Will the Right's War on NPR Succeed?

Juan Williams's firing has unified the conservative A-listers

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National Public Radio is facing a wave of public scrutiny for its firing of longtime news analyst Juan Williams. On Wednesday, the network dismissed him after an appearance on Fox News in which he confessed to getting "nervous" when riding on airplanes with "people who are in Muslim garb." Some are defending NPR's decision while others—on the left and right—find it unwarranted. Across television and the blogosphere, the conservative reaction has been especially heated, as the right has long accused the network of liberal bias.

Republican Mike Huckabee "will no longer accept interview requests" from NPR and has called for Congress to cut the network's funding. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed similar sentiments. As more conservatives join the boycott to get Williams his job back, the pressure is on NPR senior executives. Will the right force NPR to reconsider? How would funding cuts affect the network?

  • It's Time to Cut NPR Off, writes former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a statement: "While I have often enjoyed appearing on NPR programs and have been treated fairly and objectively, I will no longer accept interview requests from NPR as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship, and since NPR is funded with public funds, it IS a form of censorship. It is time for the taxpayers to start making cuts to federal spending, and I encourage the new Congress to start with NPR."

  • We're Standing by Our Decision, writes NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller in an internal memo to NPR employees:
A critical distinction has been lost in this debate. NPR News analysts have a distinctive role and set of responsibilities. This is a very different role than that of a commentator or columnist. News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation. As you all well know, we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview – not our reporters and analysts.

Second, this isn’t the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments. Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan has continued to violate this principal.
  • This Could Empower NPR's Enemies, says Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute: "NPR’s overreaction has handed its government-hating detractors a chance to slap the PC label on the network, which in reality is the nation’s most robust marketplace of ideas."
  • NPR Doesn't Need Congressional Funding, notes Jordan Fabian at The Hill: "NPR operates using both private and public money, though most of their revenue comes from non-public sources." According to a 2009 Fast Company article, "less than 2%" of NPR's budget comes from "government money." Speaking to Politico, NPR officials say the figure is actually less than 2 percent:

Anna Christopher, a spokeswoman for NPR, said these calls for cutting off funding to NPR were “unfortunate” and reflect a fundamental misunderstanding about NPR’s financial structure.

“We don’t report to any congressional committee,” she said. “NPR is an independent news organization that receives no direct federal money, and less than 1 percent of our budget comes from grants that we competitively seek from government-funded organizations like the CPB [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] and the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts].”

  • Will Conservatives Refuse Interviews En Masse?  Since cutting Congressional funding won't really hurt NPR, the refusal to accept interview requests may be Republicans' most effective tactic. However, the allure of national exposure is difficult to turn down. Do you think the conservative boycott will pick up steam or fizzle?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.