Juan Williams should not have lost his job

So I think NPR was actually wrong to fire Juan Williams. I also think that most of the positive reaction over his dismissal is due to people’s general dislike of Williams and his politics rather than on the merits of the incident in question. And no, I’m not trying to be contrarian. Like Doug Mataconis and William Saletan, I think this smacks rather loudly of the Shirely Sherrod affair. And I think the reaction on the left to his departure mirrors the reaction on the right to Sherrod incident, which alone should give people pause.

If you look at the entire conversation between O’Reilly and Williams – and not just the out-of-context video clipthat Think Progress supplied us with – it becomes pretty obvious that he’s talking about an irrational fear he experiences and the need to protect the rights of all Americans including Muslim Americans against the sort of things that this kind of fear might lead to at a political level. He also talks about the consequences of broadly painting all Muslims as enemies, and how pundits have a responsibility to resist this impulse.  He even challenged O’Reilly’s assertion that Muslims attacked America, saying:

Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.

So I really fail to see how this is a reasonable action on NPR’s part. I think lots of Americans probably experienced similar fears after the 9/11 attacks. It’s certainly a bit odd that he would still be experiencing those fears (especially since any Muslim terrorist with half a brain would not dress in obviously Islamic or Middle Eastern apparel – indeed, eventually I think most terrorist attacks will be carried out by very Western-looking people, perhaps recruits from Chechnya, blue-eyed and pale-skinned – but this is just idle speculation).

It’s one thing to say “I go to an airport and see Muslims and they make me nervous” and then go on to advocate a position that limits the rights of Muslims, and quite another to make that statement and then use it to drive home the point that those in the media need to be especially cautious about how they talk about Muslims because of these fears, because incidents like the Muslim cab-driver in New York being attacked simply for being a Muslim. Context matters.

Let me say that again: context matters.

Now all the criticisms of Williams as a person might be correct: maybe all he does is provide cover for conservatives on Fox News. Maybe he really is a secret conservative in disguise, wearing the sheep’s clothing of a liberal to fool Fox audiences. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s not important what his politics are. We shouldn’t rejoice over the wrongful dismissal of a journalist just because we don’t like their political views.

And finally, the reaction on the right to this incident will be just as silly. Already we have Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin calling for the defunding of NPR. And the real crazies are up in arms defending the very position that Williams didn’t actually take (has CNN fired Erick Erickson yet?). So the whole thing is going to conflagrate into this ridiculous nonsense about political correctness, free speech, left-vs-right, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

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34 thoughts on “Juan Williams should not have lost his job

  1. NPR gave up any objectivity to become a slave to political correctness long ago. This profoundly human moment of admitting something he is ashamed of was just an excuse for NPR. Williams is one of the rare old-school journalists committed to covering both sides of an issue, and his refusal to peddle someone else’s political agenda is what got him fired.

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  2. People being fired for something that bunches undies is a pretty common thing nowadays. If there is an issue here its what kind of statements are fine and what aren’t. One of the talking boneheads at Fox, kilmeade i think, said Muslims are all terrorists. Combining stupidity and bigotry, he still will never be fired from Fox. However a CNN reporter got fired just for tweeting RIP over the death of an Arab holy man. And if you are Marty Peretz , Harvard will still honor yo regardless. Should Williams have been fired, beats me. This was likely more of an excuse to do something they already wanted to do for whatever reasons. But Williams is just the tip of the iceberg for this kind of thing.

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    • @Will H.,
      There’s no need to wonder. And with Soros’ baking, it will be worse. There is a campaign against Fox, and now NPR is on board. I know Erick thinks calling this political correctness gone berserk is ridiculus, but to call it anything else is denial, or something — I can’t imagine what motivates someone to minimize this, other than an irrational defense of cherished beliefs.

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      • @MFarmer, I travel a lot for work, and I’ve noticed that there is a difference between stations that carry mostly local programming and those that don’t.
        Public radio in Wisconsin is pretty cool, but in Missouri, I find myself turning the radio down more and more.

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  3. I am not only an avid listener of NPR, but I’m also a member.

    I tend to agree that it shouldn’t get government funding any more than Fox News should get government funding. I understand that federal funds “only” account for 4-5% of NPR’s total budget. Great. They can have a 5-7% longer membership drive and, and here’s the point, you no longer have to feel like your tax dollars are paying for Amy Goodman to lie to you.

    If you want Amy Goodman to lie to you, pay her yourself.

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  4. He should have lost his job at NPR a long time ago. I don’t really care why they fired him. He was an uninteresting dispenser of conventional wisdom. The fact that he was on Fox should have sealed his fate at NPR. Now if Cokie Roberts would only say something vaguely racist, NPR can get rid of her too and I might be able to listen again.

