Let’s set the scene, the players and the issue.
The scene: “The O’Reilly Factor,” a “fair and balanced” yet shrill, unpleasant, lowest-common-denominator “news commentary” program on Fox News. The players: Bill O’Reilly, the spiritual creator of the foregoing; Juan Williams, an intelligent and articulate analyst/,commentator for National Public Radio, an organization which prides itself on neutrality and which is criticized for as much liberal bias as O’Reilly is for conservative bias, and which is supported largely by public funding, including tax dollars.. [See Notes on Labels below.] The issue: The private perception by citizens of Muslims.
Williams made the following brief observation:
"Look, Bill, 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." It hardly needs recitation that Muslims on airplanes committed a heinous terrorist attack on American soil and that government response to that attack has led to drastic changes in American society.
The response by NPR:
William’s “remarks on 'The O'Reilly Factor' this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and goodundermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." NPR fired Juan Williams.
In these writings, I have long chafed at that whining concept of “political correctness.” Everyone on the right [See again Note on Labels below] whose beliefs are questioned in the least cries “I’m a victim!,” and pretends that he or she is being led off to the nearest concentration camp. I have rejected and still reject the entire politically correct/incorrect tear-jerk-athon.
The people paid with our money at NPR have transcended mere political correctness. They have blithely and even proudly adopted (or admitted) political bigotry as their modus operandi.
Prejudice is everywhere. Everyone is prejudiced for or against something, many things as a matter of fact. Prejudice simply means “prejudgment.” In some places (e.g., courts), prejudice is positively a bad thing. In other places, prejudice is a condition which exists and simply has to be dealt with. Bigotry is another matter. Like ignorance, prejudice can be fixed with information and thought. Bigotry is a fixed opinion, armored against fact, reason, kindness, respect, or adherence to the rules and values of an organized society. Like stupid, it cannot be fixed. The NPR management mavens have proven themselves to be bigots.
That the canning of Williams is contrary to constitutional principles is, I hope, clear. He was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. It would take one really stupid SOB to deny that. What he was saying was truthful. Now follow along here: Williams was not saying that Muslims are dangerous or unpleasant or whatever. He said that when he sees people in an airport who are Muslims, he gets worried and nervous. He is saying how he feels. Not only is that the truth, he is the only person who can possibly know that truth. Does National Public Radio wish to ban him from holding beliefs? (Recall, if you will, the delightful concept of “thought crime” from George Orwell’s novel, 1984.) Surely NPR does not want its analysts to lie about what they think – do they? No, likely they just want people who are supposed to be thoughtful analysts allies to shut up and sing the company song. How, I wonder, is this different from singing any other company song? Other than some insignificant differences in dress and deportment, NPR and Rupert Murdoch simply are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum merchandisers of manufactured opinion.
Williams expressed an honest belief. It is a legitimate issue and discussion whether that is a reasonable belief. Should someone be worried and nervous when he or she sees Muslims in an airport? A few Muslims have crashed airplanes into buildings “in the name of Islam.” Enough others have formed at least small armies to conduct localized wars for the same purpose. Some (undetermined) proportion of Muslims hold violent beliefs. What is the objective danger level created by a Muslim in an airport as compared to another individual in an airport? What about the subjective beliefs? On my own streets, if I see a civilian carrying a firearm openly, my thought is that’s probably not a good idea, but I’m not worried or afraid. If I see a civilian attempting to carry a firearm concealed but not being quite successful at concealment, I think that he or she is unduly careless, but I’m still not worried or afraid. Other people in other places would be worried and afraid and if I were to deny them the right to express the fact that they honestly and personally experience those feelings, I would myself be a bigot no matter how strongly I believed that their feelings were “wrong.”
We can make no social progress without honest expression and honest discussion. Williams is worried and afraid when he sees a Muslim. Do not tell him, “You are wrong, get over it.” If you tell him that, you are the bigot. If I tell you that I will never change my mind, I am the bigot. Until we talk, unless we talk, unless we as a society and as individuals open up and expose our honest beliefs and honestly consider whether they have a rational foundation, how can we as a nation or as a culture move forward? Williams said that he is worried and nervous. Some years ago, Jesse Jackson said the same thing about black men he ran into on dark streets. No one accused him of joining the Klan or adopting Nathan Bedford Forrest as his role model. He was being honest, in order to start a discussion which might lead to improvement. Had Juan Williams said, “Let’s nuke Qum,” that would have the kind of incendiary effect worthy of his being separated from a responsible news organization.
As it is, NPR has done for the Constitution what Al Qaeda did to the World Trade Center.
Note on labels: Liberal, conservative, right, left, progressive, and so forth are synonyms for irrelevant, misleading, feces, and excrement. They were originally applied to economic schools of thought which have long since vanished into static and are applied instead into shifting sands of convenient and often internally inconsistent sets of beliefs adopted by people who are too dumb, too lazy or too cowardly to consider important public issues, think about them, and expressed principled opinions.