reporting that sheds light on an important issue. But when he says that he himself experiences that fear, we the public no longer see him as a professional journalist who carefully reports the facts and keeps personal biases out of it — and he loses some credibility.
To make it worse, Williams calls himself a “political analyst” and was drawing a paycheck from both NPR, which tries to be nonpartisan, and Faux News, which, in effect, is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party and has such other luminaries on its payroll as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. If Williams had wanted to be taken seriously as a journalist, he should never have allowed himself to be paid by a cable network that foments Islamophobia and whose owner contributes large sums to the GOP. And for NPR to be taken seriously as an independent and impartial news network, it can’t have people on its payroll who are also being paid by rightwing propagandists. In fact, NPR would be better served by avoiding or at least minimizing the use of any “analysts” and instead have journalists on its payroll who report what politicians and academics are saying, while keeping their personal views out of it. That’s what journalists like Jim Lehrer do, and he is highly trusted and respected.
(Photo: Baltimore Sun)