October 22, 2010
More on the Juan Williams firing
As I have said before, my delight with the firing of Juan Williams was simple. I thought he was a lousy journalist and I was glad not to have to listen to him anymore. But Jason Linkins captures why the firing was so unusual and it is not because of free speech issues:
Yesterday, NPR cashiered correspondent Juan Williams for doing something that had hitherto never been considered an offense in media circles: defaming Muslims. Up until now, you could lose your job for saying intemperate things about Jews and about Christians and about Matt Drudge. You could even lose a job for failing to defame Muslims. But we seem to be in undiscovered country at the moment.
Glenn Greenwald explains that some are expressing outrage because creating anti-Muslim fear is their goal and the NPR action has threatened their drive towards it by making it seem as if bigotry towards Muslims should be treated the same way as bigotry towards any other group.
The double standard in our political discourse -- which tolerates and even encourages anti-Muslim bigotry while stigmatizing other forms -- has been as beneficial as it has been glaring. NPR's firing of Juan Williams threatened to change that by rendering this bigotry as toxic and stigmatized as other types. That could not be allowed, which is why the backlash against NPR was so rapid, intense and widespread. I'm not referring here to those who object to viewpoint-based firings of journalists in general and who have applied that belief consistently: that's a perfectly reasonable view to hold (and one I share). I'm referring to those who rail against NPR's actions by invoking free expression principles they plainly do not support and which they eagerly violate whenever the viewpoint in question is one they dislike. For most NPR critics, the real danger from Williams' firing is not to free expression, but to the ongoing fear-mongering campaign of defamation and bigotry against Muslims (both foreign and domestic) that is so indispensable to so many agendas.
That sounds right to me.
James Wolcott has his usual droll but accurate take on the event. He points out that Williams can now fully be the kind of person that Fox News loves, the minority who panders to white resentment by validating their stereotypes about minorities, saying "Well, clearly that day has come and such a relief it must be for Williams, able to capitulate to conservative middle-aged white men without having to fret about whatever flak he might get back home at NPR."