Search Results for: juan williams

Pod people: Juan Williams, First Amendment

Can’t get enough commentary on Juan Williams’ firing from NPR? Love to talk about tea party Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell? Want to hear a GetReligionista commend the New York Times? Then check out our latest podcast here. Guided by the soothing voice and insightful questions of Todd Wilken, we discuss all these and more on Crossroads.

One thing I mentioned in the podcast that I hadn’t realized when I wrote the initial post on O’Donnell is how bad the original — and more widely distributed — Associated Press account of her debate with Chris Coons was.

From Patterico’s Pontifications, here’s the original story lede:

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion.

And after that got everyone going, they changed the lede to this:

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Christine O’Donnell challenged her Democratic rival Tuesday to show where the Constitution requires separation of church and state, drawing swift criticism from her opponent, laughter from her law school audience and a quick defense from prominent conservatives.

That’s an improvement. In fact, the entire story — including three out of every four words — was changed and improved.

But the damage was already done. I wonder if changes that substantive should be better identified. Maybe you don’t need a full retraction of the story but a notice that it bears almost no resemblance to the earlier version would be helpful.

Juan gets cut off short — again

So Juan Williams gave a lecture — on the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall — at the University of Maryland School of Law, where he received a standing ovation from a pack of lawyers from Baltimore. That, my friends, is not a Fox News crowd.

Williams also agreed to an interview with The Baltimore Sun, in which he declined to declare himself a sinner.

What interests your GetReligionistas, of course, is the ongoing issue of what Williams actually said in his now infamous visit with Bill O’Reilly. We are interested in everything he said, especially since Williams was offering a classic “Yes, but” message. I remain convinced that one of the worst sins that journalists can commit is to edit a person’s words so that they end up saying the opposite of what they actually said.

Alas, here is the short Sun summary of the controversy:

NPR announced Williams’ firing last Wednesday for comments made two nights earlier on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox show saying that when he sees passengers in traditional Muslim “garb” on an airplane with him, he feels “nervous.” Within hours of the firing, Fox News expanded his duties at the top-rated cable news channel with a three-year, $2 million contract.

Williams said Tuesday that he remained emotionally “roiled” by the abrupt termination that has earned NPR harsh criticism, and which touched off a firestorm over political correctness and whether the public radio network welcomes divergent political views.

Later, the Sun did allow Williams to throw another dose of gasoline on one of the many hot issues linked to his departure from public radio:

“At NPR … they don’t know this: A third of the audience for Bill O’Reilly’s show is made up of people of color,” Williams said. “At NPR, they think, ‘Oh, these people who watch Fox don’t appreciate diversity of opinion, they’re not smart people. They’re not informed people. Oh, yeah? I’ll tell you what: They’re informed. …

Williams said Tuesday that Fox executives were more enlightened than many on the left give them credit for, especially since the network “allows a black guy with a Hispanic name to sit in the in the big chair and host the big show. Do you see it on CNBC? … Do you [see] it at CNN in prime time?”

So, you can watch William’s controversial statement for yourself or you can read the transcript of his statement in which he reminds viewers of what he said the first time, putting his words back into context. Here’s a sample of that:

The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims. This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber — as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals — are Christians, but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without the fear of having your throat slashed.

Actually, people do — and rightly so — note that the Westboro Baptist protesters are Christians who keep attacking other Christians. Oh, and Timothy McVeigh went out of his way to distance himself from Christianity in any known form.

Nevertheless, what Williams said went something like: This is what I feel, but we cannot allow our feelings to interfere with the rights of others. We cannot blame all Muslims for the actions of a few.

So, if you are looking for an in-depth look at what started this media storm, from a viewpoint just about as far from Fox as possible, check out William Saletan’s “frame game” piece at Slate.com, which has many useful links for further research. Here’s a look at some of the key analysis:

The damning video clip of Williams … cuts off the speaker just as he’s about to reverse course. According to the full transcript, immediately after saying, “I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Williams continues: “But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam.” That continuation has been conveniently snipped from the excerpt.