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  5. The analogy to the Sherrod mess was my first reaction as well. This was a knee-jerk move that maybe reflects NPR looking for a reason to fire Williams but also (probably) reflects a fear of what either side might do if an offending commentor is not quickly canned. Sherrod was fired because the administration was terrified of conservative backlash over a perceived moment of reverse racism. NPR is terrified of what liberals will say about Williams.

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  6. @jaybird– ahh yeah okay…But who are you responding to? My point was that Williams is just the latest in a line of firings over controversial statements and that the “rules” for what gets somebody fired are a bit….odd.

    I don’t particularly think one statement should ever be grounds for firing unless it is really way , way out there. but on the other hand these are all businesses who can employ any damn person they want, so its up to them.

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    • @gregiank, the “rules” for what gets somebody fired appear to be related to how many letters the ombudsman gets.

      The NPR ombudsman said that they get a lot of emails about Juan Williams and how he’s a lightning rod.

      nytimes.com/2010/10/21/business/media/21npr.html?_r=4

      If you want someone fired, you have to write letters. Get writing. Get your friends to write.

      These are the same rules for the Dixie Chicks vs. Ted Nugent. They both said dismissive things about the president and the Chicks got boycotted off of radio and Ted Nugent, for all I know, is still being played. Why is this? It’s because Dixie Chicks fans wrote letters complaining about the Dixie Chicks and *THEN WITHHELD SUPPORT*. Ted Nugent fans did *NOT* do this. The Chicks went on break up and relaunch themselves without Natalie as “The Court Yard Hounds”.

      I don’t know how much clearer to say this: If you want to support such-and-such, then buy their products. Buy the cd, buy the concert ticket, and buy the t-shirt once at the venue ($35 bucks for a t-shirt???). If you want to see someone fired, write a letter.

      Juan Williams got fired because he got a lot of letters screaming for his head. (How many letters do you think they got defending him?)
      How many letters do you think Fox is getting over whatshisface? (And how many letters do you think they get defending him?)

      I say to you once again:

      If you want your voice heard, start writing letters. Those letters are why the “rules” seem loopy.

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      • @Jaybird, why exactly do you think i care about who gets fired? Was i calling for anybodies head?

        Its far more then letters that get people fired. Sponsors pulling out maybe, but before any bigshot gets fired they will be told to chill. And why isn’t responding to outraged letters from customers just good business.

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      • @Jaybird, If my facebook feed is any indication, they’re getting a lot of flak now for firing him from fans who disagree. This is the flipside of doing something because you got angry letters from .001% of your listenership.
        People who thought it was OK or right or that liked JW enough to let it go would never write in at all, who fires off an e-mail to tell NPR ‘one of your correspondents had a perfectly inoffensive bit on Fox News the other day’? But once they fire him, now is the time for folks to voice their displeasure the opposite way.
        That said, I was fine with the firing. I think it’s quite likely he was already on edge with management and this served as a convenient excuse to cut bait. The guy represents NPR when he’s on FOX, for better or worse, and he made some controversial statements that upset some listeners and management didn’t want a part of. Further, whatever the context, the part that CAP excerpted does strike me as offensive, not the admission that he gets a funny feeling, it’s this part:
        “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.”
        The feelings are bigoted, understandable, yes, but still bigoted. That’s what bigotry is. And the idea that JW is incapable of bigotry because he wrote books about the Civil Rights movement is nonsense.

        I’m sticking with TNC on this:
        “I’m all for free speech. But I would not expect my current employer to allow me to use this space to vent, as fact, all the prejudiced thoughts that fly through my head. I guess I understand how you come to believe that someone in Muslim dress is less American, or that Michelle Obama is actually “Stokely Carmichael in a dress.” But I’m not clear on why, in this era of blogs and social media, NPR then owes you their association. ”

        The Sherrod affair is different, she was the target of a smear campaign where the real video wasn’t out there for a while and fired by a government agency for political reasons, JW got fired by a non-profit where the complete video is readily available and surely seen by NPR management. It’s completely not comparable.

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        • @Plinko, Hey, fair enough. I’m not surprised that NPR is getting a lot of crap for firing Juan Williams. (Honestly, the ombudsman calling him a “lightning rod” gave me a grin… he’s the most milquetoast guy in the world. Trying to imagine someone who sees him as incendiarytaxes my imagination.)

          I’m *NOT* saying that NPR shouldn’t have fired him. They can hire/fire whomever they want.

          I do think that firing him under these circumstances will result in a shitstorm that the NPR brass ought to have foreseen. What Juan Williams said was a Kinsley gaffe… he told the truth.

          Now the NPR folks get to say that, hey, it wasn’t just because of this one incident that they fired him, this was the straw, the right-wingers get to point to NPR and explain, once again, how out of touch NPR is from mainstream America, and we get to argue meta-points about it.

          For instance: I think that NPR’s funding is actually likely to get pulled following this.

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  7. well i’d add that on Fox you can trash Muslims all you want, Jews are pretty much off limits anyplace and CNN just sucks.
    Atheists/agnostics are free game.

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