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Charles D. Ellison

Charles D. Ellison

Posted: October 26, 2010 07:50 PM

The constant theme heard in the firing of Juan Williams is that "it was coming" -- National Public Radio was aiming to do this all along. This leaves the whole affair abundantly odoriferous and foul, and leaves in my mind the scent of something staged. Most observers of the fiasco point to Williams' long, contentious relationship with the radio network, and most agreed that he wasn't a really good fit from the start. His dual roles with both NPR and FOX were problematic from the get go, since both networks are perceived as competing ideologues. Though we're not certain of the exact moment NPR was tagged a bastion of "liberal" media, this recent turn of events could lead into another conversation about what constitutes "liberal media" and what, for argument's sake, is "conservative media."

But, to the point. While throngs of people debate as to whether Williams' should or shouldn't have been fired, let's stoke the flames of discussion with a bit of "devil's advocate." Namely, should we be surprised if this firing was just the culmination of Williams' double-play, an effort to get both outlets to outbid the other? If this was in fact what happened, you'd have to admit that it was a rather clever maneuver on Williams' part.

He clearly grew tired of battling double-consciousness between the two contrasting institutions; more fatigued from holding back on one network when the other dug his outspoken style. To Williams, NPR was boring, while FOX gave him a platform to work his liberal sideshow. He knew all along that it was a matter of time, and agreeing to an O'Reilly Factor appearance was all part of a larger plan to gaffe and force NPR's hand. Leaving on his own was flat... less dramatic, barely causing a stir. Being booted is a ratings panacea for any future appearances on FOX, thereby prompting the right-leaning network to chip in some extra loot (now at $2 million) for their new tap dance routine.

Williams is laughing all the way to the bank. When a media personality and their employer publicly argue about said personality's public behavior, it's usually about a closed-door disagreement over compensation. The fact that Williams was moonlighting on FOX meant that NPR wasn't meeting his living standards. At some point, something had to give and somebody had to pay up. And Williams probably felt he took enough "sell out" lumps for FOX to justify the shrewd move. Putting FOX on the spot like that was brilliant. NPR President Vivian Schiller apologizing (obviously avoiding a law suit): priceless.

It's cool that Juan now cuts mad cake from FOX, or that he suddenly made big off the large foot he initially choked on. I don't fault him for that because I don't believe he choked. Well, he did, but more like Chuck Pahlahniuk's conniving protagonist Vincent Mancini in the cult-literary-classic-made-into-indy-film-look-a-like Choke. Or, maybe, Williams was really that lucky. Who can say?

But, what's annoying is the notion of Williams as some new racial cause célèbre, that his case was a multimedia Rodney King beat down by a bad blue NPR getting happy with microphone nightsticks. I can't hop on that silly bandwagon. FOX colleague Brit Hume's offensive take on Williams as the victim of NPR racism is filled with radioactive levels of hypocrisy. Any time a leading African American public figure cries foul about a real, authentic injustice, folks like Hume are quick to smack it down as incessant whining and victimization; but, they're quick to paint Williams as a victim simply because he's been permitted to golf on their course.

What is certain is that Williams' firing is being used as the perfect excuse by disingenuous conservatives to pull federal funding of NPR. This has been an ongoing discussion for quite some time, with the reddest of the right-leaning anti-public broadcasting crowd fixing to "de-fund" and altogether eliminate some of the stalwarts of American news such as NPR and PBS. They say it's a constitutional issue; it's really about money. Because that's nearly half-a-billion that could be directed towards publicly-funded school voucher programs, right? Others are a bit more sanguine in observing conservative chagrin when commercial-free public broadcasting occasionally produces biting, unhinged investigative programming on great American scandals such as -- off the top of our collective dome -- big oil, Wall Street meltdowns and shadowy corporate contributions to politicians. It doesn't help NPR's case when most of the scoundrel politicians profiled in these documentaries are Republican; many of the subjects financial backers of conservative causes.

Hence, like an imperial Death Star roaming about a galaxy far away, any outlet that disagrees with conservative causes should be obliterated. The skin of many on the right is rather thin, especially for folks who love to brandish their guns, tout their Bibles and thump on about how much they prefer the outdoors to politics while their policies kill the environment. Defunding NPR is no different from Alaska GOP U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller's unofficial bodyguard entourage handcuffing Alaska Dispatch reporter Tony Hopfinger.

The outcries from the more partisan Republican ranks feel awfully staged, to a point where it's questionable Williams himself wasn't in on the scriptwriting. From House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to RNC Chair Michael Steele (eager to latch on a controversy other than himself), the calls to cut the annual grant funding to NPR beckon for another mass movement campaign issue to undercut Democrats, especially in this age of bloated deficits and expensive campaigns.

Originally appeared in Politic365.com

 
 
 

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