Skip navigation

Recently Juan Williams was fired from his job at NPR for comments he made while working at his other job at Fox News. Commentators, especially conservative commentators, have lambasted NPR for violating Williams’ first amendment rights. I get the feeling they, like Christine O’Donnell, don’t know what the First Amendment of the US Constitution actually says. For those who need a refresher, here it is…

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Christine O’Donnell didn’t realise the first part of the amendment was the basis of the separation of church and state.  Commentators who are criticizing NPR aren’t realising that second part applies to Congress, not to NPR.  Regardless of what others may think or profess NPR is not a governmental entity.  It is a non-profit organization that receives public and private funding and, even though it gets a lot of its funding from the government, that doesn’t mean it is under the umbrella of “Congress” nor does its firing of an employee come anywhere near making a law. I recently started working for a large media organization.  I understand I work at the pleasure of that large media organization and, therefore, have refrained and will continue to refrain from discussing that media organization and my personal feelings about it on the record and/or in public.  If I get fired for saying something about my employer they aren’t “violating my first amendment rights”, they are invoking the ultimate punishment on an employee for behavior they feel does not comport with their standards and practices.  I may disagree with their decision (and, if it’s me getting fired, I’m pretty damned sure I’m going to disagree), but I will not expect anyone to categorise the action as a violation of the first amendment.  It wouldn’t be.  And Juan Williams getting fired isn’t either. It is an excuse NPR used to get rid of a commentator who’s gotten increasingly inflammatory over the years during his moonlighting on Fox News in a way that’s out of line with the rest of NPR’s editorial view and NPR used this opportunity to get rid of Williams.  And, in the wake of his firing, Williams bagged a $2,000,000 deal with Fox News to come on there full time and be a token conservative minority.  Seems like all parties came out of this tempest in a teapot having gotten what they wanted.  Williams got money, NPR got rid of Williams and Fox got Williams and an opportunity to lambaste the liberal media for their supposed hypocrisy. Can we let the story die now?