For NPR to truly reflect the rich diversity of America, it must shed the “monochromatic vision” that it shares with many liberal institutions, writes Joel Dreyfuss, managing editor of The Root, in an open letter to incoming NPR chief Gary Knell.
Dreyfuss, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists that pressed Knell’s predecessor Vivian Schiller to diversify NPR’s newsroom, warns that Juan Williams’s “fiery exit” from the network last October was much more than a badly handled personnel decision “gone nuclear.” He points to former NPR News chief Ellen Weiss, who fired Williams and resigned months later after an internal inquiry into the dismissal, as an example of the arrogance and “liberal myopia” that has inhibited NPR’s efforts to fully represent the “glorious rainbow cacophony” of voices, stories and worldviews to be found in America.
“[A]s you tackle your mountain of issues,” Dreyfuss writes to Knell, “I hope you’ll be brave enough not to fall into the trap of believing that your problem was Juan Williams. It wasn’t just that NPR was uncomfortable with a somewhat conservative voice; NPR has never been comfortable with black voices and brown voices and white voices that challenged conventional liberal thinking. . . .The bigger issue is not just whom you put on the air but who makes decisions about what is news and what isn’t, what’s important and what’s not, how long a story should be, how many resources should be assigned to cover this or that and where your foreign bureaus are located. In other words, you need to throw out the mental map that has always guided NPR and forge something new that is more inclusive, more innovative and more demanding of listeners as well as employees.”