A few seconds later, Williams challenges O’Reilly’s suggestion that “the Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” … Williams reminds O’Reilly that “there are good Muslims.” A short while later, O’Reilly asks: “Juan, who is posing a problem in Germany? Is it the Muslims who have come there, or the Germans?” Williams refuses to play the group blame game. “See, you did it again,” he tells O’Reilly. “It’s extremists.”

The bottom line for Saletan is that it’s wrong when journalists play this game, turning the meaning of a person’s words upside down. It’s wrong when conservative activists do it, too. It’s wrong when liberal activists do it. It’s even wrong when the high priests of NPR do it.

NPR: Williams “dangerous to a democracy”

Well, NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams is going over like a lead balloon. NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepherd calls it a “public relations nightmare.” Before we get into some of the news coverage of the firing, one huge thing needs clarification.

Most media reports have focused on Williams’ admission that he feels worried when he sees people dressed in “Muslim garb” on flights. Most media reports have done a horrible job of conveying the rest of his comments. You can watch the entire conversation here. If you do that (rather than watch the Shirley Sherrod-like snippets that some advocacy groups supplied), it’s clear he’s admitting to a fear he experiences in order to convey how important it is to protect the rights of Muslim Americans against the sort of things irrational fear could lead to. He speaks about the importance of not painting all Muslims as enemies and how pundits have a responsibility to be careful with what they say. He even disagreed with host Bill O’Reilly’s comments that “Muslims” attacked America (by wrongly stating that Timothy McVeigh was a Christian but, hey, that’s a problem I already addressed in my previous post).

He repeats the error in this impassioned account of his firing and what it means here. There are some really interesting lines in there for GetReligionistas, such as a previous reprimand for saying that Americans were praying for Bush even if they didn’t understand why he was making certain decisions.

It’s beyond clear that NPR was either looking for an excuse to fire Williams or was completely and utterly duped — Sherrod-style, again — by a campaign to get Williams fired. Or both, I guess.

And they’re not helping themselves. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, in defending her firing of Williams, smirked as she suggested that he should have made his comments to a mental health professional or his agent. Yeah.

Various people across the political spectrum opposed the firing, with a few weighing in to defend. And some disgruntled taxpayers are wondering whether the billions they’ve invested in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, of which NPR is a significant part, have been worthwhile.

So let’s see how Brian Stelter, whose media coverage I value and follow, handled it for The New York Times. It was his story we looked at — favorably — yesterday. This story is odd, which I’ll get to in a minute, but it’s also notable for including media professor Jay Rosen’s views (uncredited) on “the view from nowhere.”

The original headline is “Williams Episode Shows 2 Versions of Journalism.” That might give you a hint of the problem. It basically adopts NPR’s own spin that they are a bastion of objectivity compared to FoxNews. And I have no doubt that it’s news to some folks that other folks don’t quite share that view of NPR. But those people should not be media reporters for The New York Times! But even more than that, Williams was a “news analyst” for NPR. If there’s such a thing as opinion-free news analysis, I’d really like learn what that looks like:

NPR said on Wednesday night that Mr. Williams’s comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices.” According to a report in The Los Angeles Times, Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, offered Mr. Williams, who was already a paid contributor to Fox, a new three-year contract worth nearly $2 million in total.

After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism. By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics. And it gave Fox news anchors and commentators an opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that had long been a target of conservatives for what they perceived to be a liberal bias.

The rest of the article is more of the same. It never once mentions the unbelievable comments made by the NPR CEO and it never includes perspective from anyone who thinks that some NPR programs fail to uphold their “objectivity” standard.

Or take this:

[Vivian Schiller] said that his most recent comments “violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.” Ms. Schiller, the general manager of NYTimes.com before she moved to NPR in 2009, declined an interview request.

Like many other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to avoid situations that might call its impartiality into question — an expectation written into the organization’s ethics code.

Oh, you mean like when NPR’s own Nina Totenberg said that she hoped Jesse Helms and his grandchildren got AIDS and died? Remember how she got fired for that? Oh wait, no.

