Newt Gingrich launched a now-infamous tirade against moderator Juan Williams during Monday night’s GOP debate after Williams dared to ask him if he could understand why some African-Americans were offended by Gingrich’s obsession with food stamps and child labor. “No, I don’t see that,” Gingrich sneered back.
Williams later insisted he wasn’t offended by Gingrich’s pointed defense, but did say his food stamps rhetoric is “very racial and…unless I missed it, black people haven’t been out there demanding food stamps, or marching for food stamps.”
Today, during a campaign stop in South Carolina, Gingrich recalled his exchange with Williams and used the same kind of suggestive language that Williams had objected to — this time directed at Williams himself:
GINGRICH: I had a very interesting dialogue Monday night in Myrtle Beach with Juan Williams about the idea of work, which seemed to Juan Williams to be a strange, distant concept.
Many pundits have seen racialundertones in Gingrich’s belittling of Williams during the debate. “That’s the way I like to spend my Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: watching Newt Gingrich sneer at Juan Williams, a black man, for having the temerity to ask him” a tough question, New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote.
Gingrich’s equally insulting assessment of the debate exchange likely won’t help.
During today’s Fox News Sunday panel, Juan Williams and Chris Wallace had a significant disagreement about the influence of the 99 Percent Movement, with Wallace using his power as moderator to cut Williams off from defending the protesters. When Williams pointed out that Occupy Wall Street makes the Republican presidential candidates look like the “protectors of the super rich,” Wallace suggested the movement can’t be seen “as a plus” anymore because people are “fed up” with the “violence in the streets”:
WILLIAMS: The Republicans, in this time of Occupy Wall Street, are the protectors of the super rich.
WALLACE: I’m not sure if we should talk about Occupy Wall Street as a plus anymore…
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think we should!
WALLACE: Really? With all the violence in the streets? You really think that most of the American people—
WILLIAMS: You know what? You are getting distracted, and you’re getting distracted by people who are crazy—
WALLACE: I think I’m in touch with what most people are thinking, which is they’re getting fed up with it.
Wallace then prevented Williams from finishing his point that most Americans identify with the problems of economic inequality that the 99 Percent Movement represents. Watch it:
Isolated incidents of violence by fringe elements should not obscure the legitimate and salient messages raised by the 99 Percent Movement about income inequality and corporate money’s influence in politics. Moreover, Wallace’s dismissal of the movement completely ignore the countless instances of unprovoked police violence against protesters, which has been far more prevalent.
Fox has doggedly smeared the Occupy protests, even attempting to connect the movement to a man recently charged with attempting to assassinate President Obama.
As soon as the solar manufacturer Solyndra announced it was closing its doors after receiving a $527 million loan guarantee from the federal government, we knew the politics and the misinformation about the solar industry would get bad.
Leading Republicans have memorized the pro-pollution talking points, calling clean energy an “unproven theory” and “political propaganda” — even after asking the government for hundreds of millions of dollars in support for government-backed clean energy programs in their districts.
And finally, someone affiliated with a conservative media outlet is calling them out. In a column yesterday, Fox News commentator Juan Williams criticized leading House Republicans who seem more interested in bringing down the President than in establishing good government oversight — holding the entire solar industry hostage in the process.
At a time when unemployment is stubbornly above 9 percent and Congress cannot pass a jobs bill that will get people back to work, the GOP is attacking an industry that employs more than 100,000 Americans. That number has doubled since 2009. And most green energy companies qualify as small businesses.
And with many industries still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. solar energy industry grew 69 percent in 2010. Compare that to overall GDP growth, which was just 3 percent last year.
Stop the presses! Did Fox News really print that? Yes, go ahead and read it again.
These words are unbelievably refreshing to read. By separating the Solyndra debacle from the rest of the fast-growing solar industry (the fastest growing in America), Williams has finally brought some common sense to the conversation, while also explaining that jobs in this sector do indeed exist.
