Alicia C. Shepard
UPDATED @ 1:40 p.m.
Barely a week goes by without my office getting an email or phone call insisting that NPR tell Mara Liasson or Juan Williams that they should not and cannot appear on Fox News.
Now, some NPR fans are defending their right to appear on Fox.
Monday, Politico wrote a story —based on anonymous sources — indicating that NPR in early October had asked Liasson to reconsider her regular guest appearances on Fox's "Special Report" and "Fox News Sunday."
Politico's story by Josh Gerstein claims that two top NPR editors asked Liasson to spend 30 days watching Fox and see if she still felt it was a good fit. According to Politico, the "early in October" meeting occurred "about the same time" as the White House was encouraging other news operations not to treat Fox as a peer — although those White House statements came later in the month.
NPR officials said they had received no communication of any kind from anyone at the White House regarding Mara Liasson or Fox news and that beyond that NPR policy was not to discuss internal discussions with individual employees.
The story added that Liasson had seen no significant changes and would continue her appearances on Fox.
Despite misinformation on the Internet, NPR has not ordered her to stop.
"I am outraged that NPR would try to control the appearances of Mara Liasson and Juan Williams on Fox News," wrote Anna Moore of Amherst, VA. "You are now (and have been for a long time) guilty of the very thing you are accusing Fox News of—bias. Mara and Juan bring a different perspective to the discussions on Fox News, something all the media should welcome instead of stifle. Leave Mara and Juan alone!"
More phone calls than usual came in as well, all on Liasson. By 11:30 this morning, we had 142 emails, with the majority supporting her right to appear on Fox. Liasson, who joined NPR in 1985 and now is a national correspondent, began appearing on Fox as a "political contributor" in 1997.
"I enjoy listening to Mara Liasson on Special Report. She provides another viewpoint in a non-antagonist manner," wrote Howard Kirsh of East Meadow, NY. "Your attempt to pressure her from appearing on this show is an outrage. Stifling free speech because you do not agree with a network's point of view is dangerous to say the least."
Back in October when the White House-Fox battle began I asked Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news, about this issue. She said then that the Obama administration's actions had absolutely no bearing on NPR's thinking or its relationship with Fox or any news outlet.
Monday, no one at NPR —including Liasson— was talking publicly except to make clear that the White House did not ask NPR to remove Liasson or Williams from Fox.
"NPR has not had any communication of any kind with the White House regarding the status of any of our reporters or their work for anyone outside of NPR," said Dick Meyer, executive editor for news, in an email. "Any suggestion to the contrary is simply false. Internal discussions about the application of NPR policy to each NPR reporter are just that, internal discussions. That is why we do not comment on them publicly."
It appears ironic that some folks are coming to Liasson's rescue and defending her right to appear on Fox when I have hundreds of previous emails suggesting she shouldn't. But really this is yet another indication of how polarizing Fox News can be. Fox remains a controversial topic for NPR listeners, and thus is one that NPR executives and reporters need to handle carefully — which it appears they have done in this case.