The other morning when I listened to Fox News as I was channel surfing for the day’s events it was disclosed that President Bush had granted an interview to Juan Williams a senior NPR correspondent and Fox News contributor to fall in line with the anniversary of the Little Rock public school desegregation action taken by President Eisenhower back in the 50’s.
No biggie one might say but when it was disclosed that National Public Radio had balked and would not air the interview this left me wondering … what is going on here?
Ellen Weiss, NPR’s vice president for news, said she “felt strongly” that “the White House shouldn’t be selecting the person.” She said NPR told Bush’s press secretary, Dana Perino that “we’re grateful for the opportunity to talk to the president but we wanted to determine who did the interview.” When the White House said the offer could not be transferred to one of NPR’s program hosts, Weiss took a pass.
Let me touch upon why I think NPR was wrong in this situation. First it is not a practice for any news organization to be able to dictate what reporter gets to ask the President a question when they are allowed access to the President during a White House news conference. Questions are fielded from parties present at the discretion and selection of the President. Anyone he does not want to allow to ask a question is passed by and there are no qualms. It is a matter of routine practice and has been for years.
Second, NPR is publicly funded. As a servant of the public trust it behoves NPR to utilize all opportunities to give the public access to the President on issues of interest and concern. An interview with President Bush on race relations in this country does not qualify as a matter of interest with the Jenna 6 and assault on Megan Williams in West Virginia such hot topics?
Last, Juan Williams until now has been a respected journalist. NPR by this action has shown that it does not respect Mr. Williams to be fair and honest in his efforts to deliver news. This in my opinion is nothing but censorship. This goes to the point that I have advocated for a long time, “A free people’s measure of freedom is dictated not only by their ability to read but by what they can read. ”
I recall from my history education that in Nazi Germany one of the first rights to disappear was the right to have access to written material especially material that was in opposition to those in control.
We are living in dangerous times. It is now more important than ever to at least be able to hear our elected leaders respond to questions about issues of our time. NPR has coverage on Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia. If you can defend your coverage of that as an effort to provide news that is of interest to the public then why are African American journalists denied publication of interviews with the President?
Maybe it’s a “Black” thing?