Friday, October 22, 2010

Wrong, And At The Wrong Time

Yesterday and today, the ever-thorough Glenn Greenwald posted on Salon pieces defending the termination by NPR of Juan Williams. Greenwald includes the obligatory (for him) remarks excoriating the United States for its foreign policy and Israel for its..... well, for being Israel. (Can there be a more brutal and oppressive force in the world than the Israeli government? Other than the nations inactively trying to terminate the country and its people and the terrorist groups they aid, actively attempting the same? Oh, never mind.)

But the thrust of Greenwald's argument is that the discharge of Juan Williams for expressing anti-Muslim sentiment helpfully runs counter to the "viewpoint-based firings" of Eason Jordan, Peter Arnett, Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield, Bill Maher, Ward Churchill, Chas Freeman, Van Jones, "and so many others.". These actions "demonstrate how unequal and imbalanced our standards have become in determining which group-based comments are acceptable and which ones are not."

Van Jones was discharged partly because of statement(s) and partly because of behavior, Phil Donahue because of age. (Not officially, of course, but a report presented to MSNBC labeled him "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace." As against liberals like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and others, who at least are not old and daily run 20 laps around 30 Rock to prove they are not tired.) But the others seem to have been fired, as apparently was Williams, for what they said.

In its statement (emphasis mine) announcing its move, NPR explained

Tonight we gave Juan Williams notice that we are terminating his contract as a Senior News Analyst for NPR News.

Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years and we did not make this decision lightly or without regret. However, his remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.

We regret these circumstances and thank Juan Williams for his many years of service to NPR and public radio.

I don't know what NPR's "editorial standards and practices" are; but in eschewing specificity, the organization appears to prefer that we understand Williams "undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR."

Apparently, this occurred upon Williams remarking

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 the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

In an e-mail later sent to NPR stations, CEO Vivian Schiller maintained "In appearing on TV or other media.... NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not appear in shows.... that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis."

Schiller wrote "this isn't the first time we've had serious concerns about some of Juan's public comments" (despite)" many conversations and warnings over the years."

But NPR chose this occasion to fire Williams, and apparently not merely for having made one comment too many. Before recognizing her public relations blunder and apologizing, Schiller let the cat out of the bag, contending that Williams should have voiced his opinions only "to his psychiatrist or his publicist."

In his own statement, Williams couldn't help pursuing the race and gender angle, claiming "This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas, or a diversity of staff. (I was the only black male on the air.)" He cited his "honest statement" as "the basis for a charge of bigotry."

Williams' statement on The O'Reilly Factor about Muslims and their garb was honest; regrettably, the charge that NPR "has no use" for a diversity of staff" not nearly so. Nonetheless, the conclusion is nearly inescapable that Williams, who tried to disabuse O'Reilly and his listeners from the idea that ours is a war against undifferentiated Muslims, was fired for his opinion that Muslims boarding a passenger airline can be scary.

In that regard, Williams joins most of the others named by Greenwald as fired for expressing an unpopular view. Additionally, besides NPR hiding behind the curtain of "journalistic standards," it refuses even to criticize what the analyst said. Rather than accusing him of bigotry- a specific, debatable charge- the network contended that he "undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR." Literally, then, Williams' offense was not uttering an inaccurate, or even prejudicial, statement, but one which had an unsettling effect on his audience.

Undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR. At issue was not action, but words; and not the content of those words but their impact upon others, upon which there is an increasing emphasis. If it chose to separate itself from Williams because it had warned him repeatedly about continuing his role on another network, NPR chose the wrong, and unjustified, time to do so.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Oh NPR. There goes my donation....

well let's be honest, I wasn't going to donate when i can free ride and listen for free.

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