Open Thread – Juan Williams Fired by NPR for comments on Fox

Open Thread – Juan Williams Fired by NPR for comments on Fox


I was not intending to post about this, as I though the entire incident was blown out of proportion. However, since I am apparently the only one in the blogosphere that thought so, here is an open thread for any in the commentariat who want to weigh in.

A couple of thoughtful posts on the subject:

Glenn Greenwald:

“I’m not someone who believes that journalists should lose their jobs over controversial remarks, especially isolated, one-time comments. But if that’s going to be the prevailing standard, then I want to see it applied equally. Those who cheered on the firing of Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez — and that will include many, probably most, of the right-wing polemicists predictably rushing to transform Juan Williams into some sort of free speech martyr sacrificed on the altar of sharia censorship — have no ground for complaining here. Those who endorse speech-based punishments invariably end up watching as the list of Prohibited Ideas expands far beyond the initial or desired scope, often subsuming their own beliefs. That’s a good reason to oppose all forms of speech-based punishment in the first place. There’s obviously a fundamental difference between (a) being punished by the state for expressing Prohibited Ideas (which is isn’t what happened here) and (b) losing a job for doing so, but the dynamic is similar: those who endorse this framework almost always lose control over how it is applied. And that’s how it should be.”

Conor Friedersdorf:

“Contrary to what Mr. Williams implies, it is irrational to fear for one’s safety upon seeing someone on a plane dressed in “Muslim garb.” The vast majority of people who dress in the way he alludes to aren’t terrorists, the odds of a plane carrying people in Muslim dress being hijacked is minuscule, and actual Islamist terrorists don’t advertise their faith. Nor is there anything inherently scary about identifying oneself “first and foremost” as a Muslim. The equivalent sentiment among Christians is quite common.

But I don’t think that Mr. Williams should be fired by NPR, or that it’s good practice in general to fire people based on a single remark, however offensive. (There are exceptions. This isn’t one of them.) I say this as someone who is glad that there is a strong social stigma against bigotry. There is an upside to this stigma that is under-appreciated: it signals to some people that bigotry is wrong, even if they don’t quite understand why.”

My take – Juan Williams comments betrayed irrational bigotry toward Muslims, but not maliciously so. He should have had an opportunity to acknowledge the mistake and keep his job. That said, I understand and appreciate that any media outlet or broadcast entertainment organization, whether public or private, are well within their purview to dismiss on-air talent who make public statements that alienates their audience, subscribers, and advertisers.

  • Dyre42

    I think firing him was heavy handed. A much more amusing solution would have been to hand him an Arabic to English Dictionary and a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People and say, “Congratulations on your promotion to Chief Assistant Junior Middle Eastern Correspondent!” and be confident that one way or the other the problem would sort itself out.

  • mw

    I suspect NPR management never liked the fact that he had so much airtime at Fox and were itching for an excuse to throw him overboard.

  • theWord

    @mw your theory on Mara Eliason?

  • mw

    @word – I don’t know who she is… [checking google] – I see she works at both NPR and Fox, so I assume that is what you are referencing, but you are being a a little too cryptic for me. I have no idea where you are going with this or why I should have a “theory” on Mara Liasson.

  • Dyre42
  • cmstombach

    Juan Williams “Ditto”ed Rush Limbaugh statement that Sotomyer is a racist, that “Michelle Obama “sometimes uses” a “kind of militant anger” and other inappropriate statements. He has made derogatory statements about blacks on welfare, stating that Afro-American leaders “Delight in victimhood”, and the movement for Slavery Reparations “Dead End.”. I know some will say “He’s right!” but that’s not the point.

    The point is that he doesn’t seem to get it, as though he has never experienced hateful name calling. He doesn’t appear to understand how it feels for white neighbors to not speak to you, and to cross over to the other side of the street when passing in front of your house, for neighbor kids to write terrible names on the sidewalk in front of your house, for neighbor kids to throw things at your house.
    Juan Williams appears to be ignorant of ALL the education, health, prison, economic studies show that Afro-Americans are screwed. Juan Williams doesn’t even show that he cares. Juan has a “Just pull yourself up by the bootstraps like I did” mentality.

