Friday, October 22, 2010

The Juan Williams Firing Scandal

Liberal media outlet National Public Radio announced late on Wednesday (October 20th, 2010) that it had terminated the contract of its political news analyst Juan Williams, as a result of off-handed comments he had made the previous week on the Bill O'Reilly Program "The O'Reilly Factor." 
Responding to O'Reilly's comment that "Muslims killed us on 9/11" Williams said that O'Reilly's statement was factually true, and went on to say, by way of qualification "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." This was cited as the pretext for firing Williams for, as NPR put it, making remarks which were "inconsistent with [their] editorial standards and practices, and undermine[d] his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
There has been speculation that the incident was just a convenient opportunity for the firing, that NPR may have had other, perhaps long-standing, reasons for wanting to dump Williams. 
However, taking the network at its word, which is what NPR obviously asks us to do, one must wonder what the underlying meaning of this precipitous action by NPR is. O'Reilly is known for his very aggressive, neo-conservative reactionary style of interviewing. "Guests" are frequently treated to boisterous dressings-down and provocative, in-your-face verbal attacks. Under the pressure of these on-air broadsides, his subjects often lose their cool, or their presence of mind, and end up saying things that are either highly combative, or conciliatory (giving ground). 
Williams has been a regular contributor (guest) on the Fox News Sunday afternoon round table discussions, presently chaired by Chris Wallace. In what can only be construed as a conservatively weighted show, Williams is usually one of two "liberal" media whipping-boys, set up for castigation by the resident hit-men William Krystol and Brit Hume. As one of the sacrificial lambs, Williams usually does his best not to capitulate to the premeditated outcome, in the course of which, Democratic policy and office-holders come in for routine opprobrium. Williams could even be seen as a pathetic heroic figure in the fake partisan dialectic which Fox News has created.
There are at least two ways of looking at the Williams firing. For those who might advocate positional solidarity--after all, aren't all news services or networks fundamentally committed to a certain slant on events, which they intend to follow, overtly or not--and aren't ashamed, are they, of conducting these public disciplinary performances in public?--then, one would expect, those news commentators who stray from the party line are a luxury the network can't afford, and can expect to be dealt with accordingly. On the other hand, most news services, including the most partisan (like Fox), generally pretend to present themselves as fundamentally unbiased in their presentations, and will even attempt to appear to be representing contrarian viewpoints, by employing weak opponents to defend predetermined "losing" side(s). This was the role that Juan and Maura Liasson were usually brought on the panel to fill. 
Generally, I will tend to side politically on the side of NPR, but occasionally they'll take a position that is so patently "correct" and "proper" that it makes my teeth ache. Trying to appear, for instance, non-partisan with respect to the threat posed by Islamic terrorist groups, and the factions they claim to represent, can be like trying to defend Al Qaeda against charges of prejudice. This is a two-edged sword. Muslims who try to protect their interests by pooh-poohing the threat posed by radical Islamic elements in their midst, both here and abroad, do not inspire either a sense of domestic security, or a convincing case for religious tolerance. 
Williams's remark may have strayed over into the "personal" realm, but certainly journalists are allowed enough latitude to make the occasional personal observation or admission. Who among us has not wondered, even if for a moment or two, about the implication of sharing a passenger jet with openly dressed Muslims, particularly when the 9/11 bombers made little effort to hide the fact that they were ethnically Middle Eastern. Homeland Security agencies have freely admitted that the real threat of anarchistic terrorism is associated primarily with Middle Eastern males; it arises within that ethnic context, and would be expected to be carried out by them.
NPR's hasty washing of its hands of Juan Williams and his faintly embarrassing, though frank, disclosure, about the entirely natural and rational reservations about traveling in the air with Muslims, smacks of disingenuous chicanery. Williams had been one of NPR's most eloquent commentators, both because of the genuineness of his conviction, and the care with which he always described his position, which was typically (loyally) a liberal position. NPR's sudden seizure of fake conscience is an embarrassing example of trying to save public face. 
But NPR's action did anything but. Williams is going to come out of this smelling like a rose.
There was even a rumor--or was it an actual report?--that Williams has been hired by Fox!      


ACravan said...

Juan Williams and Mara Liasson more than hold their own and are treated with great respect on the Fox News Sunday panel. You must be thinking of the feckless Alan Colmes (formerly of Hannity and Colmes), who couldn't hold his own if he were debating himself.

