ED’s post is completely wrong and uncharacteristically wrong-headed.
Juan Williams’ firing did not happen in a vacuum. It happened in the context of him having been the official Fox News
lawn jockey stooge for years. Here’s the NPR ombudsman 18 months ago expressing concerns about Williams’ appearances on Fox, for example. Williams’ appearances on Fox clearly violated NPR’s guidelines for its employees:
9. NPR journalists must get permission from the Vice President for their Division or their designee to appear on TV or other media. It is not necessary to get permission in each instance when the employee is a regular participant on an approved show. Permission for such appearances may be revoked if NPR determines such appearances are harmful to the reputation of NPR or the NPR participant.
10. In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than rather than fact-based analysis.
The reason he was allowed to get away with it was that he is technically an independent contractor, not an employee.
I’m sure NPR would have liked to fire Williams long ago. Viewers dislike him and he is an embarrassment in many ways. I suspect that the optics of firing an African-American conservative were not good, though, and they felt they had to wait for the right opportunity to rip off the band-aid.
It is hardly surprising that the William Saletans of the world want to take Williams’ side. They see themselves as brave truth tellers, the only ones with the guts to make liberals face the fact that mavericks like J. Philippe Rushton are right about everything; they see Williams’ gutsy comments about Michelle Obama and Muslims as being in the same vein. They also enjoy being contrarian, of course.
Finally, one of the things Slate and others like to do is play games with context. When Ronald Reagan kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, MS by talking about “states rights”, he was just appealing to principled small government conservatives, not giving a shout out to murderers. But when Obama talked about how economic hardship might make people bitter, he wasn’t merely expressing an obvious truth, he was speaking in the tradition of the Hundred Year Liberal War Against Real Americans.
So it is with this, it’s fun to play a game where Williams was fired for just this one comment. But it’s simply not true. Juan Williams tenure at NPR was going to end; the fact that it was with a bang rather than a whimper, is not important.
I don’t know why ED feels differently about this. Sometimes the siren call of contrarianism can be very powerful.
Update. I in no way mean to give the impression of lumping Erik, whose contributions to this blog are great and whom I respect a great deal, in with Will Saletan as a commentator.