    NPR has all rights and obligation to fire Juan. NPR is a public radio whereas FOX is right-wing radio. Difference is that NPR has public must remain neutral and transparent and uphold integrity . Fox? None of the aforementioned.

  • Justin Gardner

    If any high profile journalist, besides those on Fox News, had said that they have an inherent bias towards people who wear traditional Muslim garb, they’d be let go too.

    Ultimately, I think it’s sad that Williams has taken a job at Fox. They have such a heavy taint on their news it really demeans his talents. Oh well.

    Moving on…

  • Tully

    The question isn’t whether or not Williams said something that NPR could use to fire him — he did. Their standards are such that almost anything one says on a non-NPR media outlet can be used for that purpose. The real question is selective application of their standards, indicating motives differing from those stated.

    Williams stated aloud two of his own unreasonable biases, clearly labeled as just that. He could have made a jest about preferring chocolate ice cream to vanilla, and gotten the same result. They wanted to fire him, and they did.

    Yet Nina Totenberg, who while on a non-NPR TV show once said that if God knew justice Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren would get AIDS, and on another occasion on the same show said she hoped Jerry Boykin would die soon, remains employed at NPR.

    So apparently at NPR it is off-limits to confess on another media outlet that one has unreasonable biases that one knows (and freely admits) are unreasonable, but perfectly OK to wish death and disease on others, or on their grandchildren via another media outlet, because you find them politically obnoxious*.

    Why yes, they’re all just upright journalistic citizens at NPR. Anyone want to start a betting pool on the remaining NPR employment time of Mara Liasson? I’m guessing that the scapegoating of WIlliams bought her some extra time.

    [*–Not that one doesn’t sympathize somewhat with the sentiments, given Totenberg’s primary targets.]

  • theWord

    @mw – the current right wing theme is that they got rid of him because he is on Fox News. He usually sits right next to Mara Liasson, another NPR reporter which to me makes that whole argument manufactured and not grounded in fact. It doesn’t comport with the facts.

    I agreed with your analysis until your comment.

    and on another note Jesse Helms was obnoxious –exceedingly so

  • Wickedways

    What I find distressing in todays political climate is how a certain segment of the left wants to tell us what we can and cannot say. They seem obsessed with speech while proclaiming to be adherents to the 1st amendment.

    This can be seen in the Liberal lefts reaction to the firing of Juan Williams as outrage…because liberals believe in personal freedom. While the progressives are CELEBRATING his firing because they are more interested in the community and the herd mentality of life in America.

    If you are a pack herder then the herd is more important then the individual. Hence as a pack herder it is important to keep the herd rounded up and heading for the river while dealing with the WAYWARD STRAGGLER……(JUAN WILLIAMS) as they come along.

    No where is my point more driven home then in the reaction to the firing of Juan Williams. The right and liberals are outraged. The Progressives are celebrating another victory for Political Correctness and the right and even liberals are now starting to find that PC is nothing but thought control in a land that values free speech…..

    Or at least used to. It has come down to Herd Control vs. personal liberty and who wins determines the future of this country.

    “””I’m afraid my prejudice has been confirmed. Homo sapiens is a herd species. FOX moos and we listen. O”baa”ama speaks, and we hope. “”” Progressive quote from an avowed progressive website.

    The herd connection is not my doing. It is not my thoughts. It is not my idea. I spend an inordinate amount of time researching the internet, books, magazines, journals and personal writings for this information for my books. It is a theme that appears over and over again at hard core progressive sites.

    The herd mentality of America. Used for their purposes.

    Remember what an old adversary once said…..

    “Print is the sharpest and the strongest weapon of our party.”
    Joseph Stalin

    It is why both right and left covet sources such as NPR and Fox and MSNBC

  • Chris

    Drat I wanted to be the first comment saying that fox is going to swoop him up first chance they get. He’ll make a good addition to their collection of bigots.

