The story du jour throughout the mediasphere is the firing of Juan Williams by NPR for saying that seeing Muslims in the airport makes him “nervous.” The reaction from conservatives, who obviously feel the same way, was instantaneous and brutal. There have been kneejerk calls to defund NPR along with the usual rightist mantra about the “liberal” media.
The problem is that the language used by Williams was not harmless unless you regard Muslims as uniquely deserving of contempt. The question that has to be asked is: What would the response be if a white commentator said that seeing an African American walking down the sidewalk would make them want to cross the street?
Williams may not be a bigot, but what he said was unmistakably bigoted. He defended himself today in an op-ed on Fox News online by saying that he had been “fired for telling the truth.”
“Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.”
First of all, wearing Muslim garb doesn’t identify anyone as first and foremost anything, no more than wearing a baseball cap identifies someone as first and foremost a sports fan. Isn’t it possible to wear Muslim garb and be first and foremost a neurosurgeon? Or for that matter, first and foremost an American? But the larger problem is that Williams’ excuse suggests that it would be acceptable for Greta Van Susteren to say that seeing Mexicans in the supermarket makes her want to clutch her purse tighter, if that’s what she regards as the truth?
It is not true that people in Muslim garb cause nervousness, only that they make Williams nervous. I don’t have a problem with it. It isn’t enough to assert that a certain segment of society has prejudices and, therefore, when you express those ideas you are simply articulating something that is true for that bigoted segment of society and you’re off the hook.
For its part, NPR explained their action by saying that Williams had “undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.” They further asserted that his dismissal was not due solely to this incident, but that he had violated the ethical standards of NPR on numerous occasions and had been counseled many times in the past. However, we can expect those facts to be ignored as the right-wing hypocrites defend Williams and castigate NPR. Where were these stalwart defenders of free speech when Rick Sanchez was terminated by CNN for making similarly inappropriate comments? The same people hoisting Williams on their shoulders had laughed at Sanchez and cheered his misfortune. Ditto Helen Thomas. Ditto David Shuster.
It’s ironic that this affair, which will ignite conservatives’ accusations that public broadcasting is hopelessly liberal, is breaking now, just a few days after a report that shows how conservatively slanted PBS is.
This isn’t really hard, people. If you do not want to be punished for being a bigot, stop being a fucking bigot. Because if you don’t stop it is going to affect your career. Unless, of course, you work for Fox News (see Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Megyn Kelly, etc.)
And lest anyone try to frame this as a free speech issue, please note that Williams still has all of his civil rights. In fact, Fox News just made him a full time employee and gave him a big raise. If anyone has a right to complain about suppression…well….when was the last time you saw a network pundit in Muslim garb?
[Addendum:] The frantic calls to defund NPR have materialized, including an announcement that Sen. Jim DeMint (SD-Tea Party) will introduce legislation tomorrow to do so. But DeMint’s bill may be difficult to implement because there are no direct federal funds to NPR for DeMint to take away.
Also, on Fox News today, anchor Jon Scott defended Williams by explaining that his feelings were perfectly understandable because, “the terrorists wanted to scare us and they have achieved their aim.” That’s comforting.
But it was Bill O’Reilly who managed to put it all into perspective by asserting that…
“Juan Williams wasn’t giving his opinion of Muslims on airplanes. He was simply stating what he felt.”
See? Two completely different things. Thank God O’Reilly cleared that up. And leave it to O’Reilly to sum up his defense of hate by inviting violence with this this talking point: “NPR puts itself in the kill zone.” Hear that dog whistle, Tea Party Militia?