A lot of media noise has resulted from news that NPR fired Juan Williams for making a bigoted remark that he gets “worried” and “nervous” when he sees Muslims in their “garb” on airplanes. Williams’ defenders have blown the issue way out of proportion, with some falsely claiming he was either taken out of context or that the situation somehow mirrors Andrew Breitbart’s gross mischaracterization of comments made by former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod, a comparison that, as Media Matters noted, “just doesn’t make sense.”
In fact, Williams stood by his remark while discussing his sacking on Fox News yesterday. He complained that he got fired for being honest and that his comments were not bigoted. But what seems to be getting lost in the clamor is that — regardless of the intent of Williams’ conversation about Muslims — his comments about Muslims on airplanes are misplaced and bigoted. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent correctly observed, “The problem…is that in his initial comments he didn’t clarify that the instinctual feeling itself is irrational and ungrounded, and something folks need to battle against internally whenever it rears its head.” But today on ABC’s Good Morning America, Williams finally acknowledged that his comments were indeed “irrational”:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess some people are wondering, should you have gone the extra step and said, “Listen, they’re irrational, they are feelings I fight?”
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I could have done that. In fact, I think it’s very important to sort of parse this. What I said was, that if I’m at the gate at an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who are first and foremost identifying themselves as Muslims and in the aftermath of 9/11, I am taken aback, I have a moment of fear and it is visceral, it’s a feeling and I don’t say, “I’m not getting on the plane.” I don’t say, “You must go through additional security.” I don’t say I want to discriminate against these people, no such thing occurs. So to me, it was admitting that I have this notion, this feeling in the immediate moment.
Last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow cut through the distorted media chatter on Williams’ firing to put it in the right context. Maddow noted that targeting Muslims “has been a Fox News specialty for a long time now,” and that the other important side of this story is that Fox News handsomely rewarded Williams with a $2 million contract for his Islamophobia. (Ironically, in abetting O’Reilly’s conspiracy theory that George Soros may have been behind his firing at NPR, Williams said, “Money talks. He is a puppeteer.”)
Maddow then knocked down the right-wing canard that Wiliams’ free speech rights have been violated:
MADDOW: Let’s be clear here. This is not a First Amendment issue. … The First Amendment does not guarantee you a paid job as a commentator to say what you want. Your employment as a person paid to speak is at the pleasure of your employer. In this case, it displeased Juan Williams’ employer, at least one of them, for him to have reassured the Fox News audience he too is afraid of Muslims on airplanes and that’s not a bigoted thing. … And so, Juan Williams lost that job. This is not a First Amendment issue. This is an issue of what your employer is OK with.
Watch the segment:
Read more about the story behind Juan Williams firing in today’s Progress Report.