I was going to say that even though the story retells the events from Monday night, it fails to note that Williams was not giving people his opinion that they should feel fear of other Muslims. However, an updated version did mention that.

It does end with quotes from Williams’ essay:

He continued in the essay: “Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

The other thing worth looking at is NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepherd‘s 1,400 word take on the matter. She seems to do a bit of the head-buried-in-the-sand thing when it comes to addressing whether NPR’s programs — in addition to being smart and good — might lean ever so slightly to the left. But she explains how Thursday was a day unlike any other for NPR. Their computer systems were unable to keep up with the correspondence from folks wanting to weigh in on their firing of Williams. The vast majority, she says, are furious. But I’m not sure how well she researched before responding. For instance, she appears to be misinformed:

Later in that segment, Williams did challenge O’Reilly’s apparent contention that every Muslim on the planet is an extremist bent on attacking America.

Um, feel free to criticize O’Reilly if you want. But stick to the facts. O’Reilly didn’t say that “every Muslim on the planet is an extremist bent on attacking America.” In fact, he said that he thinks it’s ridiculous that you have to point out that not every Muslim is an extremist every time you talk about Muslim extremism. He said something like, “What are we, third graders?” Again, disagree with him as much as you want. But accurately convey what he said.

Also, Shepherd doesn’t mention any of the comments other NPR journalists have made, from the Totenberg death wish mentioned above to Gwen Ifill’s ill-advised attempt to mock Sarah Palin this week (turns out it was Ifill, not Palin, who got her history wrong. Whoops!). These frequent revelations that NPR journalists are, well, humans with opinions are simply not mentioned.

I put the Totenberg video of her views on “retributive justice” for Jesse Helms above. But in the last month, according to Stephen Hayes, in her regular appearances on “Inside Washington,” she has: “criticized a ruling of the Roberts Court as scandalous; claimed that Michelle Obama gives people ‘warm and fuzzy’ feelings; called Bill Clinton ‘the most gifted politician I’ve ever seen;’ and lamented that the Democratic Party is diverse enough to include moderates that want to extend all Bush tax cuts.”

But somehow we’re supposed to believe that Juan Williams sharing his views is a threat to democracy. No really:

NPR, like any mainstream news outlet, expects its journalists to be thoughtful and measured in everything they say. What Williams said was deeply offensive to Muslims and inflamed, rather than contributing positively, to an important debate about the role of Muslims in America.

Williams was doing the kind of stereotyping in a public platform that is dangerous to a democracy. It puts people in categories, as types — not as individuals with much in common despite their differences.

NPR journalists aren’t thoughtful and measured in everything they say. Only for some one of them is the accusation of such a firing offense. But that’s a really idiotic measure anyway. It’s not like they’re fooling anyone. I love NPR and listen to it frequently. I’m glad that NPR journalists aren’t measured in everything they say.

But more than that, Williams was doing nothing like what Shepherd accuses him of. He was admitting to a personal fear in order to talk about the importance of *not* being bigoted.

Shepherd says that Williams’ personal admission of something felt by millions of Americans is “dangerous to a democracy.” I think we’re quickly seeing that Americans see NPR’s hasty action as more deserving of that claim.

NPR fires Williams over Muslim fears

Late last night, NPR fired senior news analyst Juan Williams. On Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” where he also contributes, there was a discussion about something that had happened on “The View” the previous week. Apparently Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar flipped out when guest O’Reilly said that “Muslims” had perpetrated the terrorist attacks on 9/11. They walked off the set in disgust.

So O’Reilly asks his panel about it and well, Williams’ comments didn’t sit well with NPR. The early reports of this news story are likely to be straight news. Here’s Brian Stelter at The New York Times:

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Mr. Williams also made reference to the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square. “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Mr. Williams said.

NPR said in its statement that the remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

The write-up is great and even includes a bit of analysis, although perhaps Williams’ statement about addressing reality should also have been mentioned:

I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.

Certainly NPR hadn’t been happy with him for a while, reprimanding him, as The Times notes, for mentioning his actual title (senior news analyst, NPR) outside of NPR. This may have been the excuse they needed to get rid of him.