Ed Baker said...

he got a BIG BIG raise...
12 minuets after NPR fired him

America is driven by all of this phony "news" so-called reporters...

a good move on Williams' and his acting part to take the $2,000,000 PER YEAR and run laughing all the way to the bank!


I bet he also get a terrific Health Care Package and a lemo

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for the comment.

The thrust of my post wasn't the relative success or failure of Williams and Liasson on Fox Sunday.

My disgust was/is with NPR for acting in such a predictably PC way to something which should be far below the threshold for "acceptable" speech and behavior by an analyst.

ACravan said...

I know. But I actually think NPR's behavior here is surprisingly stupid. An Atlantic Media journalist's piece bore the headline "Juan Williams Gets Fired For Absolutely Nothing". As other commentators have noted, in view of recent journalism by Nina Totenberg and Terry Gross (even), as well as any number of pieces one could dredge up from the past, NPR has made itself look ridiculous. I only mentioned Williams' and Liasson's stature (which I think is substantial; Alan Colmes, as I mentioned, always looked silly and victimized) on the Fox News Sunday program because, when contrasted with the lack of comparable balance on, say, MSNBC and NBC, it is salient.

Kirby Olson said...

Nina Totenberg said she thought Senator Jesse Helms should get AIDS. This was in 1995. She's still a contributor. I think it's a question of slant.

NPR gets its funding from a combination of about 40% local and national taxes, and about 60% from big funders like McDonald's, and from little guys like you and me.

I think this will hurt them.

Yes, Fox hired Juan Williams with a 2 million dollar contract for two years. He hosted Fox's main hour last night. I didn't watch more than a couple of minutes. He's too liberal for me.

Curtis Faville said...

They opted for political correctness instead of free speech. Big mistake.

J said...

NPR may have been doing the "PC" thing, but Williams' comments were certainly borderline-- I doubt everyone would agree with you that journalists are allowed to offer their personal anecdotes and opinions, at least while broadcasting the news (fine off the record, or chatting with Charlie Rose, in their bestseller etc). Fox morons do, but ...Fox isn't news but the yokels' Ministry of Information. And predictably Fox has seized upon this pseudo-event as like some profound statement of NPR's liberal if not subversive agenda. BS. NPR has steadily grown more moderate--they're corporate, sort of the Starbucks of the media.

Kirby Olson said...

The worst part is that it was one of those clarifying moments from which they can never recover.

Curtis Faville said...


You said

"NPR may have been doing the "PC" thing, but Williams' comments were certainly borderline"

What border, exactly, did he cross? That by admitting to a concern for his own safety in the face of the threat of terrorism on a jet, he was committing some kind of racist slur, or disrespect of religion?

"-- I doubt everyone would agree with you that journalists are allowed to offer their personal anecdotes and opinions, at least while broadcasting the news (fine off the record, or chatting with Charlie Rose, in their bestseller etc)."

I'm sorry, but I don't think admitting to a sense of insecurity while flying in commercial jets with Muslims (or those from Arab countries) following 9/11, constitutes anything like an unprofessional gaff.

"Fox morons do, but ...Fox isn't news but the yokels' Ministry of Information."

Actually, I can't think of a single instance in which Fox News would offer personal anecdotes, certainly not as a routine technique. Personal anecdotes or sentiments can be very effective in providing a sense of reality and immediacy.

"And predictably Fox has seized upon this pseudo-event as like some profound statement of NPR's liberal if not subversive agenda. BS. NPR has steadily grown more moderate--they're corporate, sort of the Starbucks of the media."

I don't know that we can generalize to this extent. If by "moderate" you mean NPR is less biased (liberal) than they "used to be" I think that would be difficult to prove empirically.

I thought Williams's comment entirely innocent, by the way. If an Iraqi boarding a plane felt frightened by the presence of American GI's in their fatigues on the plane, would we regard him with contempt? A healthy fear of one's enemies is very sensible.

The whole point about radical Islam's religious cultural position is that we were encouraged to regard the entire Muslim world as a threat. This has put non-radical Muslims in a very difficult position, of having to defend their faith while not addressing the very real fears which we might reasonably have about some of their dogma.

