Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Applaud NPR For Releasing Juan Williams

Juan Williams, a long-time commentator and panelist on Fox News, went on Bill O'Reilly's show and said:

"[P]olitical correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality. I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous..."  (He goes on to try to say that he also believes that we are not fighting a war on Islam.)

For this, National Public Radio, who also employed Williams as a news analyst, swiftly moved to terminate Williams, citing "his remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," .

Williams had been a news analyst since 1999 for NPR, whose ideology and journalistic philosophy are at a polar opposite from that of Fox News.  At one time I watched Fox News regularly, naively believing that they offered a uniquely forthright viewpoint.  I soon retreated from the network's stridency and dishonesty in the guise of "balanced" news.  So I was mildly surprised when I first heard Williams on NPR.

When I learned of NPR's firing him, I had reactions on both sides of the fence.

My first reaction was, Why did NPR hire him in the first place?  Aren't his public views on Fox a known quantity, and wasn't there a conflict of interest somewhere?

Then I thought, If I worked two jobs, and did something at one job that offended my other employer, would there be grounds for termination?  Well, I thought, that would be possible...  depending on the nature of the offense, and how big an influence it would have publicly.

Then I really looked at what Williams said. "...if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous..." 

Muslim garb.  Muslim garb?  What, exactly, is that?   Many Muslims I know dress like 'westerners".  Looking at pictures of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, their manner of dress would not have been considered particularly "Muslim".  Is there, maybe, something else about them that would make Juan Williams nervous?  And what makes him nervous about people identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims?  Unless, he automatically equates Muslims with terrorists?

Even if scores of Americans feel this way, privately or not, it's irresponsible to use the public airwaves to reinforce this notion, and use one's respected position in the media to, even indirectly, justify continued harassment, ignorance and hate.  When I hear charges of "political correctness" leveled at NPR or others of responsible sensitivity, it sounds like bored kids whining about losing their right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater.

And the call by some Republicans to cut funding for NPR is laughable, especially since Fox, their mouthpiece, just gave Williams a multi-million-dollar contract. This move leads me to believe that there was more information that lead to NPR's decision than we will ever be privy to. 

I do think NPR's canning of Williams might have been more accepted and understood had they challenged Williams on their own network, and confronted him, asking him to speak to the comments he made on the rival station.  Either Williams would have had to recant, exposing him as a hypocrite, and calling his integrity into question; or, he would have had to defend his position right there on NPR, going far enough to clearly justify his removal.

But looking more closely, I think they did the responsible thing (maybe years too late).  Williams' personal, expressed opinion is that Muslim garb makes him nervous.  Which can be seen as a thinly veiled way to say that Muslims themselves, who identify themselves as such, make him nervous.  He has to know that regular viewers of Fox probably believe this, too.   So he covered his ass by not coming out and saying what he truly feels: that Muslims make him nervous, because they are terrorists.  This was not about "garb" at all, and NPR knew it.

In the ideological war of words which is American partisan politics, NPR merely cracked Juan Williams' code, and launched a pre-emptive strike.


  1. Republicans are forever trying to discredit and punish those outlets that don't bow down to their deluded way of thinking.

    Juan Williams is an idiot. This is not defamation. He has a long history of putting his foot in his mouth and his remarks on Bill O'Reilly were the proverbial flame that broke the string, so to speak.

    I vow that if the Tea Party ever gets serious control of the country (namely, the Presidency or control of Congress), I vow to start the Common Sense Party to fight these morons. One of my major pre-requisites to running on the party line is complete transparency. Air out all the dirty laundry and secrets, if any, BEFORE the GOP and Dems can dig it up and say "These mistakes DON'T define me and have no bearing on how I'll help the country"

  2. Bill, sign me up as a member of your Common Sense party!

    There has been a lot of opinion, and divided opinion, over this issue. I found some excellent essays and comments on Huffington Post.

    Funny, but in my jotted notes while preparing for this post, I found the word "idiot", which I did not include. Thank you for putting it back.