Sunday, October 24, 2010

Juan Williams and Reflexiveness of Media

I heard former NPR analyst Juan Williams was fired last week over comments he made on The O'Reilly Factor where he said he gets nervous when he sees a person in Muslim garb on an airplane. The comment was the last straw in a tug of war between Williams and NPR, who had been at odds over his dual role as a Fox Contributor.

Apparently for some time, the top brass at NPR had been unhappy about Williams' work at Fox News Channel, leading them to one point ask the network to stop using his NPR ID when he appeared on such shows as The Factor in 2009. NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard stated "Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox," after Williams made the quip, "Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokley Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking, as Mary Katherine is suggesting, her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross."

I don't know exactly what NPR was getting at by denouncing some of his comments; his politics had been known for sometime, now. He had written op-ed columns for several other publications, including The New Republic, Time, Fortune, and the Washington Post, so it wasn't like he had somehow managed to conceal his views until last week.

Even if his comments were that offensive (remember, he did later qualify his remarks stating it was wrong to have those kinds of thoughts later on in the interview), certainly they weren't as incendiary as Nina Totenberg's comments about there being "retributive justice" if former Senator Jesse Helms had gotten AIDS. Last anyone checked, Totenberg still has a job there, and a quick glance at her biography shows anyone her allegiances.

The way I see it, Williams' point about getting nervous when he sees Muslims in Muslim garb is offensive, but it's an honest admission of character flaw. But the offensiveness is minimized if you put his entire interview with O'Reilly into context. He said having those kinds of thoughts are wrong. He is saying that you can't extrapolate the acts of 19 hijackers on 9/11 to all Muslims.

(I still have a bone to pick somewhat with his comments since he seems to also rehash the idea that extremism and terrorist sympathies aren't widespread among the Islamic world - but another time, another day.)

I don't feel sorry for Williams. He has since losing his job at NPR 1) received an outpouring of support within the media and from liberals and conservatives alike, and 2) was offered a $2 million contract with Fox News for the next three years. His new contract will put him on firm financial ground even if he doesn't work for the next ten years after his contract is up.

(I still hate the fact that the news networks always do this - make such a hoopla over getting a new personality and paying him/her loads of cash. Or giving a current personality a contract extension and a generous raise. Thank you for rubbing this kind of stuff in our faces, media. Have you seen the latest unemployment figures?)

Williams' new status at Fox will certainly raise his profile at the network. We'll probably be seeing him a lot more (err, people who watch Fox will - I don't watch TV). Having Williams there also raises Fox's credibility ever so slightly, given that Williams has a center-left take on things; I generally find him to be quite intuitive as he offers worthwhile commentary.

NPR, in the meantime will and should take a hit. Why did Williams' comments all of a sudden matter? Was it to please its liberal base of listeners? I listen to NPR and I won't stop because of this. It'll just remind me that NPR, too, can't pretend that it is somehow above the nonsense of the MSM all the time.

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