“Why is it okay for Nina to express opinions, as she has tartly, sharply, unashamedly and openly” while serving as “an honored correspondent” for NPR, while Juan Williams, “because he expresses his opinions, gets canned from NPR?” So Charles Krauthammer demanded while sitting Friday with Totenberg on the same Inside Washington set. “In fact, the standard ought to be lower in the case of Juan because he’s an analyst, whereas Nina is a correspondent.”
Krauthammer had picked up on NPR CEO Vivian Schiller’s contention that the network had canned Williams because he violated the policy that “news analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that's what's happened in this situation.”
An uncomfortable Totenberg asserted “it’s a very, very difficult line to draw. And NPR tries to draw it, in my view, using rules that don’t exist anymore.” To which, Krauthammer wondered: “But what’s the difference between you and Juan expressing opinions? You on this show, and him on Fox?” He condemned NPR: “It’s completely illogical and hypocritical.” (Audio: MP3 clip)
Instead of criticizing NPR, Politico’s Jeanne Cummings droned on about how “there are a lot of blurred lines and everyone of us has to bear in mind what responsibilities and what role we want to take in our profession. So it is risky when you get pulled on TV. Sometimes you get asked, if you’re a reporter, you sometimes get asked a question that you don't really feel comfortable answering in your capacity as a reporter.”
Krauthammer was unpersuaded: “This is all highfalutin journalistic theory. Where did Juan go over the line?”
Inside Washington, the successor of Agronsky & Company, is a weekly show now produced by ABC’s Washington, DC affiliate (after many years under the umbrella of the CBS affiliate, in later years owned by Gannett), which airs it Sunday morning after it runs Friday night on DC’s PBS affiliate, WETA-TV channel 26, and Saturday on local cable’s TBD TV which is also owned by the ABC affiliate’s parent, Allbritton Communications Company.)
In a Thursday post, “Is Nina Totenberg Next? NPR's legal affairs correspondent frequently expresses her pro-Democratic opinion,” the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes recited several examples in recent weeks of Totenberg sharing her liberal opinions on Inside Washington, including one lifted by Reason.com’s Michael C. Moynihan from the MRC’s site, which embedded our video from YouTube. That quote was a runner-up in the MRC’s 1999 “I'm a Compassionate Liberal But I Wish You Were All Dead Award (for media hatred of conservatives)” at the our very first DisHonors Awards dinner/gala. In 1995, she venomously spouted about Senator Jesse Helms:
I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the Good Lord's mind, because if there is retributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.
A few more illustrative examples, as collected from the archive of the MRC’s Notable Quotables, of how Totenberg regularly takes “personal public positions on controversial issues” during her participation most weeks on Inside Washington:
“Spectacular”Elena Kagan, Nina’s “Superman”
“We know she [Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan] was a spectacularly successful dean at Harvard Law School where she was the first female dean — that she just moved the place, got it really moving again. Students loved her. She knocked heads on the faculty to get hires done. She was a spectacularly successful policy bureaucrat in the Clinton White House.”
— NPR’s Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington, May 14, 2010.
Pushing for ObamaCare: Now or Never
“I am not saying it’s ideal. But we have to start this. But if we don’t get a health care bill this time, it is probably the last chance.”
— Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington, November 20, 2009.
Liberal Laws Earned Kennedy "Redemption"
"He'll be remembered as a truly Shakespearean figure: tragic, flawed; who in the end achieved redemption through greatness — both in his personal life and in his professional life, and did enormous things for millions and millions of people."
— NPR's Nina Totenberg on Inside Washington, August 28, 2009.
"It made me feel pretty good. I thought it was a great speech....You know, a friend of mine said, ‘Oh my God, we have a President again!’ Now, in some ways, that’s not fair to Bush, but that’s the way you felt. You felt this was a guy who was totally in charge."
— NPR’s Nina Totenberg discussing President Obama’s address to Congress, February 27, 2009 Inside Washington.
Totenberg “Ashamed of My Country”
“I just want to say: Who are we? We are people who have always been for inspections of prisons, for some degree of human rights, and now we’re defending neither.... We have now violated everything that we stand for. It is the first time in my life I have been ashamed of my country.”
— NPR’s Nina Totenberg discussing secret CIA prisons for captured terrorists, Inside Washington, November 4, 2005. Video.
From the October 22 Inside Washington:
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: NPR then came up with a second explanation, the CEO said, “well he went over the line of NPR analysts and correspondents expressing opinions.” Well, I’m on the set with Juan at least once a week. I’ve been on the set with Nina here for almost 17 years-
NINA TOTENBERG: And Mara [Liasson] on Fox.
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, on this set with you. And I don't understand the inconsistency here. Why is it okay for Nina to express opinions, as she has tartly, sharply, unashamedly and openly, and she’s an honored correspondent there? In fact, they mention your status here on this show in your biography at NPR. And Juan, because he expresses his opinions, gets canned from NPR. That’s what the CEO said yesterday. In fact, the standard ought to be lower in the case of Juan because he’s an analyst, whereas Nina is a correspondent.
NINA TOTENBERG: In the modern journalistic world, where people are asked to give opinions all the time, whether you’re a regular on a show like this or not, if you cover a story you may be asked to appear on a television show and talk about it. I think it’s a very, very difficult line to draw. And NPR tries to draw it, in my view, using rules that don’t exist anymore.
KRAUTHAMMER: But what’s the difference between you and Juan expressing opinions? You on this show, and him on Fox? It’s completely illogical and hypocritical.
COLBY KING, WASHINGTON POST: In Nina's behalf, that’s not a question that she should be made to answer-
KRAUTHAMMER: She works for NPR, perhaps she can explain it.
JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO: But I think what this episode does demonstrate, or some of that, the changing nature of journalism. There are a lot of blurred lines and everyone of us has to bear in mind what responsibilities and what role-
KRAUTHAMMER: But where did Juan go over the line?
CUMMINGS: -we want to take in our profession. So it is risky when you get pulled on TV. Sometimes you get asked, if you’re a reporter, you sometimes get asked a question that you don't really feel comfortable answering in your capacity as a reporter.
KRAUTHAMMER: This is all highfalutin journalistic theory. Where did Juan go over the line? I’m defending him. He’s a friend of mine, he’s an innocent, he got fired.
KING: He’s been a friend of mine for twenty years-
KRAUTHAMMER: Where did he go wrong?
KING: As I said, it was not a firing offense.
— Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.