I find myself longing for the days when my boss, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper that employed me for 10 years, called me into his office and told me in no uncertain terms that if I joined the National Organization for Women I would never again write about women’s issues for the paper. The policy was about reporters not belonging to an organization that endorses candidates.
There’s a reason why such rules exist. Or they used to. Well, they mostly still do but it seems they’re not enforced.
Last week Arianna Huffington expressed frustration over news outlets not allowing their employees to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity when, in fact, it is the same premise operating. It’s Journalism 101. There are supposed to be standards for news analysts, reporters and the like that are different from those who get paid to express opinions and bring perspective. There has to be something in place to establish credibility. It’s kind of basic.
It’s not that it doesn’t get complicated at times. I told that same newspaper editor, a conservative Catholic, that the Catholic church I was attending at the time told me who to vote for from the pulpit. Isn’t that endorsing a candidate? But of course an employer cannot tell its employees not to practice their religion.
But I digress. This is all swirling around my mind because of Juan Williams and his appearance on Fox. This isn’t cut and dry, as is evidenced by the people of all stripes who have criticized NPR for firing him. I’m inclined to think NPR overreacted, but I’m still dismayed that almost none of the commentary I’ve been reading and hearing is focused on the journalism.
The average Joe is not versed in the finer points of our profession and in this case it is our duty to illuminate and clarify. There is an intelligent argument to be made on both sides of this, but now it’s become a high-pitched left-vs.-right outrage fest in the name of political correctness.
Bottom line, after expressing fear at seeing Muslims in their garb on an airplane, could Williams objectively interview a Muslim for a news story? That is what NPR was weighing. Apparently they thought the answer was no. That’s their right. Williams has landed on his feet with a sweet deal from Fox. That’s his right.
That was the question all along.