The public radio giant’s firing of one of its top analysts deals a terrible blow to free speech and diversity at a broadcasting network that prides itself on objectivity and open-mindedness.
NPR should not have fired Juan Williams. As a financial supporter of a public broadcasting station, I see the firing as contradicting the open-mindedness and civil discussions and programming I enjoy listening to on NPR and viewing on PBS. It goes against what I believe as a journalist, particularly one who is paid for expressing opinions.
NPR fired Williams, also a paid contributor to FOX, for saying on the O’Reilly Factor that Muslims make him nervous when he’s taking an airplane. I personally disagree with Williams’ opinion and concede it could be problematic for NPR if he does a report on Muslims. But it’s an opinion that is clearly held by many Americans. The knee-jerk reaction of firing Williams, a news analyst, was a missed opportunity for a teaching moment about the evolving role of journalism and to show that NPR is truly liberal — that is, open-minded. A reprimand, maybe, but fired? Isn’t Williams paid to give his opinion? It sends a distorted message about free speech. It’s a disservice to our nation at time when NPR should be helping to lead the civil, serious dialogue that we’re desperately lacking if we are to avoid permanently boxing ourselves into separate narrow-minded stupors.
The national unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent. Firing someone can be mentally and financially devastating. Knee-jerk calls to fire people typically come from folks who have jobs or don’t have a clue (or have forgotten) what being fired feels like. I was blindsided by a firing in 2006 and it threw my family and me into a tailspin. The lame excuse given for my firing had more to do with my supervisor’s low self-esteem, and a company that lacks class, than my job performance. Many firings have nothing to do with job performance, but simply the boss wanting to dump an annoying employee. According to published reports, this seems to be the case with Williams.
Labeled a right-wing black conservative by some, mainly because of his work on FOX, Williams, who has been with NPR more than ten years, reportedly has irked many of his more recent white liberal co-workers. Possible evidence of this is that NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller said that Williams should’ve kept his Muslim comment “between him and his psychiatrist or his publicist.” She later apologized, but what was that personal slap about?
“I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me,” Williams told Good Morning America. “They were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity.”
Fortunately for Williams Fox has reportedly hired him full-time and given him $2 million over three years. FOX viewers (all TV news viewers) absolutely need to see and hear from diverse journalists like Williams to help them understand differing viewpoints. There is nothing wrong with being black and conservative, especially considering polls consistently show that African Americans are socially conservative because of their primarily Christian influence. The black community is not monolithic.
Considering NPR’s difficulties maintaining diversity in its staff and programming, you would think they would be more sensitive to dumping one of their few black journalists — especially a journalist who has done quality, award-winning work for several years. Unfortunately, that’s one of the annoying blind spots of white liberals that blacks are all too familiar with, but decline to talk much about. Doing so can get you fired.
As a columnist/blogger, author, TV talk show contributor, and radio show host, I make sure to expose myself to different viewpoints. Along with PBS, I watch FOX, MSNBC, and CNN, C-SPAN and other stations. I read liberal and conservative publications and commentators. Exposing myself to differing views helps me to become clearer and more confident in my own opinions. By the time I express my thoughts, I’m sure of what I believe because I’ve challenged myself from within.
Perhaps the mishandling of Williams’ firing can help NPR to do the same.
Photo by Pete Wright from Wikipedia.