I'd like to see Muslims repudiate terrorism more, and I'd like to see them "cleanse" their congregations of the nut-cases attempting to build terrorist "cells" around the globe. It's not enough just to claim that the "true" Islam is peace-loving and unthreatening, when we keep seeing these rabid proselytizers popping up in every neighborhood mosque, hiding behind the "respectability" of an "innocent" congregation.

J said...

It was an unprofessional gaff--he's not just an ordinary joe. Assuming Williams signed a contract he's probably not allowed to make those sorts of generalizations--had he referred to jews instead of muslims he would have been terminated as well. NPR probably received all sorts of complaints. So they give him the axe.

O'Reilly's comment seems fairly scandalous as well. One could say the same about any terrorist attack involving a religious group--Im sure Iraqis say something like "Christians and jews attacked us" (and what's the body count now...200,000+ iraqi civilians, thousands of Iraqi military to 2000 Americans at the WTC, and US military dead). Terrorists attacked. The fact that they were--allegedly-- radical muslims doesn't imply muslims across the world approved.

Fox regularly wins the prize for Most Totalitarian American TV station of the year (tho' admittedly, most of the MSM's not much better. CBS also has neo-con roots, they're just subtle about it). It's just loud, macho bullsh**t, Sir F.--recall in 2003 or so when the IWE started and those dolts were waving the flag, and that blond bimbo was on there shaking her ass with her botoxed lips as the tanks aircraft carriers rolled and jets took off. Like out of Orwell's worst nightmares.

Kirby Olson said...

Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims that Islam in general is based on terrorizing women. Spreading it to the rest of the world is just another teensy step.

J said...

What happened to my response, Sir F?

Really, I think it's another media tempest-in-a pisspot. Williams made a minor faux-pas. It's not as terrible as some of the nanny-state liberals (pseudo-liberals think it was), like this PC moron. There's a sort of credibility chant that the fake-liberals indulge in now. " I hate Juan Williams too, and support NPR, and don't eat red meat! So am I on the A-list??" As with this Beyta person, there also may be a crypto-racism involved . Williams getting uppity.

Yet ...he's under contract. So NPR has every right to fire him for speaking his mind in a brash manner. They could fire him for wearing the wrong ties, for that matter.

Sane Americans should be more alarmed at O'reilly's comment--"muslims attacked us". The right and tea-party dolts want more War, Sir F--and that sounds like the patented Fox call to arms--waving that flag, etc.

Kirby Olson said...

But Curtis what's surprising is that although you see yourself as among the hordes of the left, you should also see that the left has changed since you were a young man. Fifty years ago there was no freedom of speech for the left in the era of McCarthyism. But now the times have changed, and there is no freedom of speech for anyone at all. We've come full circle. As soon as the Marxist hordes took over the media and places like NPR, they closed the door behind them. They are stunned and shocked that Fox still exists, and has the lion's share of listeners.

What NPR did is quite typical. Us News and World Report had an essay that attacked NPR's CEO, and said she should be fired:

There may be other such rallying cries of what's left of freedom in this country. But I think if you think the left is about freedom then you think Russia under Stalin was a utopia.

today we have Stalinism in skirts, to borrow a phrase from Annie LeBrun, but it's still Stalinism.

Kirby Olson said...

Another detail -- Williams signed a contract with Fox in 1997, and was LATER signed by NPR in 1999. It's just that now he has his own slot.

So it's a PR coup for Fox. They come off as the true celebrant of freedom of speech whereas NPR comes off as Nazi witch zombies from hell.

J said...

Typical confused alarmism from the KOster. NPR's bland PC corporate media, hardly radical (as say Pacifica is at times). They regularly offer stock tips and business news, and there are neo-con and pro-GOP idiots on there as well. And KO, like most of the flagwavers, forgets that about any company has the right--ie, is free to-- to terminate employees at will. Or is he saying they shouldn't have that right?

Fox-bots are the demons, a few baby steps away from Mein Kampf (then read KOsters blog, and you'll discover that the KOster's pretty cool with Mein Kampf as well).

Kirby Olson said...

They have the right to do it, but I don't think they have the right to say in public that they need to seek a psychiatrist's help for their viewpoints. I think that's actionable. I'd be surprised if NPR wasn't sued for several million dollars for the WAY they fired him.

I'd ask for fifty million if I were Juan Williams. I hope he does.

Williams still has rights. If he IS mentally ill, and Schiller knew it, then she's not according him his privacy. If he isn't, then she has libelled him.

Either way, NPR loses.