Exit Juan Williams

I don’t think any journalist or academic who is doing a good job should be fired for making a single offensive statement, however stupid.  In most cases, though, the statement that gets the person fired is not the real reason, but a last straw coming after a whole lot of other things.

One example is Lawrence Summers, who was fired as president of Harvard University after saying that women may have genetic limitations that keep them from the highest level of achievement in mathematics.  This came after he had antagonized just about every major constituency in the Harvard academic community.  Casey Stengel is supposed to have said that the secret of management is to keep the players who hate you away from the ones who haven’t made up their minds.  Summers hadn’t learned that lesson.  If he had, I think the controversy over his remark would have been allowed to blow over.

Some people seem to be able to get away with anything, and others lose their jobs over the least little thing.  In most cases, the difference has to do with their relative value to their employers.  There are exceptions.  Phil Donahue’s morning show was canceled by MSNBC in 2003, despite its being MSNBC’s highest rated show, because he was critical of President Bush.


Juan Williams

In the case of Juan Williams being fired by National Public Radio, the occasion for his firing was his statement to Bill O’Reilly on Fox News about how fear of people in “Muslim garb” was understandable.  I believe the underlying reason was the conflict of interest between his role as an anchor for NPR and his role as a commentator for Fox.  He took his credentials based on NPR’s reputation for objectivity and professionalism, and put them at the service of Fox News’ inflammatory propaganda aimed at stirring up ethnic and religious conflict.  NPR could have have tolerated this situation indefinitely.  Williams had to choose whether to be a journalist for NPR or a token liberal for Fox, and he chose the more lucrative option.

NPR put itself in a bad light in the knee-jerk way it responded to Williams’ statement.  It would have been smarter and classier to have quietly declined to renew his contract the next time it came up.  But I don’t think NPR would have acted as it did if management were not already displeased with Williams’ role on Fox.

Click on Many years later, NPR unloads one of its hacks for comment by Bob Somerby on The Daily Howler.  Somerby says that Williams’ pattern on Fox News has been to show empathy for prejudiced statements, then to qualify them in some way, leaving it unclear as to what he actually does think.  A TV commentator who can’t make is meaning clear is incompetent to do his work.  Somerby thinks NPR should have dropped Williams years ago, but not necessarily fired him for this particular remark.

Click on NPR fires Juan Williams for anti-Muslim bigotry for comment by Glenn Greenwald.  He thinks NPR was wrong to fire Williams for his opinions, but he points to the hypocrisy of the defense of Williams by those who called for the firings of Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Octavia Nasr, Peter Arnett, Bill Maher and many others for their views.

Click on  Why NPR Matters for background on NPR and Juan Williams by the Atlantic’s James Fallows.

[P.S. added 11/10/10]  I got away from my main point in the comment section, so I’m going to restate it here.

I think NPR was wrong to fire Juan Williams for a single thoughtless comment.  I’ll go further.  I think NPR’s management embarrassed NPR for the knee-jerk, spiteful way in which they responded, and for the comments the following day.

But I also think there was an underlying conflict of interest between Williams’ roles with NPR and Fox News which was incompatible with him working  for both.  It was be like a high-profile reporter for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal writing bylined articled for the National Enquirer, or an Associated Press reporter moonlighting for Tass, the official Russian news agency.  And, no, I don’t think it is unfair to Fox News to compare it to the National Enquirer or Tass.

Finally, I don’t regard somebody who has won a $2 million contract as a victim of anything.

Bob Somerby, Glenn Greenwald and James Fallows, who all think NPR was wrong to fire Juan Williams over this incident, provide excellent insight.  I would hope that anybody who has enough interest to read the comment thread would would also click on these three links.

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24 Responses to “Exit Juan Williams”

  1. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    Juan Williams spending too much time around and around NPR (music only)

    Dark humor: a bird, a wind turbine, Pop the weasel music and News Hour sound alike music. (no gruesome sound effects version)


    • philebersole Says:

      This is spam. Identical copies are all over the Internet. But I’m going to leave it up in hope that somebody can explain just what it is supposed to mean.

      Here’s one possible interpretation. The bird is Juan Williams’ journalistic integrity. The windmill is Fox News. By flying too close, by accepting Fox’s $2 million 3-year contract, the bird’s neck is broken.

      But, wait. The headline is “Juan Williams spending too much time around NPR.” So the windmill is supposed to be NPR. But NPR didn’t kill Juan Williams’ career. It gave him whatever reputation he has today.

      And what, if anything, does the car symbolize?

      There’s another version of this video circulating on the Internet with the headline, “Thou Shalt Not Crucify Mankind Upon a Cross of Carbon,” then helpfully pointing out the allusion to William Jennings Byran’s Cross of Gold speech in 1896. Can somebody explain the analogy?

      Dark humor. Very, very dark. Obscure, even.


