A couple of things regarding DougJ’s response to my Juan Williams post.
First, the point is not whether Williams should have been fired for other comments he made in the near or distant past. He was fired specifically for the comments he made on O’Reilly’s show this week, or at least these comments were used as a pretext to fire him – and so looking at the context surrounding his statements is not only sensible but necessary. If his track record matters – and it does – and these comments are not only part of that track record, but also the straw that broke the camel’s back, then these comments matter, too.
It’s not contrarian to say that we should watch the whole video before rushing to judgment. In fact, focusing entirely on ‘the William Saletans of the world’ in response to my post is just a straw man. I specifically noted in my postscript that it’s irrelevant who is making these arguments, and that focusing on Slate would be to miss the point entirely. Asking that we look at the facts surrounding the incident is something we should all do even if Williams is a shill for right-wingers like O’Reilly.
Second, what worries me is not so much what happens to Juan Williams, but rather the trend that is developing in the media lately of firing journalists over out-of-context quotes, tweets, or whatever – whether we’re talking about Helen Thomas or Juan Williams or even Dave Weigel over the JournoList nontroversy. Calling my argument contrarian is ridiculous. I’ve consistently said that these dismissals of journalists over their personal beliefs or statements they made on Twitter, in private emails, or elsewhere is wrong and reactionary. Why would I change my opinion now just because Juan Williams isn’t popular on the left?
And finally, we should examine once again just what exactly Williams was saying – something I talked about in my initial post, and which DougJ has chosen to ignore entirely in his response. Williams was confessing to his own irrational fears and then explaining why it’s important to not succumb to these fears, both as an individual and as a society. He was urging people like Bill O’Reilly not to cast all Muslims as the enemy, and to be prudent in their choice of words. In a sense, Williams was trying to speak to the largely very right-wing audience of Fox News and ask that people overcome their personal fear and be tolerant of Muslims and careful in their choice of rhetoric regarding terrorism and Islam.
This is a good thing! This is a positive message, coupled with an admission of culpability, making that message even more meaningful. Either critics of Williams are simply missing this point because TPM supplied them with a purposefully misleading clip of the exchange, or they are willfully ignoring it because of their dislike for Williams. Neither, I would argue, is an acceptable response. And that’s not just me being contrarian.
Oh, and the NPR Ombudsman, Alicia Shepherd, doesn’t think Williams should have been fired either:
Rather than terminating news analyst Juan Williams’ contract, “probably the better thing for NPR to have done is to have said ‘Juan the situation is not working,’ ” NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepherd just said on Talk of the Nation.
Then, she continued, Williams could have been given a choice: If he wanted to stay at NPR, he would have to stop doing commentary on Fox News Channel. Or, if he preferred to continue with Fox, he and NPR could part ways.