FAIR Out There

–On Democracy Now! (11/8/10):

While Keith Olbermann’s donations became front-page news, little attention has been paid to the massive amount of political spending by MSNBC‘s parent company General Electric, one of the nation’s largest military contractors. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting reports GE made over $2 million in political contributions in the 2010 election cycle. The top recipient was Republican Senate candidate Rob Portman from Ohio. The company has also spent $32 million on lobbying this year and contributed over $1 million to campaign against a California ballot initiative aimed at eliminating tax loopholes for major corporations.

–George Curry, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer (11/3/10) about the state of public broadcasting and NPR‘s decision to fire Juan Williams:

When NPR fired Williams, conservatives–who have campaigned for years to eliminate the network’s federal subsidies–charged that it was violating Williams’ First Amendment rights. Williams agreed in a column on Fox‘s website, saying: “To say the least, this is a chilling assault on free speech.”

No it isn’t. Juan Williams, a frequent critic of federal entitlements, is not entitled to a job at NPR or anywhere else. And NPR has done nothing to curtail his freedom of speech. Its executives have decided they no longer want his services, as is their right. It’s a question of fee speech, not free speech.

I worked for a year as a commentator for a show Ed Gordon hosted on NPR. When my contract was not renewed, I did not assert that NPR had violated my First Amendment rights. There is nothing unconstitutional about not renewing a contract.

More important than NPR‘s firing Juan Williams for the wrong reason is its failure to fulfill its original mission. The watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting noted that the network “has consistently shown a tilt toward elite guests and sources–government officials, corporate representatives and journalists from commercial media.”

FAIR observed, “If the pressure from the right is to be effectively countered, it’s not enough to say, ‘Don’t Defund NPR.’ What is needed is a call for public broadcasting to fulfill its mission” with “independent, provocative programming that features voices ignored or marginalized by the commercial media.”

By definition, Juan Williams wouldn’t fit that description.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.