  • Tully

    He usually sits right next to Mara Liasson, another NPR reporter which to me makes that whole argument manufactured and not grounded in fact.

    Check the link I provided. Liasson is already under pressure from NPR to not appear on Fox, and has been for some time. Now that Williams is gone, she inherits the “next on the chopping block” position simply for also being associated with Fox.

    Another example of inconsistent application of standards supporting allegations of bias that I could have offered is that of NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu, who on NPR’s own All Things Considered once said (in referring to fundamentalist Christians who believe in the Rapture) “The evaporation of 4 million who believe this crap would leave the world an instantly better place.”

    The Williams comments generated fewer than four hundred complaints to NPR before he was terminated. The Codrescu comment generated over forty THOUSAND. Codrescu remains employed by NPR. Wiliams does not.

    Orwell was right — some animals are more equal than others. As far as I’m concerned NPR can fire whomever they wish, within the bounds of their contractual relationships. It’s the sheer laughability of the reasons offered that I find amusing.

  • WHQ

    What I find distressing in todays political climate is how a certain segment of the left wants to tell us what we can and cannot say. They seem obsessed with speech while proclaiming to be adherents to the 1st amendment.

    No one has charged Juan Williams with a crime as far as I know. The 1st Amendment stands, despite the firing.

    Now that Williams is gone, she inherits the “next on the chopping block” position simply for also being associated with Fox.

    Yeah. It’s not like they have to be fired simultaneously to prove that she may be on thin ice. Maybe she just hasn’t given them a sufficient excuse yet, whereas Juan did.

    My take was that he wasn’t saying anything about the legitimacy of his feelings, just that they exist and need to be acknowledged if people are going to deal with reality. Maybe he was wrong for saying “I’m no bigot.” His feelings are clearly bigotted. I say “maybe” because no one is perfectly free of bigotry, so I tend to think that one has to reach a certain level to be called “a bigot.” I can’t say exactly where that is or how one measures it, so it’s a matter of judgement.

    But what I think he meant was that, given his positions on civil rights, if he feels that way, lots of other people must, too. In other words, “I’m not even a bigot, and I have these bigotted feelings.” Of course, you can disagree that he had some sort of civil-rights cred, but that’s what I think his point was.

    I didn’t see the show, but I heard clips on the radio (NPR, no less), and at no point did I hear him say anything like “And I’m right about those Muslims. You should be scared, too.” I would expect that, if anyone would be looking to put the worst of what he said out there, it would be NPR, who fired him for it.

  • mw

    the current right wing theme is that they got rid of him because he is on Fox News. – word

    If that is the “right wing theme”, then the current left wing theme is that they should have got rid of him because he was on Fox News, and they should also get rid of Mara Liasson for exactly the same reason. Note Tully’s link and even more on point – Media Matters as a proxy for left wing group think:

    News that Juan Williams’ contract with NPR was terminated over comments he made about Muslims while appearing on Fox News shines a spotlight on the radio network’s evergreen controversy: Its continued affiliation with Fox News. Specifically, NPR’s Mara Liasson and her long-running association with Fox News has often raised questions. This might be the proper time for NPR to finally address that thorny issue.

    I’m not suggesting Liasson has said anything as offensive as Williams, or that she has that kind of track record while appearing on Fox. I’m just saying that if you look at NPR’s code of ethics, there’s simply no way Liasson should be making appearances on Fox. :

    NPR is now in a box and is going to have to make Liasson quit Fox or fire her also. Given the stated rationale for firing Williams (expressing opinions on controversial subjects) – they leave themselves open to litigation by selectively applying their policy to Williams and not Liasson.

  • Justin Gardner

    Ultimately, I think this is a bad play for the Repubs to be defending Williams like this. Regardless of whether or not this person or that person gets fired…what he said was just plain dumb and bigoted. You really want to side with that? You really think you’re going to be able to get rid of public broadcasting? That’s your plan?

    As Tully points out, if Repubs would apply their own standards of “liberty” and “freedom” then they shouldn’t complain when an employer exercises their right to fire their employee for nearly ANY reason they want to.