A Grateful Token
I am normally a gigantic fan of Kevin D. Williamson, but I must disagree with his characterization of the former NPR show Tell Me More and specifically with his take on that show’s segment known as “Barbershop” (“The Unbearable Whiteness of Being NPR,” February 23).
Kevin states that “Barbershop” was “a diversity show within a diversity show” and that he was the token conservative. Like Kevin, I was one of the frequent right-of-center voices on “Barbershop,” and I never felt like I was a token. Michel Martin and her unbelievably good team of producers worked exceptionally hard to make sure voices that normally weren’t heard at NPR were given a voice on Tell Me More. They weren’t sitting there with a Rolodex devoid of right-wingers, saying, “Where will we ever find a conservative to put on the airwaves?” Another frequent panelist on “Barbershop” was former RNC chairman Michael Steele.
True, Arsalan Iftikhar’s handle is “The Muslim Guy,” and yes, we agree on almost nothing, and yet, through “Barbershop,” Arsalan and I, a Jewish right-of-center physician in Massachusetts (how’s that for overcoming stereotypes?), became friends. We now correspond frequently. Tell Me More’s commitment to bringing views not normally heard on the NPR airwaves extended beyond the 20 minutes of “Barbershop” each week. Michel had a weekly segment, “Faith Matters,” in which the views of pastors, ministers, and rabbis were presented to what I presume was a highly secular listenership.
Perhaps it’s that I’m not a full-time pundit or politician — I’m a physician turned entrepreneur — but I felt like it was a privilege to be a regular on “Barbershop.” It was a rare opportunity to bring my thoughts to NPR. We often damn the “mainstream media” in general and NPR in particular for left-wing bias. Michel and the team at Tell Me More fought against that, and our inclusion in her efforts should be appreciated.
Kevin D. Williamson responds: Michel Martin had much the same complaint, writing to me: “In what way were you a token on Tell Me More? White guy? Nope. Conservative? Nope. A**hole? Maybe.” The fact is that NPR is institutionally hostile to conservatives and to conservative views, which is precisely why, as Mr. Minkoff notes, they include “voices that normally aren’t heard at NPR.” NPR is also a radio network on the dole and must therefore do a bit to keep up appearances, so it has on a few conservatives whom it keeps in its safe zone, where they can be asked to discuss celebrity news and sports. This is an excellent way of putting conservatives into the mix without putting conservatism into the mix. I was a token conservative; so was Mr. Minkoff. It’s not an especially honorable position, but even a token gets the chance to sneak in a little something every now and then.