Oct 22, 2010

A second look at Juan Williams, and then looking past him

The Juan Williams flap is more interesting than I first suggested yesterday, once the personalities and Fox squawk are toned down some.

The predictable calls for Congress to de-fund NPR were predictable. But conservative critics could gain some ammunition in their charge of liberal bias since, earlier this week, NPR accepted $1.8 million from a foundation run by liberal activist billionaire George Soros. On the other side of the partisan divide, David Weigel at Slate asks whether conservatives are letting themselves get sidetracked in the final week of campaign season:
Doesn't this remind that voter whom the Democrats are trying to spook with Christine O'Donnell attacks that the GOP he's voting for is going to wage culture war as much as it's going to try and bring back jobs?
And, of course, there's the increasing pressure on journalists to "get real" by offering opinions and reactions, rather than muck up the American reality show with mushy impartiality and faux objectivity:
The Williams firing shows that NPR, in many ways, is an example of a news organization trying to navigate new media without muddying the role of journalism in society, says Jen Reeves, an associate journalism professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

"It's confusing to the general public what journalism is anymore," says Ms. Reeves. "Our job as journalists is to question the culture and present it to the general public to think about. But instead we're constantly [playing up people's fears]."
I'm still not sure why people seek elite stand ins to sloppily represent their thoughts and opinions; and I don't see how a response to fake outrage on a show like the O'Reilly Factor offers a truthful glimpse into reality. But whatever.

There's the question of how Muslims are being used by ideologues to stand as symbols of what we should fear or what we should celebrate; there's a profit issue (people get paid more to bash on cable than to think on NPR), and then there's perhaps the most interesting question to me, one related to the opinion and spin journalism on television and online. The story was done by a reporter at NPR and it will sound sympathetic to the president to some. Here's an excerpt:
[Walt] Rowen counseled patience, sounding very much like the owner of a family business that's now celebrating its 100th year.

"Like businesses, many, many times it's a long-term process. You can't expect immediate results," he said. "You've got to look down the road and say, 'These are the policies that I need to implement now that will get me where I want to go.'

"And that's very difficult to get across in our society today. Everybody is like Velma Hart. She wants an immediate answer. She wants instant gratification. And it's not possible."

Rowen's words reminded me of Cavalier's and Amadeo's. But their philosophy isn't one that's getting a lot of airtime these days. That has left Rowen asking the question one hears from across the political spectrum: left, right and especially center.

"Why aren't people like me that have opinions like mine being asked or talked to?" he asked.

Across the country, there's no shortage of shouting this election season.  But beyond the backyard, real conversations about politics are hard to come by.
A journalist needs to set his own opinions aside to hear and report Rowen's. And it's a hell of a lot more interesting than what Juan Williams thinks when he gets on a plane.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the great myths of American culture -- journalists are objective. No one is objective. Presuppositional thought-forms dictate how each person interprets the world. Most of the most powerful thought forms exist in the subconscious where you can't even know them. Why do you think everyone, including journalists, accuse everyone else of being biased?