Bill Haenel

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Posted by Bill Haenel on 25-Oct-10

I can't even begin to say how relieved I am that all of this has happened.

In case you've been trapped in a deep well for the past few days, Juan Williams was fried by NPR, apparently for violating NPR's code of ethics for journalists, after he spoke with Bill O'Reilly on Fox about the best and worst way to discriminate against people you are afraid of.

It probably seems odd that I would be happy about this, but here's why:

Last Friday when it all exploded, I wrote a piece about the importance of free press and journalistic integrity, and how the two are related. I wrote that I hoped that this event would lead to discussion of the importance of truth in journalism, fact-based reporting, the lack of sense of responsibility on the part of so many news organizations, etc., etc., etc. And I wrote about how all of these things are important to our country, our constitution, blah, blah. blah. I never posted it.

This morning I find that I am late to the party, as usual. Over the weekend there was no shortage of discussion about Juan and NPR, and even NPR stations themselves have been broadcasting some pretty open conversations about these ideas. So I'm thrilled.

We really needed to have an honest debate amongst our people in the US about neutral, informative journalism. It's becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between news and gossip. It's nearly impossible to know whether most news organizations are trying to help you or sell you most of the time.

I'm not saying folks shouldn't be allowed to speak their minds and share their opinions on the air. I would just suggest that it's too hard to tell the difference between information and influence, and the differentiation must always be clear.

Open, honest communication about the issues is so essential in order for our nation to function properly. Our democracy was founded on the premise that we would have the right to discuss life-changing issues without concern about our government or any other entity squashing or tainting the information before it finally gets to the average citizen's ears. This is pretty big stuff, right? Do you use the information provided to you by press media to help you make important decisions that effect you and your family? I do, and I'd like to know that I'm basing my important decisions on good information.

We generally like to believe that our government doesn't control the press, but we don't think very much about who does. Are we really having open, honest communication about the issues that affect our lives on a daily basis? It's hard to believe that we are. It's much more likely that we are hearing the opinions of people who can be counted on by the "news" organizations who employ them to say the right things. This is a faulty system and must be investigated and explored. There must be a better way.

Thanks to Juan Williams then, for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place to the wrong people. Thanks to Vivian Schiller for not using her inside voice and for putting her foot in NPR's mouth. Thanks to Ellen Weiss for phoning it in. And finally, thanks to Fox and Bill O'Reilly for making all of this possible (although we could probably blame him for bringing journalism to its ethical knees in the first place).

I'm not the only goofball talking about this right now. That's the great part. The conversations about the importance of a reliable, factual press are streaming out over the airwaves and cables as I write this. It's all out in the open now. I couldn't ask for better. At this point, I can only hope that the cooler heads will prevail, and that the conversations will be more thoughtful, sensitive and considerate than the one that caused all this hoopla.

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