Grasshopper Soup: NPR fails free speech |

Grasshopper Soup: NPR fails free speech

Bob Sweigert
Special to the Sun

TRUCKEE/TAHOE, Calif. and#8212; Juan Williams, black American author and liberal commentator for National Public Radio, verbalized his personal feelings about post Sept. 11 air travel. He spoke his truth in free association with a diverse group of his good friends and, because of that, NPR, in a despicable act of blind cruelty, fired him as if his ten years of loyal service meant nothing.

NPR punished Juan for doing what NPR does all day long. They talk! By firing Juan they prove to the whole world how institutionalized intolerance and double standards can be.

After she had her Sr. VP fire him over the phone, NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller refused to allow Juan the professional courtesy of an appeal.

Juan was not even expressing an opinion. He distinctly used a form of the verb and#8220;to feel.and#8221; Objective, professional communication experts should know the clear, substantive difference between an opinion and a feeling. NPR didnand#8217;t seem to give it any thought. It would not surprise me if mastering the craft of objectivity and the classical study of the true meaning of free speech canand#8217;t be found on Vivian Schillerand#8217;s curriculum vitae.

People who punish people for speaking their own mind need to go back to high school and learn the simple fact that personal thoughts and feelings are allowed to be spoken! Even children know little birdies go and#8220;tweet-tweetand#8221; and humans talk. It is natural! In other words (pun intended), it must be allowed! We hold these truths to be self evident.

This may sound ridiculous to some, but what NPR did is blatantly anti-human. By their standards every human being on the planet should shut up because we all have the same shortcomings. Now NPR admits they screwed up, but wonand#8217;t change their decision.

NPR claims to be open minded and all inclusive. They even have a program called and#8220;All Things Considered.and#8221; All things considered, except Juan Williamsand#8217; feelings.

Einstein said that peace can not be maintained by force, only through understanding. Ideas and feelings we disagree with are not the problem. Punishing people for expressing them is. When we act against the free expression of thought, we make peaceful relationships impossible. Listening is required for group survival. We canand#8217;t understand anyone if we stop listening to their thoughts and feelings. Also, we the people are the government, so we are just as responsible as congress for protecting free speech. In my opinion, no matter what Juanand#8217;s contract with NPR says, it can not infringe on his right to free speech. We limit someoneand#8217;s speech when they incite violence, not when their hypothetical suggestions make us feel uncomfortable. Instead of showing understanding, NPR created and spread discord. Since when did NPR decide that was a good idea?

I want to give NPR the benefit of the doubt, but the more I listen to them try to defend their actions, and try to understand NPRand#8217;s thinking and look into their mind, all I see is a vacant web of disconnected synapses. Especially since other NPR commentators are guilty of more offensive things than Juan Williams ever said or ever will say, and they still have their jobs. They get rewarded for wishing harm to people they disagree with.

If only it were not so common for people to forget human beings are different, and that thoughts and feelings can be freely expressed in words. Psychiatrists will say that whenever we achieve success, or find ourselves in a position of authority over others, we are inclined to justify abusing our power at their expense. Pride comes before a fall.

When we punish people for freely and innocently verbalizing their personal feelings, we commit a great injustice, a gross and unacceptable abuse of natural human freedom. When powerful people, or private individuals, commit the reprehensible injustice of punishing someone for putting their thoughts and feelings into words, they destroy the only fabric that can hold humanity together.

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, ski instructor and commercial driver. He’s lived at Lake Tahoe for 27 years.