Thursday, October 28, 2010
Thoughts triggered by the NPR/Juan Williams messy divorce . . .
If you do need a refresher course on what happened, there was an excellent overview compiled by Tobin Harshaw at the end of last week on the New York Times "Opinionator" column -- along with some 25 pages of comments.
Juan Williams-gate took place when WMRA was a day-and-a-half away from wrapping up our Fall Festival of Fundraising. General Manager Tom DuVal was on the phone with listeners pretty constantly for a couple of days after the news broke, explaining something that it seems as though many modern-day news consumers consider a quaint concept: NPR's code of ethics. Basically, this code states, anyone who does any kind of journalistic work for NPR is enjoined to remain publicly neutral on controversial issues.
I posted notice of the termination on the station's Facebook page, and the comments from WMRA Community members were mixed. To give you an idea of what I mean by mixed, one listener claimed Williams' firing was "insane and stupid political correctness run amok." Another commented that "NPR is one of the last remaining vestiges of actual unbiased journalism. To maintain that unbiased aura, Williams needed to go." We had a good, interesting discussion, I think -- which is why WMRA has a Facebook page in the first place.
I've not been in the office for a couple of days, but still out and about in WMRA Land. Everywhere I've gone people have wanted to know what I, personally, thought of the situation. And I think the best way for me to comment is to say that I, personally, am not going to say what I think in public. Not on the air, not giving a talk, not teaching a class, not on this blog. Neither am I going to comment on this, or any other controversy on my personal Facebook page, because that, too, is a public forum. The only comments I make about controversial issues are made in private..
Why? Because I'm bound by the same code of ethics that Juan Williams was. Airing my personal opinion on any controversial issue would automatically make me less effective at what I do.
And what is that, you ask?
My job, as a person who works and writes in the National Public Radio system, is to listen, question, explore, and challenge. And then to present whatever I discover to you in an organized and understandable way. I'm a conveyor and a convener, not a preacher. I want to inform and engage; not entertain and convert.
I believe firmly in leaving the hard work of forming your opinion entirely up to you.
Please, let me know what you think of journalistic ethics. . .