Posts Tagged ‘Juan Williams firing’

Exit Juan Williams

October 26, 2010

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.