Thursday, October 21, 2010
I'll make this quick because I feel like if you've followed this site long enough you probably know which side I'm going to take on this issue.
No, Juan Williams doesn't deserve to have lost his job at NPR. In fact, NPR management comes off as arrogant, myopic and petulant as hell, not only for firing Williams for a relatively innocuous comment he made on Fox News but for going out of its way to make a public spectacle of doing so.
I'm not really going to bother getting into whether I agree or disagree with Williams's statement to Bill O'Reilly that it's understandable to get a little nervous when someone who identifies himself as Muslim boards the plane you happen to be on. I won't argue with it one way or the other because Williams was speaking only for himself and, what's more, wasn't justifying his feelings when he's in that situation so much as admitting that they exist. In other words, he didn't say it was right -- he just said it happens and that that kind of gut reaction doesn't necessarily make him some sort of animal. No matter how evolved each of us may think he or she is, everyone is capable of involuntarily reacting in a way that the brain would find primitive were it not for the fact that it hasn't had time to actually kick into gear and add things like reason and context.
What I will say, though, is that regardless what I think of Williams's comments, he had every right to voice them and not feel like he'd lose his job over it. We've entered a really dangerous era where it seems like journalists are regularly expected to speak authoritatively on the issues they're covering -- and Lord knows they have far more time and space and a greater number of outlets from which to do it than ever before -- but they have to always be on their guard that if they say the wrong thing, they'll be thrown out on their asses. You can either have a completely open forum as a news operation, where the intelligent exchange of ideas is welcome and encouraged, or you can slam the door shut on any and all analysis and interpretation. You can't have it both ways because the people you pay for their big brains and big mouths will never know when something coming from either of them crosses that imaginary and often completely arbitrary line dividing the acceptable from the forbidden.
NPR allowed Juan Williams to moonlight as a Fox News contributor; to suddenly freak out over the fact that he has it in him to say something ever-so-mildly controversial in the service of that gig seems entirely disingenuous.
Enough is enough, already. Either let these people speak their minds or don't -- but stop with this half-assed nonsense. Keep one thing in mind, though: The media world these days is too massive, too quickly evolving and too transparent to keep anyone locked in an ivory tower anymore.