Monday, October 25, 2010

The Rope Business

I have just learned that the Washington Post columnist Juan Williams has been fired by National Public Radio. This was done, apparently, because he regularly appears on Fox News, and because he dares to present less-than-far-left views in public. The official of NPR who fired him has said, according to reports, that Williams needs psychiatric care. This sent a chill down my spine.

I did Russian Studies in college and I was for some time a student of the old Soviet Union. Towards its final days, officials in the USSR were in the habit of condemning dissidents to psychiatric institutions on the grounds that anyone who openly disagreed with soviet communism must be insane. Indeed, they maintained that dissension in the USSR was de facto evidence of mental illness. And so we saw leading dissents such as Vladimir Bukovsky and Leonid Plyushch condemned to the silent nightmare torture of the mental institution simply because they dared to disagree with the prevailing ideology. At the time this reminded me, and I wrote of the fact, that such behavior was characteristic of the Catholic Church during the Inquisition, which declared that heresy was proof of demonic possession. Though the theories behind the two systems differed, their methods did not.

When I was a student at the Paris Film Conservatory in the late 70s, I had the privilege of meeting Bukovsky and Plyushch, and I can assert with confidence that they were not insane, despite what the soviet authorities and their servile psychiatrists declared. They were, in fact, erudite, passionate, and open-minded political, artistic and social thinkers who had the courage not only to form independent views, but to express them in a public way. Now, it seems, their example has been followed lamentably in our own country by Juan Williams and NPR.

NPR, which is supported by taxpayer money, has declared Williams to be mentally ill because of his political views. The irony, of course, is that his views, though voiced on Fox News, remain unabashedly leftist, though clearly not so far left as NPR requires. That our taxpayer dollars can be used to censor and malign an honest, sincere, and well-respected journalist is an index of how far out of touch the mainstream media is with the basic decency of the American public. I do not often agree with what Juan Williams says, but in the spirit of Voltaire I will defend to the death his right to say it. That, in my understanding, is the American way.

It is not, evidently, the way of National Public Radio. A recent survey has shown that there is not a single conservative commentator on NPR, and even such a liberal spokesman as Williams has been cast into exile for having the audacity to voice opinions not sufficiently far to the left, and to appear on Fox News. But not content to fire him, the officials at NPR have felt it necessary to declare him mentally incompetent for having insufficiently espoused their prevailing ideology. This is Stalinist behavior - this is the antithesis of what America stands for, and it is what we fought a sixty-year-long Cold War against sovietism to defeat.

But it seems that the Bolshevist spirit is alive at NPR, and that our taxpayer dollars are paying for it. Lenin said that when the communists are ready to hang the capitalists, the capitalists will sell them the rope. NPR is now firmly in the rope business.