On Journalism and Juan Williams

Mark Sardella

Juan Williams

My favorite comment under Ta-Nehisi Coates’ post about Juan Williams and NPR is by “Cynic”:

No one is burning journalists at the stake. What’s happening is that as reporters cross over to the world of punditry and talk shows, and offer the unfiltered opinions and personal reflections that are hallmarks of the format, the two cultures collide. Williams, Sanchez, and Thomas were all sacked by organizations whose business revolves around their news operations, and were concerned for their reputations. (They were also, a Cynic might note, less than stellar performers by the time they were summarily dismissed.) But Fox, which has built its business model around punditry, thrives on controversy. So NPR fires its Senior News Analyst while Fox retains its Panelist – and they’re both Juan Williams.

Traditional journalists and their bosses alike are struggling to navigate this strange new world. The old rules on journalistic conduct are clearly antiquated. Perhaps we’ll decide to allow journalists to air their personal views, even if they say idiotic or offensive things, without that reflecting on their reportage. More likely, the two media ecosystems will increasingly separate themselves, with news-driven organizations on one side, and controversy-peddlers on the other. But until that happens, we’ll continue to see a succession of similar controversies. And news organizations will be entirely justified in deciding that when their employees opt for controversy, it’s time to sever ties.