So I think NPR was actually wrong to fire Juan Williams. I also think that most of the positive reaction over his dismissal is due to people’s general dislike of Williams and his politics rather than on the merits of the incident in question. And no, I’m not trying to be contrarian. Like Doug Mataconis and William Saletan, I think this smacks rather loudly of the Shirely Sherrod affair. And I think the reaction on the left to his departure mirrors the reaction on the right to Sherrod incident, which alone should give people pause.
If you look at the entire conversation between O’Reilly and Williams – and not just the out-of-context video clip that Think Progress supplied us with – it becomes pretty obvious that he’s talking about an irrational fear he experiences and the need to protect the rights of all Americans including Muslim Americans against the sort of things that this kind of fear might lead to at a political level. He also talks about the consequences of broadly painting all Muslims as enemies, and how pundits have a responsibility to resist this impulse. He even challenged O’Reilly’s assertion that Muslims attacked America, saying:
Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.
So I really fail to see how this is a reasonable action on NPR’s part. I think lots of Americans probably experienced similar fears after the 9/11 attacks. It’s certainly a bit odd that he would still be experiencing those fears (especially since any Muslim terrorist with half a brain would not dress in obviously Islamic or Middle Eastern apparel – indeed, eventually I think most terrorist attacks will be carried out by very Western-looking people, perhaps recruits from Chechnya, blue-eyed and pale-skinned – but this is just idle speculation).
It’s one thing to say “I go to an airport and see Muslims and they make me nervous” and then go on to advocate a position that limits the rights of Muslims, and quite another to make that statement and then use it to drive home the point that those in the media need to be especially cautious about how they talk about Muslims because of these fears, because incidents like the Muslim cab-driver in New York being attacked simply for being a Muslim. Context matters.
Let me say that again: context matters.
Now all the criticisms of Williams as a person might be correct: maybe all he does is provide cover for conservatives on Fox News. Maybe he really is a secret conservative in disguise, wearing the sheep’s clothing of a liberal to fool Fox audiences. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s not important what his politics are. We shouldn’t rejoice over the wrongful dismissal of a journalist just because we don’t like their political views.
And finally, the reaction on the right to this incident will be just as silly. Already we have Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin calling for the defunding of NPR. And the real crazies are up in arms defending the very position that Williams didn’t actually take (has CNN fired Erick Erickson yet?). So the whole thing is going to conflagrate into this ridiculous nonsense about political correctness, free speech, left-vs-right, etc. etc. ad nauseum.
P.S. I realize that the front-pagers here (and the commenters, no doubt) have a strong dislike for all things Slate and for Saletan in particular. That’s fine. I don’t really read Slate and am not all that familiar with Saletan. It’s really pretty irrelevant who makes these arguments, though. I watched the whole video and I agree that the reaction of NPR is over the top and wrong-headed. It doesn’t matter if that argument comes from someone you despise or someone you admire. Or at least it shouldn’t.