Bigotted in the eye of the beholder
Juan Williams had been a correspondent at NPR since 1999. All of that came to a screeching halt when he confessed to Bill O’Reilly that he got nervous when he saw people dressed in Muslim attire boarding an airplane. NPR argues that Williams’ comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
Williams expressed a sentiment that, while not exactly politically correct, is shared by millions of Americans. The events of 9-11 seemed to give the nation such severe PTSD that Muslims are hard to distinguish between the bad guys. Of course, when it comes to political correctness, Williams seems to understand that. He said:
Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. I mean, look Bill [O’Reilly], I’m not a bigot, you know the kind of books I’ve written on the civil rights movement in this country, but when I get on a 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. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts. But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam
While many may disagree with NPR’s decision, it’s almost easy to see why they made the call. His comments, while describing a feeling shared by a lot of people, are less than sensitive towards Muslims allegedly. It could, in fact, make his job more difficult. It’s also worth noting that Williams also clarified his remarks with O’Reilly that there were some good Muslims, something that’s been lost in a fair amount of the dialog on the subject. Not that it saved his job.
However, Juan Williams will not “go gentle into that good night”. Williams claimed that he was let go because he had been on Fox News, saying “I don’t fit in their box. I’m not a predictable, black liberal” while speaking with O’Reilly on his show.
Of course, this is the same NPR that banned its correspondents from attending John Stewart’s rally in Washington, D.C. Their argument then was that since Stewart frequently targets conservatives, their objectivity could be questioned by them attending. Unfortunately, Stewart has also skewered President Obama recently as well. This could, at least to some, cause doubt as to the reasoning behind NPR’s ban.
Williams’ claim that his involvement with Fox is the reason for him being fired is harder to swallow when Fox News claims he’s been a contributor with them since 1997. That’s two years before being hired by NPR. Wouldn’t it seem logical that if his involvement with Fox News was the issue, he wouldn’t have even been hired? Um…oops?
Of course, there’s also evidence to support an assertion that Williams was fired because he took a position not popular with NPR. For example, in 1995, NPR’s Nina Totenberg wished Jesse Helms would “get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.” Totenberg is still there, and she wished Helms or one of his grandkids would get one of the most horrible diseases known to man, but Williams acknowledges an uncomfortable feeling? [Thanks to Reason’s Matt Welch for pointing this tidbit out]
The truth is, it wasn’t an involvement with Fox that did Williams in. No, it was the fear of alienating Muslims in any way. Heaven forbid you depict Muhammad, or even make a joke about how you’re not depicting Muhammad, and all hell breaks loose.
NPR had every right to fire Williams, but that doesn’t actually make it right. Yes, they may point to the ban on John Stewart’s rally and say “See? We’re unbiased!” but that hardly illustrates a thing. The truth of the matter was that Williams’ comments didn’t take place on NPR (if they had, I wouldn’t care that they fired him), but they didn’t. He expressed an opinion on a show that shared…say it with me folks…opinion. What did they think he was going on there for? Brownie recipes?