Speaking of reality, Williams did not get in trouble for attempting to tie Timothy McVeigh’s irreligious terrorism to Christianity. In fact, NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik tweeted:

Williams also warned Fox host Bill O’Reilly agst blaming all Muslims for “extremists,” saying Christians shouldn’t be blamed for Tim McVeigh

It is true that Christians shouldn’t be blamed for McVeigh. Mostly that’s because McVeigh didn’t consider himself a Christian — self-identifying instead as agnostic. It’s a common error, but an error none-the-less. Apparently Folkenflik and many other media bigwigs, such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, are unaware of this basic fact. In fact, NPR’s Michel Martin was the last big media type to tar Christians with the Timothy McVeigh terrorism. Perhaps when NPR does its next round of sensitivity training, the network’s leaders might encourage their journalists to get their facts straight on that one.

Anyway, what do you think we’ll see in next-day stories? I assume most newsrooms have their series of Muslim response stories lined up already.

What else? A newsroom-wide polygraph to ensure that newsrooms are free of anyone who worries about Muslim terrorism on planes? A look at some of the hate speech that NPR approves of? An honest discussion of the role religion plays in Muslim terrorism? A collection of denunciations of Williams? A discussion of whether NPR’s status as a taxpayer-funded entity plays a role in Williams’ firing? A discussion of when it’s inappropriate to reveal fears? Somehow I think we might see a few “history of bias against Muslim”-type stories. All I hope for is a solid fashion-based discussion of “Muslim garb.” Well, that and a good treatment of stigma and its use and overuse in reining in bigotry.

The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg weighed in with a look at recent firings of journalists Helen Thomas and CNN’s Octavia Nasr. He wonders if media outlets aren’t getting too touchy in some cases.

No, not Helen’s. He says it appears that Williams was fired for no particularly good reason. He looks at the reality of travel-related violence committed or attempted by Muslim men in recent years. He points out, however, that the terrorists aren’t known for dressing in “Muslim garb.”

These last two statements seem to be a good avenue for further discussion in a news story. Why don’t you throw out your story suggestions. What are the important religion angles to include in this story? Extra points for how to make those “Muslim response to Williams” stories less predictable.

Pod people: No religion for abortion providers

Can I test a theory?

My sense is that reporters often look to religion when covering people who are against abortion. It might seem obvious, since people do often cite their underlying religious beliefs as their reason for opposition. Though when reporters explore why people do provide abortions, religion suddenly disappears from consideration.

Take the story about a gay abortion doctor who wants to adopt. The reporter showed that the doctor clearly felt there was some gray in the ethics of providing abortions, especially late-term ones. We were left wondering whether his faith (or lack of faith) had anything to do with why being an abortion doctor is so complex for him.

Earlier we saw the story about the 2,000 dead fetuses found at a Buddhist temple’s morgue. We learned about an abortion provider who adopted eight children that survived abortions. “I commit sin every day,” she said, “so if the kids won’t die, there’s no need to kill them.” We talked about her reaction, especially in the context of a primarily Buddhist country, but we still don’t know much about her religion.

We talk about these stories on the latest GetReligion’s podcast, so click here to listen to the most recent one.

By the way, when do you listen to podcasts? Have you listened to anything especially good recently? I know NPR isn’t terribly popular right now after the Juan Williams business, but I still listen to many of their shows. Are there good religion podcasts that I’m missing? Whether you’re on your computer, mp3 player, smart phone, whatever, thanks for “tuning in.”

Mr. Mayor’s righteous hand man

Like many Angelenos, I have long since soured on the mayor of our great city. It’s still shocking to me that he basically moonwalked into a second term. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s personal peccadillos and ethical standards aside, his tenure, like his personality, has been more show than biz; all talk, no game.

Sure, you say, he’s a politician: That’s what they do. Fair enough. But he’s my politician — or, at least he was until I moved just outside the city’s sprawling border — and I intend to exercise my right to be disappointed.

