(Centennial Institute Fellow) National Public Radio has fired Juan Williams, and first off, the people who did the firing should get fired if they don’t hire him back, and next, the federal government should yank all its funding from the outfit.
This firing is political correctness gone bananas, a blatant, in-your-face, cowardly, utterly mindless assault on free speech coming not from a private entity that has to earn its way in a competitive world, but from a public, government-financed organization whose money comes largely from taxation. Even though NPR does first-class journalism, it is suddenly waging a war on words that were unexceptional, and given its special obligations, that is unacceptable.
Some background is in order.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox TV was on ABC’s “The View,” said it was Muslims who crashed planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 and that this was reason not to build a mosque nearby. In protest, two of the show’s denizens—Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg—strode huffily off the set. Since then, O’Reilly has devoted major time on several of his own shows to self-exoneration, emphasizing the literal truth of what he said and then contending on the one hand that he did not mean to demonize all Muslims while arguing on the other that millions of Muslims are self-declared enemies of America.
Enter Williams, a news analyst with NPR who is also a liberal regular on various Fox shows. Generally outnumbered by conservatives, he calmly, charmingly argues his points. I’ve seen him numerous times, and though I usually disagree, he has earned my respect. He did again the other night as he managed to squeeze in a few words during an O’Reilly rant, observing once that you’d never condemn all Christians because homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh was so identified.
He also said this: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Then the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Williams seemed to believe all Muslims could be considered security risks and NPR said Williams’ remarks were “inconsistent with our editorial stands.” I say why don’t you all try to be responsible, thoughtful, fair and open-minded adults, no matter how that conflicts with paranoia or editorial stands.
The fact is that Muslim terrorists have done terrible things on airplanes and are still slaughtering innocent Western humanitarians in Afghanistan. It’s perfectly normal for people who know that a disastrous “B” has sometimes followed the appearance of “A” in a certain setting to then act disconcertedly when they see “A” in that same setting. To admit as much is not to be prejudiced or to say that “B” always follows “A,” but to help explain emotions, to move the conversation to new, productive possibilities.
But these are days during which you are only supposed to say one obvious truth concerning any Muslim, namely that most are perfectly decent human beings.
If a smooth-talking New York imam repeats the fiction of Americans killing a half million Iraqi children, says we were accessories to 9/11 and warns of Islamic retaliation if a mosque is not built near Ground Zero, we are supposed to applaud his purposes. If Muslim terrorists threaten to kill possible satirists, we aren’t supposed to make a big deal of one going into hiding. When Muslims threaten wholesale slaughter of Americans if a truly misguided pastor burns Korans, we are supposed to see how understandable that reaction is.
And if a TV commentator says something perfectly innocent with the word “Muslim” attached, someone is supposed to come up with a Little League version of the Netherlands trial of a politician for hate speech against Muslims. Or at least that’s what NPR did, thereby earning a right to do what most radio organizations do, strive for audience and survival advertising in a free market.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at speaktojay(at)aol.com.)