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Friday, October 22, 2010

Intellectual freedom in the United States: Commentator fired due to willies about “Muslim” dress

US National Public Radio’s recent dump of Fox News’s well-regarded liberal commentator Juan Williams is yet another “political correctness gone bad” story. Williams’s sin, it seems, was to confess to Bill O’Reilly that he felt ”nervous“ when boarding a plane with people in Muslim dress. He added that a general prejudice against Muslims as extremists is wrong.

This story reveals the difference between the pursuit of political correctness, NPR-style, and the pursuit of fact-based reporting. Political correctness is organized lying, with this result: If a man cannot safely admit how he feels, we don’t have key relevant facts to report.

On the one hand, “Muslim” garb (really, Middle Eastern garb) is surely a personal choice. On the other hand, we all make statements by how we dress, whether we recognize it or not. If I went to the Middle East and ran around in tight jeans and a skimpy top - or a nun’s habit, a nurse’s uniform, or battledress, I’d be making a statement too. Whether I am legit - or whether other people’s assumptions about me - are is what we should explore, not suppress.

(Note:
Here's retired psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple on political correctness, nd here is his take on the ensuing epidemic of false apologies.)

Some see in this episode the death rattle of liberalism:
Lots and lots and lots of Americans feel the same way as Juan Williams. And that includes lots and lots of liberals. And probably a lot of liberals who work at NPR. Juan's "crime" wasn't that he said something bigoted. His crime is that he said something that liberals find politically incorrect. And that he said it out loud. And worst of all, that he said it on the Fox News Channel.
Once proud defenders of freedom, now zealous social engineers. (Think Canadian Broadcasting Corporation here, currently said to be doing an internal bias review, as if an internal review could reveal bias!) Here’s William’s view: “I Was Fired for Telling the Truth” (October 21, 2010):
Yesterday NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims.

This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber -- as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals -- are Christians but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.

[ ... ]

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. She never suggested that I had discriminated against anyone. Instead she continued to ask me what did I mean and I told her I said what I meant. Then she said she did not sense remorse from me. I said I made an honest statement. She informed me that I had violated NPR’s values for editorial commentary and she was terminating my contract as a news analyst.

[ ... ]

This self-reverential attitude was on display several years ago when NPR asked me to help them get an interview with President George W. Bush. I have longstanding relationships with some of the key players in his White House due to my years as a political writer at The Washington Post. When I got the interview some in management expressed anger that in the course of the interview I said to the president that Americans pray for him but don’t understand some of his actions. They said it was wrong to say Americans pray for him.

Later on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis President Bush offered to do an NPR interview with me about race relations in America. NPR management refused to take the interview on the grounds that the White House offered it to me and not their other correspondents and hosts. One NPR executive implied I was in the administration’s pocket, which is a joke, and there was no other reason to offer me the interview. Gee, I guess NPR news executives never read my bestselling history of the civil rights movement “Eyes on the Prize – America’s Civil Rights Years,” or my highly acclaimed biography “Thurgood Marshall –American Revolutionary.” I guess they never noticed that "ENOUGH," my last book on the state of black leadership in America, found a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

[ ... ]

Daniel Schorr, my fellow NPR commentator who died earlier this year, used to talk about the initial shock of finding himself on President Nixon’s enemies list. I can only imagine Dan’s revulsion to realize that today NPR treats a journalist who has worked for them for ten years with less regard, less respect for the value of independence of thought and embrace of real debate across political lines, than Nixon ever displayed.
No doubt, Williams feels comforted by the recent $2 million cable deal Fox has offered him:

Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes handed Williams a new three-year contract Thursday morning, in a deal that amounts to nearly $2 million, a considerable bump up from his previous salary, the Tribune Washington Bureau has learned. The Fox News contributor will now appear exclusively and more frequently on the cable news network and have a regular column on FoxNews.com.

"Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997," Ailes said in a statement, adding a jab at NPR: “He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

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