Now in the second year of his second term, Villaraigosa has a new right hand man. A righteous hand man. And Jeff Carr is an evangelical minister. (The mayor’s previous chief of staff was, in fact, a Jewish woman.) Carr was lured away from his COO job at Sojourners — yes, that Sojourners — back in 2007 to become Los Angeles’ first gang czar.

Now that he’s been promoted, Carr, like Rahm Emanuel was for President Obama, works behind the scenes to grease the wheels of a big bureaucracy. But this week Carr got some press attention.

The story was written by Los Angeles Times city hall reporter Patrick J. McDonnell. Here’s a snippet:

To admirers, Carr is a savvy, energetic, even charismatic leader with a distinctive pedigree, the adopted son of a preacher who followed his father to the ministry and now toils in a decidedly secular setting.

“Those [faith] values drive how I live my life, the decisions I make, how I treat people, how I try to manage, how I try to lead,” Carr said in a recent interview.

But others see Carr as a macho figure failing to impose direction on a deeply divided staff of 200 serving a mayor who is both demanding and easily distracted.

This is the basic focus of the article, assessing Carr’s success as a newcomer to the world of politics. But the story also spends a good deal of time discussing whom Carr is and just how his religious professional background tracks through his new profession.

Carr dons no clerical garb and his office betrays no outwardly religious artifact beyond a Bible on one shelf. He occasionally fills in as a guest preacher around town, but at City Hall his status as a man of the cloth stays mostly in the background.

Although many outsiders view evangelicals monolithically as conservative Republicans, Carr sees himself as the disciple of an earlier tradition, progressive 19th- and 20th-century evangelicals who were at the forefront of the anti-slavery and women’s suffrage movements.

“A lot of evangelicals think politics is evil,” says Carr, who was reared near Seattle. “I say politics is not evil. It is a process by which you change policy.”

McDonnell doesn’t explain what kind of evangelical Carr is but he does explore just how Carr came to identify with liberal causes. Kudos.

Leaving aside the absolutely hilarious reference to “clerical garb” — a subtle reference to Juan Williams? — this seems to me like a decent discussion of how religion plays out in the life of someone in the political arena. Certainly more could be done, but considering the focus of the article and the audience, I think this is a good piece.

PHOTO: A retouched image of Jeff Carr, via WitnessLA

An Okie asks: Is RNS the new CAIR?

On a recent post on its Facebook page, Religion News Service asked:

See if you can spot the garb that scared Juan Williams. http://ow.ly/2XUJB

The link took RNS’ Facebook followers to a site making light of Williams and “other ignorant” people with an “irrational fear of Muslims.” Funny stuff. Unless, of course, you thought RNS was serious about its motto: “The only secular news and photo service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion and ethics — exclusively.”

An unbiased news service would not take sides on Williams’ remarks, and in my opinion, would not give readers reason to question its allegiances with an offhand post — if that’s what it was — like the one above.

I bring up the above post because I am about to review what I believe is an absolutely atrocious RNS story on a recent anti-Sharia law passed by Oklahoma voters. Before I do so, I should point out that I appreciate all the important, insightful work that RNS does. But the story I am about to review crashes and burns in an extraordinary way.

The story follows up on a vote that I discussed in my recent Islamophobia vs. bad journalism post. If you haven’t read that post, it provides helpful background on this topic. (In breaking news, a federal judge in Oklahoma City today issued a temporary restraining order blocking the state constitutional amendment.)

Here’s the top of RNS’ story on Oklahoma’s vote:

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Sarah Albahadily will wear her headscarf to a Brad Paisley concert and her cowboy boots to mosque. There are two things she says she never misses: Friday prayers and University of Oklahoma football games.

But after seven in 10 Oklahoma voters on Tuesday (Nov. 2) approved State Question 755, a constitutional amendment that prohibits courts from using Islamic law, known as Shariah, Albahadily suddenly feels a little less at home in the Sooner State.

“It’s disheartening. Even though it was expected, you still feel the blow,” said Albahadily, 27, as she drove to the Mercy School, a K-12 Islamic school in Oklahoma City where she teaches science.

