Thursday, October 21, 2010

Speech Impediment

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.


Riles said...

I agree with what you're saying, but how did NPR go "out of its way to make a public spectacle of doing so." Maybe I missed part of the story, but I thought they did it over the phone, and didn't comment until after Juan had said something on Fox first?

Le Penseur said...

I know this will probably earn me my merit badge for Intolerance and Bigotry, but not only do I feel that people who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims are dangerous, I feel that any person who identifies himself/herself first and foremost by their religious affiliation needs to be watched like a hawk. Fundamentalists of any stripe are exactly like junkies: their worldview is not based on reality, you can never be sure what's gonna make them lose their shit and they can rationalize any atrocity they commit by claiming they are only doing what God has commanded them to do. Maybe I'm just easily frightened but there it is.

CNNfan said...

At least NPR may have saved Juan the embarrassment getting fired by Jon Stewart!

Just Joking!

Anonymous said...

Boy, you're the go-to guy on this since you are part of this disturbing trend.

The take on Juan is, "if you're a political activist, you cannot also be a reporter." I don't think that was Juan's role. His role was a bit different from a "just the facts, mame-reporter." Juan was asked to analyze and report-a tad different from say, a Catherine Herridge at FOX News.

People like you, Chez have been under siege from the thought police by folk who come from Old Media.

Just imagine what you could have accomplished as a producer if you weren't let go under these circumstances.

Any corporation can write draconian rules.

idiosynchronic said...

Don't cry for Juan, Malcontenes. FOX has just gifted him with a $2 million, 3 year contract.

Mmmhmm. Yeah. This shit was coming for Juan for months, both Juan & FOX knew it, courted it, and NPR walked right into it when someone finally let the knee-jerk reaction throw Williams under the bus. And now it's the story and the Right is having a gangbang.

Anonymous said...

I've watched Juan Williams on the Sunday Fox News show and I've listened to him on NPR. Most of the time he's seemed reasonable and well measured. There's been a few times when I've heard some small snippets of him commenting on shows during the usual Fox circus. He came across as being almost as loony as some of the others. I always put it down to not catching the entire show, but it always surprised me that he was doing those shows and still working for NPR.

A person has to eat, so he does what he has to. He's walking away smelling like a rose even if he's got to work with a bunch of douche bags. :)

VirginiaO'Possum said...

Thing is, actions like NPR's add to the already kind of crippling tendency of mainstream media reporters to self-censor. NPR management is on some kind of weird toot right now, though -- firing Williams and banning staffers from attending Jon Stewart's parody rally -- like they just discovered the notion of impartiality and don't know quite how it works.

Anonymous said...