What If Juan Williams Had Said…

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?

Pulitzer Winner: How To Speak Tea Bag

Amongst this year’s honorees for Pulitzer Awards is Mark Fiore, the editorial cartoonist for the SFGate web site. He gained some heightened exposure last year with a piece called “How to Speak Tea Bag”:

Interestingly, this cartoon did not make a big splash at first. It wasn’t until it was posted on the web site of National Public Radio that it became a sensation. And even then it was two months after the posting until some conservatives discovered it and turned it into a cause terrible. The right-wing cacophony of criticism echoed across the blogosphere and on up to Fox News where Bill O’Reilly called NPR a “left wing jihadist deal.” The familiar (and delusional) cry of “liberal media” wafted through the wingnut press.

Sadly, even NPR took the complaints to heart as they bent over backwards to mollify the hurt feelings of the right. NPR ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, wrote in response:

“Fiore is talented, but this cartoon is just a mean-spirited attack on people who think differently than he does and doesn’t broaden the debate.” […and…]

“Some good came from the feedback deluge. NPR’s top editors responded quickly. The word “opinion” was greatly enlarged above Fiore’s cartoon to make it clear it was not a news report.”

I wonder what Shepard’s view would be today, now that the artist has been given a Pulitzer for his work that she said was “not actually funny.” But what IS actually funny is that this cartoon, which mocks the shallow, knee-jerk, substancelessness of the Tea Bag movement, required that the opinion label be enlarged so that the Tea Baggers wouldn’t mistake an animated satirical piece for an actual news report. Isn’t that more insulting than anything in the cartoon itself?

Congratulations are in order for Fiore. He was subjected to some heavy criticism, including death threats, from the Tea Bag contingent. So this tribute was earned the hard way, and is well deserved.

NPR Asks Mara Liasson To Reconsider Fox News

Now that it has been established that Fox News is not a legitimate news network, the question arises as to whether reporters from other news enterprises who appear on Fox are merely pawns in Fox’s game of alleged balance. I have long argued that such appearances serve no purpose other than to validate Fox’s brand of propaganda. Lately, there have been others who share that view, as illustrated in this article at Politico:

According to a source, [NPR’s Mara] Liasson was summoned in early October by NPR’s executive editor for news, Dick Meyer, and the networks supervising senior Washington editor, Ron Elving. The NPR executives said they had concerns that Fox’s programming had grown more partisan, and they asked Liasson to spend 30 days watching the network.

At a follow-up meeting last month, Liasson reported that she’d seen no significant change in Fox’s programming and planned to continue appearing on the network, the source said.

Liasson’s assertion that she doesn’t see any significant change in Fox’s programming is a bit of a dodge. It could easily be argued that Fox’s programming has not changed – it has always been partisan, dishonest, and factually challenged. In which case, she should never have agreed to appear on the network in the first place. However, Fox’s rightist slant has become noticeably steeper. So much so that it has even been noticed by people associated with Fox.

Just in the past couple of months, longtime Fox News contributor Jane Hall left the network citing the extremism of Glenn Beck as part of her reason. Also, former Fox anchor Eric Burns emerged to declare that he is grateful that he no longer has to “face the ethical problem of sharing an employer with Glenn Beck.”

While Fox News has indeed been solidly right-wing since its inception, recent changes have cemented their already hard-core partisanship. They hired Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck. They parted ways with Alan Colmes. In fact every recent announcement from their editorial management took them farther to the right.

If Liasson can’t see this and admit that her ties with Fox are damaging her reputation and that of NPR, then perhaps her NPR handlers should take it upon themselves to cut ties with her. They previously had a similar situation with Juan Williams, an NPR contributor who also appears on Fox and sometimes fills in for Bill O’Reilly. Williams was ordered to stop identifying himself as an NPR reporter when he appeared on Fox’s opinion programs (which is most of them). NPR could go no further than that as Williams is not a full time employee.

As for Liasson, her blindness ought to yield some sort of consequences. NPR is not commenting, but Fox took the opportunity to demonstrate what a bunch of sanctimonious jerks they are by releasing this statement:

“With the ratings we have, NPR should be paying us to even be mentioned on our air.”

Any journalist who works with Fox News must be held accountable for that decision. It should follow them throughout their career and tag them as the disreputable hacks that they are. They should be regarded professionally as being in the same category as reporters from the National Enquirer. If Liasson wants the attention she gets from the Fox family, she will have to live with the scorn she receives from everyone else.

Death Of A Prez Ads Nixed By CNN, NPR

Death of a President is a new film that has been generating both controversy and acclaim. It is the winner of the International Critics’ Award from the Toronto Film Festival. The film’s web site describes it as…

“a fictional TV documentary broadcast in 2008, reflecting on another monstrously despicable and cataclysmic event: the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007.”

Sadly, the media’s martinets of virtue are again patrolling the avenues of our psyches, deciding what is safe for our aesthetic consumption.

CNN and NPR are refusing to air advertisements for the film. There is nothing in the ads that is inappropriate for broadcast. Indeed, the ads were approved by the Motion Picture Association of America for all audiences. But that fact has not deterred the programmers from engaging in censorship. CNN issued a brief statement that virtually admits its intention to censor, saying that…

“CNN has decided not to take the ad because of the extreme nature of the movie’s subject matter.”

By basing their decision on the movie’s “subject matter”, they have installed themselves as the public’s nanny. They believe that they are in the best position to decide for us which subjects matter. While they are a couple of yards further over the line than NPR, the public radio network’s excuse is not much better:

“The movie is fairly likely to generate significant controversy and we’ll cover it as a news story. To take a sponsorship spot would raise questions and cause confusion.”

One wonders if that criteria also applies to sponsorships from Ford or McDonald’s. Surely they have generated controversy connected to their products. Has their sponsorship raised questions or caused confusion?

This film already has an uncommon burden to overcome as a result of its premise. Two of the nation’s biggest movie exhibitors, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark USA, have announced that they will not play the movie in any of their ~8000 theaters. Newmarket Films, the movie’s distributor, insists that they will be able to open in plenty of theaters. They say that they are getting support from many exhibitors including the Landmark Theater chain.

These broadcasters and exhibitors, who have appointed themselves the protectors of the public’s tender sensibilities, deny that any partisan motive is at play. But an objective observer would note that they all previously played nice with another controversial release distributed by Newmarket, “The Passion of the Christ.”

So what is the reason that this film is getting such a different reception? It couldn’t be the subject matter, could it? Look at the trends:

  • The Dixie Chicks criticize the president and they’re thrown off the radio. Has that ever happend to a right wing artist?
  • A network TV biopic about Ronald Reagan is protested by conservatives and it gets shuttled off to cable. But ABC’s Path To 9/11 airs despite opposition.
  • An artist exhibits a work entitled, “The Proper Way to Display the Flag,” and the gallery is told to shut it down. But when Bush walks on a flag at Ground Zero, it’s just another photo-op.

It appears that everyone has an equal right to protest, but only Republicans can turn their protests into edicts that deny all Americans access to the embattled works. It’s called censorship, and it’s alive and well in America.

Update: Tim Graham at NewsBusters takes issue with this story. Responding to my criticism of NPR he asks…

“Can’t this blogger differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald?”

Tim is veering off on a detour to address a point that’s right in the middle of the road. If NPR declines an ad for this movie because of the appearance of bias in the event that they cover it editorially, doesn’t that same consideration come into play for any sponsor that they might cover editorially? And by the way, I can differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald. The Bush assassin in the movie harms no one except another character in the film. Ronald McDonald’s influence on real children harms thousands of them every year.