So far, so good.

Sarah Albahadily and I both like Brad Paisley and the Oklahoma Sooners (although I’m not sure what happened to them in College Station, Texas, the other night), but I digress.

In all seriousness, I like the lede. It makes me want to read the rest of the story. In an unbiased news account, I expect that I’ll hear from supporters and opponents of the law and gain a better understanding of the reasons behind the measure.

Nope. This is not an unbiased news story. This is a one-sided hit piece on the state of Oklahoma.

On the same Election Day last Tuesday, 81 percent of Oklahoma voters rejected a mammoth education spending proposal. I can imagine that if RNS reported on education issues, it would have quoted only teachers who voted with the 19 percent and couched the story entirely in terms of anti-education Oklahomans showing their fervent hatred of teachers. Somehow, I think the voting was a bit — read: a few billion dollars — more complicated than that. The same is true of the Islamic law question.

From the RNS piece:

In many ways, State Question 755 will likely have little impact either in Oklahoma or elsewhere — Muslims quickly point out they never lobbied for Shariah law, and many wouldn’t support its use anyway.

What really worries Muslims is the anti-Muslim fervor that fueled it. It’s the same sentiment behind the aborted Quran bonfire in Florida and the opposition to an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. The bottom line: Muslims increasingly feel unwelcome, unwanted and viewed by their neighbors as un-American. And if that sentiment can be legislated in one state, they say, it could be legislated in another.

Anti-Muslim fervor fueled the Oklahoma vote? OK, we’ll have to take RNS’ word for it because the news service provides no evidence to back up that claim. Nor is there any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to tie the Oklahoma vote to the sentiment behind the aborted Quran burning.

From my earlier post, you’ll recall this from CNN’s pre-election coverage of the Oklahoma vote:

The question might seem a befuddling one for a ballot in the heartland, but it stems from a New Jersey legal case in which a Muslim woman went to a family court asking for a restraining order against her spouse claiming he had raped her repeatedly. The judge ruled against her, saying that her husband was abiding by his Muslim beliefs regarding spousal duties. The decision was later overruled by an appellate court, but the case sparked a firestorm.

RNS fails to mention that case or reason — whether one agrees with it or not — for proposing the Oklahoma law. In fact, RNS quotes no one who supported the law. RNS quotes no evangelicals who voted yes to see if they did so because of anti-Muslim hatred. RNS does not even quote the lawmaker who pushed the state question, instead providing this background:

The referendum was primarily authored by Republican state Rep. Rex Duncan, and sailed through the state’s legislature. In 2007, Duncan made headlines when he refused a copy of a Quran given to lawmakers by the Governor’s Ethnic American Advisory Council. On Tuesday, he won a bid for a county district attorney position.

In other words, Duncan is an anti-Muslim jerk who doesn’t deserve a voice in an unbiased national wire service story.

There’s more:

Muslims say the referendum worsened anti-Muslim prejudice that was already enflamed by the Ground Zero controversy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and frequent visits from Islamophobic speakers like Brigitte Gabriel, hosted by local churches and conservative organizations.

“It’s really brought the Muslim-haters out,” said Allison Moore, a Muslim activist in Tulsa.

Where did Brigitte Gabriel speak? Which specific churches and organizations hosted her? As a matter of fact, who the heck is she? What did she say? I’m assuming that RNS has a policy against letting “Islamophobic speakers” respond to criticism because, again, there’s no input from her.

Pardon my sarcasm, but at this point, RNS’ unbiased coverage reads a whole lot more like a press release from CAIR. We have to ask, at the very least: Where is the other side of the story? Where are the other voices? If there are voices of prejudice, please quote them. If there are voices that favored the bill for reasons other than outright prejudice, quote them. Please.

BREAKING: Olbermann likes Democrats!

Like Donovan said: Must be the season of the witch. Or at least the witch hunt.

Since I started paying attention to these things back in 2003, I remember plenty of ethical missteps that led to a journalist’s downfall. But nothing like what we’ve seen in the past few months.

