The controversy over NPR’s firing of Juan Williams brings two predictable consequences: liberals decrying a violation of freedom of speech and conservatives making their periodic call for the termination of federal funding for NPR.
Actually, there is no free-speech violation at all. The First Amendment operates as a restriction on the federal government, not private organizations. NPR is a private entity, not an agency or department of the federal government. Therefore, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to NPR. It has the right to fire any employee for whatever reason it wants (subject to contracts that have been entered into), including statements by employees that NPR doesn’t like.
In fact, NPR has instituted its own ethics code that restricts employees from publishing their personal views on issues. As a private entity, it has the right to do that. If employees don’t like that policy, they are free to work elsewhere. They cannot violate the firm’s policy and then recover damages after they’re fired on the basis that their “free-speech rights” have been violated by their employer. Again, the First Amendment operates as a restriction on Congress (and the federal government), not on private firms.
For their part, conservatives are absolutely right in calling for the termination of federal funding for NPR. The government has no more business giving a taxpayer-subsidized dole to NPR than it does to Fox News or any other media outlet.
The problem with conservatives, however, is that they don’t apply this principle consistently, which implies that the only reason they want to terminate funding to NPR is because NPR is a liberal organization. If it were instead expounding right-wing rhetoric, would conservatives still call for terminating federal subsidies? I doubt it.
After all, the wrongfulness of giving a dole to NPR is that fact that the federal government is taking money from people by force, through the IRS, and giving it to someone else. People should be free to keep their own money and decide for themselves whether to donate to NPR .
But that principle applies across the board to the entire welfare state. It’s just as wrong to take money from a person to whom it belongs to give it to anyone else. In principle, giving a dole to recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, school vouchers, bank bailouts, food stamps, agricultural subsidies, SBA loans, and foreign aid is no different than giving a dole to NPR.
Yet, when was the last time you saw a conservative calling for a termination, rather than reform, of any of those redistributive welfare-state programs? My hunch: Never.
But of course, that’s one of the things that distinguish libertarians from statists. Libertarians believe in principle and further believe that principles should never be compromised, not even for purposes of political power or financial gain. That’s why libertarians call for the termination, not the reform, of all welfare-state programs, not just the one that doles money to NPR. That’s also why the future well-being of our country lies with libertarianism, not with liberal or conservative statism.