As long as we’re parsing around here…
NPR fired Senior News Analyst Juan Williams for comments he made during the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. After some searching I was able to find a transcript of the offending material at ThinkProgress.org. Here’s the relevant section:
O’REILLY: Continuing now with our lead story, danger from the Muslim world.
Joining us from Washington FOX analysts Mary Katharine Ham and Juan Williams.
So, Juan, I got to tell everybody, own up to this, that talking points memo was really written by Alan Colmes.
So, where am I going wrong there, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.
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.
Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.
But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it’s not a war against Islam. President Bush went to a mosque –
O’REILLY: Well, there isn’t any theology involved in this at all from my perspective, Juan. But you live in the liberal precincts. You actually work for NPR, OK?
O’REILLY: And it’s not about — it’s about politics as I said. But — my analysis is that this Israel thing and that liberals feel that United states is somehow guilty in the world, of exploitation and backing the wrong side, and it makes it easier for them to come up with this kind of crazy stuff that, well, you can’t really say the Muslims attacked us on 9/11.
WILLIAMS: No, but what Barbara Walters said to you –
O’REILLY: Were they Norwegians? I mean, come on.
WILLIAMS: Wait a second though, wait, 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.
O’REILLY: But it’s not at that level. It doesn’t rise near to that level.
WILLIAMS: Correct. That’s — and when you said in the talking points memo a moment ago that there are good Muslims, I think that’s a point, you know?
O’REILLY: But everybody knows that, Juan. I mean, what are, in 3rd grade here or what?
WILLIAMS: No, you don’t — but you got to be — this is what Barbara Walters was saying –
O’REILLY: I got to be careful, you just said it. I got to be careful. I have got to qualify everything 50 times. You know what, Juan? I’m not doing it anymore. I’m not doing that anymore.
WILLIAMS: OK. So, be yourself. Take responsibility.
O’REILLY: But I’m not going to say, oh, it’s only a few. It’s only a tiny bit. It’s not, Juan. It’s whole nations, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, whole nations.
Go ahead, Mary Katharine. You want to get in here. Go.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think that the statement Williams made here is bigoted. To be more precise, he didn’t say that people in Muslim garb are trying to commit acts of terrorism on planes. That would be a bigoted (and factually incorrect as the terrorists dress to blend in) statement. What he said is that when he sees people that are clearly broadcasting their faith through clothing he has an involuntary reaction to that. It causes him to worry. It reveals his own inner bigotry. If anything he is condemning himself in his statement for and irrational but understandable fear.
As someone who flew a lot around the time of 9/11 I will admit that I’ve looked on my fellow passengers with suspicion many times. How could you not? Interestingly enough my traveling companion on many of those post 9/11 trips was Egyptian. I assure you that I didn’t worry about him one bit, because I knew him. Yet he felt that he was constantly being eyed with suspicion, and I had to agree that he was. But even knowing this I worried about people on planes. I worried about the idiots who seemed unable to comply with the rules to stay seated on the last 30 minutes of any flight into DC. I worried about the people spending way too long in the bathroom. What are they doing in there anyhow? I admit that I worried about people that were clearly Muslim that I did not know. I can also admit that these are all irrational fears, but perfectly understandable in the context of 9/11. I would guess that a lot of people share such irrational fears. Not products of a conscious bigotry but something deeper and harder to weed out.
Juan Williams gave voice to these fears. He could have done it much more artfully, but if you read him carefully he is simply revealing himself to be human and being overly polite to the host of the show by claiming to agree with him and then proceeding to take a more nuanced approach. I think we need to be able to admit that people have these fears rather than ignoring that they exist.
Did he deserve to be fired over this? I actually think that he got fired because of what O’Reilly said rather that what Williams said. O’Reilly is careful to cite the NPR affiliation in order to bolster Williams’ claims. My guess is that NPR is sick of Williams using NPR to build up a reputation as a journalist and then using Fox News to engage in punditry, playing on his other job to give his words weight. I would also guess that NPR has had several discussions with Williams on this topic over the years and that this is simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not a big deal in and of itself, but it happens to be the thing that cost him his job.
Personally I won’t miss him, but it is worthwhile to understand what it is he said and why it was that he was fired rather than engaging in predictable (and disingenuous) screeds about so-called “censorship”.
Note: Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s take on things, very different from my own, yet still rational.