Roger L. Simon

Proposal: The Juan Williams Law

A national outcry has arisen from the firing of Juan Williams by National Public Radio.  Many have been outraged by what they see as the network’s un-American restriction on Williams’ freedom of speech when Williams was merely voicing personal feelings about sitting on an airplane with passengers in Muslim garb.  Matters were made worse by NPR CEO Vivian Schiller implying that Williams should see a psychiatrist to deal with those feelings.  And further complicated by the revelation that the ultra-liberal George Soros had donated $1.8 million to the putatively ideologically neutral, publicly-financed, news organization.

Meanwhile, according to most predictions, a very different Congress will be taking their seats in the Capitol this January.  The big question is what they will do with their new-found power.  I have a humble suggestion for a piece of legislation that I think the public would appreciate seeing enacted as quickly as possible.

This legislation would outlaw all government funding for any news organization, whether private or non-governmental in nature.  This restriction would include not only National Public Radio but all domestic news outlets, whatever their ideology or bias, or even if they claim to have none. (I am not talking here, of course, of international operations such as Voice of America, which have the legitimate task of representing American interests abroad.)

The legislation would further outlaw any future stimulus funding or bailouts for news organizations, again irrespective of ideology.

It’s easy to understand that government financing of the news is at best unseemly and at worst totalitarian.   The possibilities for corruption are myriad.  I am not one to dwell on what the Founders intended, but I am reasonably certain they didn’t want a Fourth Estate that was bought and paid for by the government, even in part.

Additionally, the natural tendency of some of the press to ingratiate themselves to power is only exacerbated when that power has an economic lever over them. That lever must be removed.  NPR, PBS and others like them should be responsible for their own financing.  I’m sure they’ll be fine with Soros, et al.  The American taxpayer should not be forced to pay for the delivery of news that is perforce filtered through a point of view with which they do not necessarily agree.  This should not happen now in a time of economic extremis, nor should it happen in good times.  It is simply not democratic and cannot be made to be.

For those reasons I propose to the newly-elected Congress to be that this is the propitious moment to enact what might be called The Juan Williams Law.

Enacting such legislation would be a signal to the citizenry that the new Congress would not be conducting business as usual. And if there is one thing that is clear two weeks out from this election, it is that the American public is fed up with business as usual.  They want to see actions taken that represent the best of us.  Removing government finance from the news would be a good first step.  It should never have been there in the first place.