Politics & Policy

NPR: A Test Case for Republicans

If they cannot defund NPR, you can bet they will not reverse Obamacare.

The least significant aspect of NPR’s canning of Juan Williams is . . . Juan Williams. The important thing is what the world should start looking like after November 2.

Let’s say you were a million dollars in debt and you didn’t have a clue, much less a plan, about how you were going to pay. But you saw this really nice chandelier and decided it would be just perfect in your dining room. If you pulled out the Mastercard and charged up a few grand for this ornate luxury, we would not call that fine living. We would call it grossly irresponsible, especially if it means you can’t pay the mortgage or the kids’ tuition once the binge ends and the piper demands his due.

So here is the question: Why does a country that is trillions in debt, and in which people have unlimited options for obtaining information, need NPR? More to the point, why do we need to fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which keeps NPR afloat?

Juan Williams said things anyone with an ounce of common sense knows to be true: “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.”

So do I. So do most of us. This is not mindless, noxious prejudice. There is a context: Muslim terrorists used airliners to attack us. And as Williams pointed out, the terrorist convicted of trying to massacre New Yorkers by bombing Times Square just reaffirmed the oft-repeated jihadist promise that there is much blood left to be spilt.

But wait a second, the PC police tut-tut, Williams didn’t just indict terrorists; he smeared everyone who merely dresses like a Muslim. Yeah, right: Save that for the CAIR sensitivity-training class, just down the hall from the FBI’s next Citizens Academy — you’ll be sure to get an A+. To the rest of us benighted slugs, it seems fairly obvious that most Muslims in the West do not appear “in Muslim garb.” To the extent they concern themselves with scripture at all in this area, most American Muslims construe sharia simply to call for sartorial modesty — be dignified, but neither flashy nor slovenly.

For Islamists, on the other hand, clothing oneself is not about achieving modesty but announcing oneself, first and foremost, as a Muslim. To be sure, some such Muslims are just being pious, not exhibitionistic. Still, it is simply a fact that many men who don robes and skull-caps, and many women who shroud themselves in the niqab, abaya, or burqa, are making a very conscious statement that they reject the West. Though living in it, they have no intention of assimilating into it.

There is nothing illegal about holding such views, but they happen to be held in common with Muslim terrorists. The latter are known to act on those views in horrifying ways. Since Muslims garbed this way don’t come with signs telling us which are which, they give us valid reason to be worried and nervous, as Williams acknowledged being. But Williams didn’t say the law should back up his anxiety by denying Muslims the right to fly or to dress as they choose. To the contrary, he insisted that, while fear is rational, it is not a rationale for violating anyone’s basic rights. For this forthright balancing of fear and sensitivity, NPR has terminated his contract.

Williams’s firing is plainly unjust. But it is not without poetic justice. Mr. Williams, whom I don’t know, has always struck me as a decent, honest guy, and a passionate progressive. But that insoluble combination makes him a bundle of contradictions: a commentator who calls it like he sees it . . .  except to the extent his doctrinaire leftism won’t allow him to connect the dots, in which case he calls it like he’d like to see it — whether or not that’s how it is. Consequently, I’m having trouble working up much sympathy for him. When he is not decrying the political correctness that suffocates our discourse, he works to exacerbate it.

Have a look, for example, at this ode to affirmative action he wrote last year for the Washington Post, a newspaper that is a sort of Juan Williams writ large. He buys into all the disparate-impact voodoo that says you’re demonstrating racism — even if you haven’t got a racist bone in your body — if you in good faith design a test that is race-neutral through and through but yields results that diverge along racial lines. That is, Williams would deny a job to someone who has earned it, and who has not said or done anything that could be construed as racist, in order to “remedy” past discrimination — even if the beneficiary of this remedy has not himself been a victim of racial discrimination.

That is a shameful system: winners and losers picked strictly according to ruling-class biases. Yet, having enthusiastically endorsed that system, Williams demands immunity from ruling-class biases for himself whenever he, in his infinite wisdom, reckons the situation calls for blunt honesty. No one should be punished for truthfully voicing the fears of Islamic radicalism that most Americans share. But as Williams must know, the bien-pensant pieties he champions are the very muzzles that coerce Americans into silence.

