At the end of Friday night's PBS NewsHour, anchor Judy Woodruff asked their political analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks about NPR's firing of Juan Williams. Shields said "NPR made a serious mistake...and I think they did it in a terrible way, by a telephone call without a personal chance to explain himself. You know, I think it's given the right wing a tremendous opening to attack NPR, which I hate to see happen, because I think it's a valuable public institution."
Brooks disclosed "I work at NPR somewhat" (as part of a similary analyst duo with liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne). Brooks agreed with Mark about the firing and its lack of personal contact. "I think what was said is perfectly within the bounds of debate." But then he insisted NPR has achieved sensible centrism in recent history:
And the damaging thing to me is NPR's worked really hard over the last 10, 20 years to become a straight-down-the-middle network. I'm not sure they were decades ago, but not they really are. And now because of this unfortunate episode, they're beginning to get some ideological baggage again, and that's damaging.
To conservative listeners, that charge sounds bizarre. It sounds especially bizarre in light of what Williams has just written, that when Williams secured interviews with President Bush, NPR refused to air them. That's not "straight down the middle." When Williams interviewed Hillary Clinton about her memoir Personal History in June of 2003, that was not refused. From my book with Brent Bozell (Whitewash), we recall:
NPR's Juan Williams interviewed Hillary for the June 19 Morning Edition, and tried to ask about how she's criticized by both traditionalists and feminists over her marriage. He turned to her maternal role: "When I'm reading about the Lewinsky affair and I hear about your role as a mother, I think even if your are offended, you must be doubly offended for what happened to your daughter. Were you?" Mrs. Clinton said "of course," again called her marriage "tried and tested," and then added, "And as I write about my husband, he is a force of nature. I knew that when I met him. I married him with my eyes open." So how does that match the "gulping for air" section [when Hillary was informed of the Lewinsky cheating]? Williams didn't ask.
He did wonder "if you told him 'This is it, bud. You've had your last chance. If you do this again, I'm out of here'? Hillary ducked: "Well, let me just say that I am going to try, as best as possible, to keep my conversations going forward with my husband between us. But, you know, we're having a good time."
Even then, Juan's friendly, helpful interview was centrist, by NPR standards. The previous week, NPR's Terry Gross pressed Mrs. Clinton to say the Democrats weren't aggressive enough and the Republicans were showing signs of being vastly right-wing.
Brooks doesn't sound like a neutral analyst. He sounds like an employee, an employee who doesn't want to end up like Juan Williams.