FILE- This undated photo released by SeniorNet shows NPR news analyst Juan Williams. NPR News says that it has terminated the contract of Williams after remarks he made about Muslims on The O'Reilly Factor. (AP Photo/SeniorNet, File) NO SALES (Credit: AP)
The firing of Juan Williams (and his subsequent full-time hiring — at an insane $2 million — by Fox News) for saying he is afraid of Muslims (and adding that it is OK and right to be afraid of Muslims) is the perfect sort of overwrought nonevent for our obsessively navel-gazing media-political establishment. Old bores of the traditional media love a tale of one of their own saying something stupid and getting fired for it (it is usually outrageous when this happens unless the stupid thing said was about the Jews). The right wing immediately goes into a tizzy whenever anyone, anywhere, can be spun into sounding like some sort of victim of liberal political correctness. (As an added bonus, conservatives now get to launch an ACORN-style campaign against “government-funded” NPR.) The news is of no interest to anyone in the world outside this sphere, beyond the segment of NPR’s 20 million listeners who liked Williams so much that they called in today, weeping. (Which, truth be told, is probably a decent number of people — folks who love public radio think of the people on it like family, in my experience.)
The good reason to fire Juan Williams is that he’s predictable and boring and his appearances on Fox reflect poorly on NPR. This, for all I know, was the actual reason he was fired. But this is a very bad way to explain that firing:
A “news analyst” can’t express “views?” Oy.
But Williams still can’t acknowledge the essential bigotry of his statements. This, from Williams’ defensive, deeply stupid column on his firing, is telling (emphasis mine):
Two days later, Ellen Weiss, my boss at NPR called to say I had crossed the line, essentially accusing me of bigotry. She took the admission of my visceral fear of people dressed in Muslim garb at the airport as evidence that I am a bigot. She said there are people who wear Muslim garb to work at NPR and they are offended by my comments.
That is really the perfect explanation for what was wrong with Williams’ remarks, and it seems like the point at which an empathetic person might actually apologize. But Williams does not reflect on that, at all. Maybe he doesn’t believe it’s true. Maybe he thinks those people are somehow wrong to be offended. He’s deluded enough, after all, to consider his firing for saying something stupid “a chilling assault on free speech” — demonstrating a Palin-esque reading of the First Amendment that should embarrass the author of a biography of Thurgood Marshall. Maybe Juan Williams actually thinks being afraid of a religious or ethnic group solely because of the way they look or dress isn’t bigoted (he keeps insisting as much!), in which case, NPR is justified in firing him — as CNN was in firing Rick Sanchez — for reasons of stupidity.