Thursday, October 21, 2010

Can I Call You Names?

Juan Williams has been fired by the NPR for this:

"O'Reilly has been looking for support for his own remarks on a recent episode of ABC's The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.

"Williams responded: '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 a 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.'

"Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for 'extremists,' saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh."
You can watch this, as well as Williams' reaction to being fired at Mediaite.

What's fascinating about these kinds of news is that everyone and their great-uncle will have an opinion! Every pundit will come out with arguments for or against this firing, and then every pundit can compare this case to the earlier cases to see if the punishment stays logical and if all ethnic/religious/racial groups are treated the same.

You can do all that without much research! I just did minimal research and found that Rick Sanchez was fired by the CNN for his anti-Jewish comments, Laura Schlessinger resigned after copious use of the n-word and Helen Thomas lost her front-row seat in the White House briefing room for making negative comments about Israel. Even earlier Don Imus was suspended (indefinitely?) for calling African-American female college athletes nappy-headed hoes. In that case most pundits noted the racism, few noted the sexism.

Now, none of this lets us decide if the reasons for firing or suspending or allowing someone to resign were equally serious. That's the funny bit! We can all argue whether what Juan Williams said is bad enough for firing, we can argue about the freedom of speech and we can argue about the typical political crap, too, such as whether the NPR should be pulled off the life-support for not being more right-wing than the current Nice Polite Republicans standard they cling to.

I'm as ready for all that ballgame with opinions as the next goddess. But ultimately the debate will not provide much clarity. Sure, one could argue that it was time for someone's head to roll for the anti-Muslim discourse in some parts of the U.S. media (Fox). On the other hand, one could argue that all Williams owned up to were his own prejudices. He didn't really slur the religion of Islam. And of course Bill O'Reilly hasn't got fired and will not get fired for saying much worse things.

What I also found in that research is something odd about a much younger Juan Williams:

A Washington Post reporter who wrote a widely quoted column criticizing the accusations of sexual harassment against Judge Clarence Thomas has been disciplined by the newspaper for his own conduct toward female colleagues and has apologized to the staff, The Post reported today.

The 37-year-old journalist, Juan Williams, said in an open letter to The Post's newsroom on Friday that his conduct had been "wrong" and "inappropriate."

Several female employees had complained that Mr. Williams had harassed them with sexually explicit and hostile comments, and the newspaper investigated those complaints.

The newspaper's executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr., also issued a letter to the staff. "The complaints were found to be serious," it said, "and, as Juan acknowledges, he was disciplined for his conduct and intends to apologize to women he offended."
This was way back in 1991. But I doubt he would have been fired for something like that even today. A manly apology would be quite adequate, thankyouverymuch.