The media firestorm that resulted from NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams for making a bigoted remark about Muslims included rhetorical bombs lobbed from Williams’ cohorts at Fox News. As Media Matters noted, conservatives have used Williams’ firing as an excuse to continue their war on NPR and to call for its defunding. “Juan Williams was put up against a wall and NPR shot him,” Glenn Beck claimed, who also said that “voices are being silenced” by “jack-booted thugs.” Many Fox Newsers even tried to explain NPR’s decision as some sort of George Soros-linked conspiracy. Today, the Washington Post reports NPR received a bomb threat today, and while the threat didn’t specifically cite the Williams saga, NPR officials said the “tone” suggested it was involved:
NPR received a bomb threat Monday, five days after its decision to fire news analyst Juan Williams sparked a hugely negative reaction.
Sources at the news organization said the threat was received via U.S. mail and was immediately turned over to local police and the FBI. The organization did not publicly disclose the threat or release details, on the advice of law enforcement officials.
The letter didn’t reference the Williams firing specifically, but people at NPR, who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity, said the timing and tone suggested it was sent after Williams’s widely publicized termination.
NPR warned its employees this week to be extra cautious, citing a general “security threat” in a staff memo. “We’re being more aware of who’s entering the building” and generally being more vigilant,” an NPR spokesperson said.
A lot of media noisehas 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.
News broke last night that NPR fired Juan Williams for saying this week on Fox News that he gets “nervous” and “worried” around Muslims on airplanes. Many media figures and right-wing blogs are incensed, charging that Williams has been taken out of context. Today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Willie Geist complained that “We live in a culture now…where context doesn’t matter…where you can yank a quote out” and “don’t tell the rest of the story.” Co-host Joe Scarborough concurred. “He was setting it up to say, ‘Listen I understand people get nervous, sometimes I get nervous, but we’ve got to move past that.’”
Responding to his firing today on Fox News, Williams stood by his original comments. He said he was trying to tell host Bill O’Reilly that Americans have “to make sure we don’t have any outbreak of bigotry” but that “there’s a reality” you “cannot ignore” that 9/11 was connected to Islamic radicalism:
WILLIAMS: Wednesday afternoon, I got a message on my cell phone from Ellen Weiss who is the head of news at NPR asking me to call. When I called back, she said, “What did you say, what did you mean to say?” And I said, “I said what I meant to say” which is that it’s an honest experience that went on in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who identify themselves as first and foremost as Muslims, I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened on 9/11. That’s just a reality. And she went on to say, “Well that crosses the line.” And I said, “What line is that?”
And she went on to somehow suggest that I had made a bigoted statement. And I said “that’s not a bigoted statement. In fact, in the course of this conversation with O’Reilly, I said that we have as Americans an obligation to protect constitutional rights of everyone in the country and to make sure we don’t have any outbreak of bigotry but that there’s a reality. You cannot ignore what happened on 9/11 and you cannot ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism and you can’t ignore the fact that what has been recently said in court with regard to this is the first drop of blood in a Muslim war on America.
The only way Williams could have been taken out of context would be if he had said his feeling of fear when seeing Muslims on an airplane is wrong. But he did not say that in his original segment with Bill O’Reilly. (ThinkProgress has provided the full transcript here.) And today on Fox, Williams reiterated his claim. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has also debunked the claim that Williams was taken out of context:
[Many] claim that Think Progress deceitfully edited the video of Williams’ comments here in the same way that Shirley Sherrod’s comments were taken out of context, and that the full context of his remarks makes clear that he said nothing bigoted. Please. [...]
Williams began by telling O’Reilly that he was “right” in his view on Muslims. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with candidly admitting that he gets nervous when he sees Muslims on airplanes — even though those feelings reflect some highly distorted thoughts — as we all have irrational reactions to various situations. But Williams was not condemning his own reaction [emphasis in original]; to the contrary, he went on to justify it by saying that people who wear “Muslim garb” are “identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims,” and that “the war with Muslims” (quoting Faisal Shahzad) is one of those “facts we can’t get away from.”
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan said that Williams’ comments are “the working definition of bigotry,” and asked rhetorically, “What if someone said that they saw a black man walking down the street in classic thug get-up. Would a white person be a bigot of he assumed he was going to mug him?”
Earlier this week, ThinkProgress reported that NPR’s Juan Williams, appearing on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, defended host Bill O’Reilly’s claim that “there’s no question there is a Muslim problem in the world.” O’Reilly was coming to his own defense, referring to comments he had made the previous week on ABC’s The View that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” “I think you’re right,” Williams said, “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.” Williams then said that he gets “nervous” and “worried” when he sees people in “Muslim garb” on airplanes.
