NPR should be funded, in part, by Fox News.
That is the argument made by Steve Coll, the former managing editor of the Washington Post. In the “Outlook” section of yesterday’s Post, Coll argues that NPR needs more funding, not less, and that the money should come from for-profit commercial broadcasters — including Fox. “In this time of niche publications and cable networks that thrive on ideological anger,” Coll writes, “we should be seeking to strengthen NPR’s role as a convener of the public square, a demagogue-free zone where all political and social groups — including conservatives and others opposed to federal finding of the media — should be welcome on equal terms.”
Coll is like a drunk who stumbles into a bar and tells everyone they need to go to rehab. For six years, from 1998 to 2004, Coll was the managing editor of the Washington Post, one of the world’s most well-known newspapers. What did he do while there to foster the kind of diversity he is now demanding of a new NPR? I’ve been reading the Post daily for 40 years, and the liberalism from 1998 to 2004 seemed pretty similar to the liberalism of all the other years. I never noticed an uptick in the Post’s coverage of faith, the heartland, right-wing authors, or conservative politics.
In his article, Coll cites an in-house review conducted by the British Broadcasting Corporation when they were charged with liberal bias. According to Coll, the report “concluded…that the BBC’s reporting on certain stories was not typically biased against conservatives but that news subjects of concern to the right, such as immigration and business, were disproportionately neglected.”
Coll doesn’t seem to see that neglect is worse than explicit bias — hey, he seems to be saying, we don’t attack you, we just ignore you. When I became a conservative in the 1990s, I was amazed at how entire swaths of my life, and the lives of millions of other righties, just simply did not exist to journalists. The publishers I liked, from Regnery to Ignatius, simply didn’t have their books covered at places like the Post. Thinkers like Midge Decter and Richard John Neuhaus may have well just not existed — although I do remember a brutal savaging of Decter in the Post while Coll was a managing editor. I also recall freelancing for the paper and knowing that my more right-leaning pieces would never make it through the front gate. Nothing pro-life was accepted, but my defenestration of a Bill Buckley novel was.
Coll, the managing editor of the paper, and a man I routinely pitched story ideas to (he never bit), could have done something then and there to make the Post like the sparkling and even-handed NPR he envisions. He decamped for the New Yorker.
But now that the Juan Williams fracas has erupted, not to mention the cable news growth and the existence of a vibrant and popular conservative press, Coll wants to negotiate. But he manages to insult Fox, NPR’s potential sugar daddy, before he’s halfway through the article. While it’s “entirely fair” to ask if NPR fired Juan Williams based on “ideological bias,” we can’t discount the opportunism of those rascals at Fox: “Of course, Fox displayed its own familiar, unabashed opportunism by quickly offering Williams a $2 million contract and pledging to protect his freedom of speech ‘on a daily basis.’”
Isn’t it great when someone asks for your wallet, then kicks you in the nuts? Coll doesn’t seem to appreciate that his moral equivalency makes it apparent that he is the kind of liberal who is incapable of being fair to conservatives — that his article calling for media fairness reveals his own demagoguery. With calm judiciousness he writes that it is “entirely fair” to question if, by some remote possibility, NPR torpedoed Juan Williams because of bias. Quite right, my good man, and said with equipoise and calm deliberation. On the other hand, Fox displayed “familiar, unabashed opportunism” — and you have to love the smug, Jon Stewart quotes around “on a daily basis.”
You know what’s always fun in these situations? The old role-reversal. Imagine that Fox had led Williams go because he had said something insanely liberal — something, say, that could have appeared in the New Yorker. Imagine that NPR had then given Williams a raise and assured him that they would protect his free speech. Do you think Coll would have written his piece the same way? Indeed, do you think he would have written a piece at all?
The fact that Coll, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, can see nothing honorable in Fox protecting Williams means that Coll may be suffering from the demagoguery that the new, improved NPR will supposedly eradicate.
Mark Gauvreau Judge is the author of several books, including Damn Senators and God and Man at Georgetown Prep. His articles and essays have appeared in various publications.