A Defense of Juan Williams and Other Media Idiots:
First off, the line that more than likely got Juan Williams fired from National Public Radio was not his little tangent into how he's had it with these motherfucking Muslims on his motherfucking planes. Said Williams to Bill O'Reilly on Fox "news", "I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Now, sure, that was a pretty idiotic thing to express, but it wasn't what got him fired. O'Reilly actually dropped the bomb that blew up in Williams's face when the falafel enthusiast said right after Williams revealed his bigotry, "[Y]ou live in the liberal precincts. You actually work for NPR, OK?" NPR hated having its name associated with Fox "news", and especially on Fox's blatant opinion-based programs, like The O'Reilly Folly. The worst thing about it? The whole segment was another attempt for O'Reilly to get hand-jobbed by everyone for his own bigoted remarks on The View. Seriously, O'Reilly's ego makes him like the most aggressive crack whore on the block: "C'mon, Juan, I'll suck your dick so good if you say I'm right."
In Slate, William Saletan compares NPR's actions to the firing of Shirley Sherrod, in that the larger context of Williams's remarks could be seen as painting a different picture. But the comparison fails beyond the idea that people should be given a full hearing. If any government employee said what the right fantasized Sherrod said, he or she should be fired. There's a gulf of difference, though, between what's allowable for someone whose job is to work fairly with the public and what's allowable for some fucker who makes a living by mouthing off on news shows (or, you know, blogs).
This follows on the heels of Rick Sanchez, Octavia Nasr, and Helen Thomas, all of whom lost their jobs because they said something that pissed off some Jews. Most ludicrous of these is Nasr, who got some yarmulkes in a knot because she tweeted that she was sorry for the death of a relatively moderate and pro-woman ayatollah in Lebanon. Would another journalist lose his or her job for saying they were sad that a cardinal or pope died? Sanchez was a loudmouth dumbass who simply acted like a loudmouth dumbass. And as for Thomas, well, let's just say there were people who waited a long time for her to fuck up in a way that allowed them to get some revenge.
Glenn Greenwald is right when he says, "If we're going to fire or otherwise punish people for expressing Prohibited Ideas against various groups, it's long overdue that those standards be applied equally to anti-Muslim animus." But, in a thoughtful piece on the Williams matter, he also offers, "Those who endorse speech-based punishments invariably end up watching as the list of Prohibited Ideas expands far beyond the initial or desired scope, often subsuming their own beliefs. That's a good reason to oppose all forms of speech-based punishment in the first place." When the first person's fired for saying mean things about the Tea Party, we can all protest loudly.
One part of the picture that's missing here is that the journalistic landscape has changed. Now, news anchors on all three of the news networks regularly offer commentary on the stories that they're reading off the teleprompter. You can't watch CNN without John Roberts or Tony Harris scoffing at something. And while Fox may have started the smearing of the line between news and punditry, CNN and MSNBC just as surely have stuck their fingers on the painting. That distinction is so blurred now that Wolf Blitzer seems quaint in his attempts to keep objectivity against a full-blown Cafferty assault.
If you're gonna blur that line, if you're gonna encourage your news people to mouth off, if you're gonna tell your commentators to push the boundaries, then don't be surprised if they say something offensive. It's like if you have a lover who wants you to do all kinds of crazy, kinky stuff to him: shoving huge dildos in his ass, stomping his balls, making him wear nipple clamps and a cock ring, jacking him off while he hangs by hooks through his skin, shitting on his chest. But then you punch him in the face and he says, "Whoa, whoa, too far" and breaks it off. How the hell were you to know what was too far at that point? Rick Sanchez's show was essentially about what giant self-righteous douchebag Rick Sanchez was. And they were surprised when he acted like a giant self-righteous douchebag elsewhere? And Williams has said tons of backwards ass shit on Fox over the years, most recently about the Park 51 community center, which he emphatically opposes.
Free speech ain't pretty. It's not supposed to be. But as long as it doesn't get in the way of you doing the job that you have been hired to do, the only combat for it ought to be more speech. And, sure, in the abstract, NPR has a right to fire someone they find offensive, but you know what else it could have done? A story about how a pretty smart guy (even if you disagree with him) can have the kinds of fears and prejudices that Williams talked about. But that would have been more about exploring an issue than having a knee-jerk reaction to anything that might piss off people. NPR was looking for a way to get rid of Williams. Mara Liasson better watch her ass.