  2. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    The bird was hit from behind.
    Williams expressed shock at the intolerance of the left.


    • philebersole Says:

      A windmill is a mechanism – neither tolerant nor intolerant. And if that is the metaphor, why does the bird die instead of fly away on two million-dollar wings?

      I apologize for assuming your original message was spam.


  3. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    This thread might be of interest if you don’t mind an alternate universe:



    • philebersole Says:

      Thanks for the link. I read the item and the comment thread, and also the American Thinker link and comment thread.

      Evidently there are a lot of people who once thought that liberals were all good and conservatives were all bad, but now they think that conservatives are all good and liberals are all bad. I don’t think that is an argument in favor of anything whatsoever. For the record, I do not think, and have never thought, that anybody is a bad person just because they think differently from me.

      The article says liberals think they’re members of a cadre of caring, enlightened, civic minded people. Is the argument that liberals do not have a monopoly on being caring, enlightened and civic-minded (which I agree with) or that other virtues are needed in addition to being caring, enlightened and civic-minded (which I also agree with) or is it that there is something wrong with being caring, enlightened and civic-minded (which I don’t think is meant, but would like to hear more if it is)?

      Many of the comments speak of political “conversion”. I don’t think of my political ideas as a religion. I have changed my thinking about a number of things over the years, based on fact and argument, without great soul-searching.


  4. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    I’ll try to address your question:

    The theme about caring has to do with the technique of demonizing conservatives by painting them as not caring. I think comment number three talks about a debate that reminds us of the social acceptability of demonizing conservatives.

    Another technique is used by the press. When a Democratic politician is involved in a scandal the story minimizes the party affiliation, the opposite happens when it is a Republican.

    The most important technique of all is cherry picking to make a case. People may do this inadvertently when they think they know a subject and really don’t. Knowledge of a lot of factoids can create major self deception.
    Why does the bird die?

    In that version the fate of the bird is not known. This video “cartoon” is about what was done to Juan Williams by NPR. It can also be seen as Williams plying a dangerous game with them and being a fool to be surprised with the title using the language “around and around”.

    apology accepted


  5. philebersole Says:

    As to the press, it is hard be objective about what constitutes objectivity. Most people, myself included, think of reporting that reflects our own opinions as objective and reporting that reflects opinions we disagree with as subjective.

    From my subjective point of view, it does not seem to me that the press has played down the sexual immorality of John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer or that it has played up the sexual immorality of Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, David Vitter and Mark Sanford.


  6. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    Phil, brace yourself, I’m going to come on a little strong here and then cool down a bit.

    Your responses appear to be either an evasion, or reflect a lack of familiarity with these issues. Specifically you appear to know nothing of the party affiliation claim and seem obvious to the intolerance of the left. Newt Gingrich is an academic who supported cap and trade! You seem completely out of touch about conservatism as it is currently articulated on popular conservative websites.

    The use of party affiliation emphasis in stories is easily researched by search for plus Associated Press or New York Times at News Busters. The evidence is staggering. The New York Times insinuated an affair by McCain as soon as he was lock for the nomination, but refused to report on Edwards until Democrats were too embarrassed to allow him to speak at the convention.

    There’s much more to the press problem than bias, the supposedly objective press prefers the Democrats. I searched for a post on Journo-list by you but did not see it. I never bothered to read much about it. It was no surprise that modern journalists are corrupt, nor that such a young person as Ezra Klein could become so prominent, the profession has become such a joke.

    It’ll be more convenient for me to respond to the two other threads here as well. I took your comment about conservatives and the sick man shooting himself as a joke and responded in kind, I should have used a smiley face. Sorry.

    Yes, I do live nearby. If you are listed in the phone book, we’ve probably passed each other at Wegmans at one time or another.

    An ex-Pastor of your church married my brother to his current wife back in the eighties (in another state).

    Isn’t that interesting?!

    If you prefer to communicate a little more privately, you can use this qdasm-thinkastheydoorelse@yahoo.com


  7. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    I have to correct the above because I use tag symbols inadvertently.

    The search at News Busters I was suggesingt was to use the terms:

    party affiliation and AP or NYT or whatever.


  8. philebersole Says:

    I’m more interested in discussing what’s right and what’s wrong, and what’s true and what’s false, than who is tolerant or intolerant.

    I think tolerance and intolerance are qualities that are distributed across the political spectrum. You can find them among holders of any political ideology.








  9. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    The frightening thing about the debate incident is that it suggests the education system is teaching intolerance.


  10. philebersole Says:

    My definition of prejudice is to take the bad behavior of certain individuals and attribute it to everybody of the same race, nationality, religious heritage or other demographic category.

    I distinguish between prejudice, which is a feeling, and racism, which is a bad system of ideas. You can be prejudiced without realizing it, but racism is a conscious belief. I think that real racism is rare, but prejudice is common. I do not claim to be free of prejudice, but I am working on it, because prejudice is misperception of reality.