Williams miscalculated. He figured that because he is a long-standing member of the NPR-certified Society of the Slavishly Right-Thinking, he could safely stroll a few steps off the reservation. Too bad he was wrong, but at least he got the chance to miscalculate. On the political right, we get no chance. In the NPR world Williams helped foster, we’re already condemned. It wouldn’t even occur to us to ask for the can’t-we-talk-about-this-face-to-face meeting that NPR denied to a stunned Williams despite his years of faithful service. Like the NPR news chief told him, there’s nothing we can say that will change their minds.

Juan Williams is getting the attention, but he’s just a sideshow. The real scam is NPR. It is no longer known as “National Public Radio.” On marketing’s scale of toxicity, “Public” comes in about where “Fried” did for Colonel Sanders. So NPR, like KFC, became a set of initials that formally stand for nothing yet bear a nostalgic ring, signaling to loyal patrons that NPR still traffics in the same old lefty gospel. NPR’s viewpoint is public only in the sense of who is picking up the tab, not whose perspective is being represented. Trouble is that when consigned to the market’s not so tender mercies, that gospel crashes and burns, à la Air America. Hence NPR strategically dropped “public,” intuiting that most of the real public might be inclined to shut off the spigot if it were constantly reminded that it is paying for this bunk. Better to let sleeping rubes lie.

So the former National Public Radio is now at pains to assure the pub — er, you know — that less than 2 percent of NPR’s support comes from federal sources (i.e., taxpayers). Instead, “the greatest portion of our funding comes from our stations.” Those, of course, would be public television stations, which, NPR’s fine-print concedes, get a lot of their “support” from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

You’ll need CPR when you read up on the CPB’s budget. Like the Bush prescription-drug program that greased the skids for Obamacare, the CPB started in a Republican administration: President Nixon out to prove he could do the Great Society, too — smaller but just as enlightened and compassionate. As night follows day, CPB’s first year (1969) appropriation of $5 million mushroomed to well over 30 times that amount ($172 million) by the time the Carter administration was through.

For all the tough Reagan-era talk about slashing Leviathan, the CPB, like the Department of Education, became a monument to the GOP’s seduction by Washington, Inc. Far from being repealed (or replaced!), the CPB was maintained at roughly Carter-level appropriations — at least for a time. But it inexorably crashed the $200 million barrier by the end of the Reagan years and, in short order, the $300 million barrier under Bush the Elder. That is, Republican administrations flaunted their self-flattering commitment to “public” programming while NPR and the other CPB stations functioned as one long taxpayer-funded ad for liberal Democrats (along with whatever was necessary to keep Bill Moyers employed). The rest is history. The tab for this year will be a staggering $420 million, and President Obama’s requests in the out years (through 2013) reach $460 million.

NPR flacks quip that their enterprise should really be called National Private Radio. That’s because of the purported pittance of its budget that it says comes from taxpayers — the aforementioned 2 percent. When you hear that nonsense, bear in mind that NPR’s lifeline — taxpayer underwriting of the CPB — has actually metastasized into about 9,000 percent of its original size. That pile of CPB dough, once channeled back to NPR through its “member stations,” is laundered of its “public” character because CPB masquerades (courtesy of federal law) as a private company. Indeed, it says it is a private non-profit company because the annual hundreds of millions it rakes in from you do not come directly from you; they flow through Uncle Sam. In Washington finance, this hocus-pocus makes you a “non-profit.” A profit, by contrast, is the grimy stuff Fox News earns by producing programs people actually want to watch.

I’d feel worse for Juan Williams if he hadn’t so contentedly exploited this arrangement. The real victim here is the public. And the real test is what Republicans do about that if the Tea Party tide sweeps them back into power. The CPB is a chandelier: a grossly irresponsible expenditure for a government that is flat broke. But it’s not even a rounding error compared to Obamacare. If they can’t bring themselves to repeal the Corporation for Public Broadcasting . . . 

– Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.


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