News that Juan Williams' contract with NPR was terminated over comments he made about Muslims while appearing on Fox News shines a spotlight on the radio network's evergreen controversy: Its continued affiliation with Fox News. Specifically, NPR's Mara Liasson and her long-running association with Fox News has often raised questions. This might be the proper time for NPR to finally address that thorny issue.
I'm not suggesting Liasson has said anything as offensive as Williams, or that she has that kind of track record while appearing on Fox. I'm just saying that if you look at NPR's code of ethics, there's simply no way Liasson should be making appearances on Fox.
Here's why [emphasis added]:
9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Vice President for their Division or their designee to appear on TV or other media. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than rather than fact-based analysis.
Also, the NPR ethics code, written "to protect the credibility of NPR's programming by ensuring high standards of honesty, integrity, impartiality and staff conduct," forbids NPR journalists from participating in appearances that "may appear to endorse the agenda of a group or organization."
Is there any independent viewer still watching Fox News today who thinks it does not endorse a political agenda? I mean, c'mon.
Last year, NPR executives reportedly approached Liasson about her continued appearance on Fox News and asked her to reconsider. But she balked at the request, claiming she appeared on Fox's serious news shows, so her affiliation was not a problem.
As I noted last year, her rationale just doesn't work:
Liasson is part of the Fox News family. Period. For instance, Liasson appears on the Fox News website as a "Fox News contributor," not as "Fox News contributor to the sorta/kinda serious shows." The only way she'd really be able to defend her continued alliance would be to argue that Fox News in its entirely (i.e. Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity) is a serious endeavor worthy of NPR's status. But if Liasson can't defend all of Fox News, then her half-pregnant approach (i.e. she's only employed by a tiny portion of Fox News) just doesn't fly.
Here's an easier way to look at NPR's Fox News dilemma: What if the august news outlet currently did not have an affiliation with Fox News but executives there, busy overseeing Beck's hate campaign as well as the channel's open campaigning for Republicans this fall, came courting and wanted to sign Liasson up as a contributor? Would NPR look at Fox News' programming today and decide it would help NPR's reputation to be associated with that?
Of course not.
So why does NPR continue an association that harms its reputation and runs counter to its own code of ethics?