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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Criticizing Michelle Obama

When I have the radio on in the car, I'll often listen to NPR. Mind you there is always something in the programming that gets my blood pressure up a few notches but I find it useful and somewhat informative (though for not always the obvious reasons.)

I have always felt that NPR's programming is geared toward the bien pensant for the left; yeah they may haul on a Kristol every now and then but their idea of a normal conservative point of view is to bring in David Brooks. Well that's okay, I know it's "public radio" and has taxpayer support but I think conservatives have managed to build competing media institutions like talk radio so you sort of factor all of that in and just shrug the shoulders with it.

So what to think of the recent Juan Williams-Michelle Obama problem?

Juan Williams has been a fixtures on NPR for a number of years and under contract with Fox News for even longer. Say what you want about Fox but it is at worst of the same ideology-driven formula as NPR, appealing to a certain sector of the spectrum while still claiming objectivity in its news reporting. Apparently Mr. Williams said on Fox:

"Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going," said Williams. "If she starts talking, as Mary Katharine [Ham, a conservative blogger] is suggesting, her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross."

To which Bill O'Reilly replied.... "She's not going to do that."

Well apparently that caused alot of hubbub with the NPR listenership which generated a shocking 56 e-mails to the NPR ombudsman, Alicia Shepard. Ms. Shepard goes on to inform us that this isn't the first time that Mr. Williams has offended the NPR faithful as she received 378 e-mails last year from listeners who thought he "dishonors NPR" and is an "embarassment to NPR" for his comments on Fox. Ms. Shepard tells us that by comparison she received only 6 complaints so far this year regarding Cokie Roberts, though I wonder how many she received last year ... probably based on the prose of Ms. Roberts "Founding Mothers" I would hazard to say the howls of complaints reached into the thousands.

Now I know this what ombudsmen do, respond to reader complaints, but NPR has an estimated 20 million listeners over the course of a week so getting 376 e-mails over the course of a year shouldn't be a trigger for alarm; sort of like tracking the national mood based on letters to the Arizona Republic.

To Ms. Shepard's credit, she states that she feels much of the criticism comes from the fact that Mr. Williams appears on Fox. She allows Mr. Williams to state his case which is what he said about the First Lady has been reported elsewhere in outlets such as The Atlantic and Politco, hardly mouthpieces of the right-wing conspiracy. Good for her and I think she is doing her job in an admirable way. However she then mentions the action that NPR management took in response to what Williams said:

As a result of this latest flap, NPR's Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O'Reilly.

Why? Because of 56 e-mails or because of something else? Is it because Fox and O'Reilly are icky? Is it because who he criticized or where he did his criticism? If either is the case then what does that say about NPR?