NPR has fired senior news analyst Juan Williams, who also appears as a commentator on Fox News, for comments about Muslims that Williams made in an appearance with Bill O’Reilly.
“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country,” Williams told host Bill O’Reilly during a discussion on the dilemma between fighting jihadists and fears about average Muslims.
“But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous,” Williams said.
The truth is that as a commentator and analyst, Williams has been skating on his reputation for a long time, and the ice was getting thin. He had already given NPR cause for concern with previous statements on Fox, such as the time he inexplicably described Michelle Obama as “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.”
His denials of bigotry aside, Williams’ remarks this week validated a stereotype of all Muslims as terrorists just as a similar comment about black people — “When I get on a bus, if I see black people, I get worried, I get nervous” — validates a perception about black people as criminals.
There is no qualitative difference between the two stances. A very small percentage of black people are criminals, and a much much smaller percentage of Muslims are terrorists. But once you start defining the much larger group by the activities of that much smaller subset, you start down a very bad road.
NPR, in other words, acted appropriately.
Of course, that’s not how the incident is being taken by some on the right, where Williams is in the process of being sainted. At Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government site, the headline is “Screw Free Speech, NPR Fires Juan Williams for Muslim Remarks.” Williams’ fellow Fox News contributor, Sarah Palin, just tweeted to the effect that “NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it. Juan Williams: u got taste of Left’s hypocrisy, they screwed up firing you.”
That’s nonsense. The First Amendment guarantees each of us the right to say whatever we wish, free of government interference. However, it does not guarantee us the right to be paid by NPR or anybody else to say whatever we wish. It certainly does not mean that we are free to make bigoted remarks on national television and be guaranteed a paycheck.
After James O’Keefe, the conservative guerrilla filmmaker and Breitbart’s one-time protege, launched a bizarre “seduction” of a CNN reporter recently, Breitbart cut him loose, calling O’Keefe’s antics “patently gross and offensive.” He wasn’t violating O’Keefe’s right to free speech by doing so, he was holding him accountable.
That’s all NPR has done with Williams.