    There is a certain paradox here in that attributing prejudice to everybody in a certain category can be itself a form of prejudice.


  11. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    Your definitions are sensible, but you didn’t include political ideology.

    Prejudice is partly a result of a natural mental filtering process. You have to narrow down all the noise your brain is buzzing with.

    I wouldn’t get nervous on a plane with Muslims, but I would think about it. The dress would catch my eye, then I’d be looking around for someone not dressed but middle eastern looking. The terrorists are said to have a look about their eyes IIRC. I’d be worried if their eyes suggested a suspicious attitude.

    Williams comment about worry was simplistic, but that’s the nature of a show like that. The McLaughlin Group would be similar in this regard.

    I don’t think it’s been mentioned here that George Soros recently donated a tidy sum to NPR.


    • philebersole Says:

      Different segments of the human brain developed during different stages of evolution. They are sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the human brain.

      The reptilian part of the brain sends signals that you should hate and fear people who you rationally know mean you no harm.

      Nobody can help receiving signals of hate and fear from the reptilian brain.

      Anybody can refrain from justifying and spreading hate and fear.

      A professional journalist should be governed by the human brain, not the reptilian brain.

      I hope Juan Williams is happy with his $2 million contract from the reptilian Fox News.

      P.S. Good for George Soros!


  12. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

    I’m suspicious about the role of the reptilian brain as described above. Reptiles are unlikely to be prejudiced in the human sense. They are unlikely to learn much of anything; their behavior is instinctive. Surely, you’ve heard that prejudice is learned!

    A little research indicates that it’s the Amygdala as mentioned in the review from Publishers Weekly here: http://www.amazon.com/Are-Born-Racist-Neuroscience-Psychology/dp/product-description/0807011576

    Other structures may be involved as well, but the process likely doesn’t begin in the reptilian brain as you suggest. I’m also skeptical that reptiles have emotion. They may respond as though they are fearful, but I’ve never notice one trembling in fear.

    The one role I can see for the reptilian brain here is that perhaps (I’m just guessing) is that it produces the signal to release adrenalin. If I’m right, you have the process backward. If I’m right, the reptilian brain is merely acting as subservient to higher functions.

    I suspect that people use the reptilian brain in this context as a way of discrediting discriminatory behavior, rather than to accurately characterize the process. So basically this is an effort to call a thoughtful man like Juan Williams a reptile!

    Do you think George Soros had anything to do with the firing of Juan Williams??


    • philebersole Says:

      Well, this is embarrassing.

      I looked for links to explain P.D. MacLean’s theory of the triune reptilian / mammalian or paleo-mammalian / human or neo-mammalian brain.

      I found that this triune description is discredited and never was fully accepted.

      Here are some links to background information.



      My point, however, was not that Juan Williams or conservatives resemble the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was that journalists have a responsibility to base their comments on reason rather than irrational fears.

      You are highly sensitive to bias against your political opinions. I would assume that Williams is sensitive to prejudice based on race or color. It is just as wrong to stir up people based on them wearing the traditional dress of their culture.

      I think that is the moral of the book summary and reviews to which you linked in your comment.


      • ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

        I don’t think Williams was stirring up people if you follow his whole quote. As for Soros, the news of his donation was made about the same day as the Williams firing and he seems to share the mind set of those who promote PC.

        Last night I was reminded of a song I heard repeatedly as a child, I still have the Album from South Pacific 1949. It’s called ” [You’ve got to be] Carefully Taught”. Youtube has a newer version. The lyrics might be misunderstood by some the way the song “Short People” was. Sometimes poetry works better than science!


    • philebersole Says:

      I can’t imagine that George Soros cares one way or the other about who Juan Williams works for. I think that, with your question, you are connecting dots that aren’t there.

      I think there the world would be better off if more people listened to George Soros’ economic ideas. Here are links to some of his articles and essays.


      I would be pleased if our economic system did not reward financial speculators so richly in comparison to others, and if our political system did not give multi-billionaires so much influence in comparison to others. But given that this is the case, I am glad that there are people like George Soros to partially counter-act the influence of people like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Scaife and the Koch brothers.


      • ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:

        The influence of the Soroista’s may have reached their high water mark. This is the first of three parts of the third part of Glenn Beck’s expose on Soros. It is an excellent summary. though the third part ventures off into survivalist territory:



  13. ThinkAsTheyDoOrElse Says:



  14. philebersole Says:

    The NPR review of their action in the Juan Williams case shows a sense of professionalism and willingness to admit mistakes that is absent in Fox News and most of the so-called mainstream media.

    Glenn Greenwald at the time had a good post on the hypocrisy of certain right-wingers who were always calling for the scalps of people who speak out of turn, and yet posed as defenders of free speech in the Juan Williams case.



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