Since June, media watchers have been treated to these cannings (or resignations, if you’re inclined to believe that):

*Dave Weigel

*Octavia Nasr

*Helen Thomas

*Rick Sanchez

*Juan Williams

To be sure, most were well-deserved, either because the journalists were straight news reporters who demonstrated bias or were anchors and opinioneers but what they said was racist (or, in the case of Juan Williams, perceived to be racist).

Then Friday we heard this:

Keith Olbermann, the leading liberal voice on American television in the age of Obama, was suspended Friday after his employer, MSNBC, discovered he made campaign contributions to three Democrats last month.

The indefinite suspension was a stark display of the clash between objectivity and opinion in television journalism. While Mr. Olbermann is anchor of what is essentially the “Democratic Nightly News,” the decision affirmed that he was being held to the same standards as other employees of MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, both of which answer to NBC Universal. Most journalistic outlets discourage or directly prohibit campaign contributions by employees.

Mr. Olbermann’s contributions came to light in an article by Politico on Friday morning. He said he had donated $2,400 to the campaigns of Representatives Raul M. Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and Attorney General Jack Conway of Kentucky, who lost his Senate race to Rand Paul. He told Politico, “I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level.”

That was from The New York Times, but the story appeared in just about every major news source. As well it should. What I find absolutely dumbfounding, though, is that Olbermann was suspended in the first place.

Let’s start with a little refresher on whom we’re talking about.

As the NYT story mentioned, since leaving Sportscenter in the ’90s and starting “Countdown” in 2003, Olbermann has become a media darling of the left. No one — I mean no one — has in recent years questioned Olbermann’s politics. They’re obvious and he does nothing to temper them.

Many have seen Olbermann as MSNBC’s way of capturing liberals like FOX News grabbed conservatives with O’Reilly.

What’s more, Olbermann makes Jon Stewart look objective and “Countdown” is often snarkier than “The Colbert Report.”

So what is all the fuss about?

It basically comes down to MSNBC’s decision to enforce an old ethical policy to the letter of the law. As the AP explains:

NBC News prohibits its employees from working on, or donating to, political campaigns unless a special exception is granted by the news division president – effectively a ban. Olbermann’s bosses did not find out about the donations until after they were made.

I guess MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had prior permission then. Yes, the irony is that in 2007 MSNBC published a fascinating story about the 143 journalists whom they identified as having made political contributions between 2004 and 2007.

That story explained that MSNBC had a slightly different standard than some of the other networks.

news organizations don’t agree on where to draw the ethical line.

Giving to candidates is allowed at Fox, Forbes, Time, The New Yorker, Reuters — and at Bloomberg News, whose editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, set the tone by giving to Al Gore in 2000. Bloomberg has nine campaign donors on the list; they’re allowed to donate unless they cover politics directly.

Donations and other political activity are strictly forbidden at The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, CNN and NPR.

Politicking is discouraged, but there is some wiggle room, at Dow Jones, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. (Compare policies here.)

NBC, MSNBC and msnbc.com say they don’t discourage or encourage campaign contributions, but they require employees to report any potential conflicts of interest in advance and receive permission of the senior editor. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft; its employees are required to adhere to NBC News policies regarding political contributions.)

MSNBC’s is an easy-to-follow rule, and it’s fair enough that a reporter or anchor would be suspended for violating it. In fact, I would expect it if the journalist in question even pretended to be objective. But why care about that rule, and why now?

Typical news guidelines, even for anchors and not just reporters, state that journalists should not opinioneer when they aren’t appearing on the op-ed pages — and even then they shouldn’t do so if they would be discussing a topic they are supposed to cover objectively.

Personal, solitary objectivity is a farce. Good journalists just try to know their subjective biases, and to keep those from skewing their stories. Good newsrooms demand that. It is a matter of professionalism and, well, diversity.

Olbermann never did any of that. He was an often humorous old gasbag and a nice counterbalance to the fatter O’Reilly’s of the world. From this journalist’s perspective, donating to Democratic political campaigns was just about the least political thing Olbermann has done in years.


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