Williams received considerablecriticism after we first drew attention to his remarks. NPR announced last night that it has “terminated” Williams’ contract:
NPR News has terminated the contract of longtime news analyst Juan Williams after remarks he made on the Fox News Channel about Muslims. … Late Wednesday night, NPR issued a statement praising Williams as a valuable contributor but saying it had given him notice that it is severing his contract. “His remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR,” the statement read.
NPR reported that “Williams’ presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.” Indeed, last year, the organization asked that he no longer be identified as affiliated with NPR when appearing on the O’Reilly Factor.
ThinkProgress never called for Williams’ firing, and we are surprised by NPR’s move. However, NPR has every right to fire an employee whose public statements diminish NPR’s own reputation as a reliable source of news and level-headed analysis. Obviously, a news organization is under no obligation to employ a commentator who airs his own religious bias on national television.
At the same time, NPR’s decision advances the idea that there shouldn’t be a double standard. If media figures such as Rick Sanchez and Helen Thomas are fired for insensitive remarks about non-Muslims, then the standard seems fair to apply when similar comments are said about Muslims. (Also, CNN fired Octavia Nasr for comments about a popular Muslim Lebanese leader which were deemed impolitic.)
“[I]t’s not surprising,” writes Michael Tomasky, “that after all these years of going on [Fox News'] air and drinking their green-room coffee, Williams should choose to ingratiate himself to O’Reilly and his viewers with that Foxy rhetoric. In a sense Williams got what was coming to him. Sleep with dogs, get fleas.” Yet, it appears that other media figures seem to be missing the point. “Watch how many people who cheered when Octavia-Nasr/Helen-Thomas/Rick-Sanchez were fired scream CENSORSHIP!! all day over Juan Williams,” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald tweeted this morning. And as if on queue, the entire Morning Joe crew on MSNBC expressed indignation at Williams’ firing this morning:
JOE SCARBOROUGH: This is disgraceful. NPR needs to hire Juan Williams back.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Something is wrong with what we do if we get fired for having a peaceful voice.
PAT BUCHANAN: That is preposterous! … It is not irrational to be nervous after 9/11 if you see some conspicuous Muslim fellas get in the first class section of a plane as I have!
Watch the segment:
Scarborough defended Williams, saying “he was setting it up to say, ‘Listen I understand people get nervous, sometimes I get nervous, but we’ve got to move past that. We can’t paint an entire faith with this.’” The full transcript of Williams’ exchange with O’Reilly is provided below. Read more
Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on ABC’s The View that “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” prompting The View co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk off the set in disgust. “If anybody felt that I meant all Muslims, then I apologize,” he said later in the program.
But now, O’Reilly, with handy assistance from his colleagues at Fox News, is defending his original claim. “There’s no question there is a Muslim problem in the world,” he said last night on his show. “The Muslim threat to the world is not isolated. It’s huge!” he said, adding, “It involves nations and millions of people.” O’Reilly asked Fox News’ “liberal” Juan Williams if he’s wrong. Surprisingly, Williams joined with the other Fox Newsers in circling the wagons around O’Reilly, citing “political correctness” and seemingly because Muslims scare him:
WILLIAMS: Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don’t want to get your ego going. But I think you’re right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.
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. 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.
Williams justified his defense, saying that the would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad “said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.” But this kind of thinking is exactly what digs the hole that is America’s fight against terrorism deeper by letting the enemy define the terms of the struggle, as the Wonk Room’s Matt Duss has recognized:
[B]y simply granting the religious legitimacy of Al Qaeda’s call to terrorist violence…cede[s] the ideological battlefield to [Osama] bin Laden. Worse than that, by positing a “wider civilizational” war with Islamic extremism…affirms bin Laden’s propaganda about the nature and extent of this war, letting bin Laden define us and our aims in a way that helps bin Laden, rather than the other way around.
Indeed, a RAND study back in 2008 warned of the danger of playing into terrorists’ claims of being “at war” with the West, saying it “encourages others [extremists] abroad” and “elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.” The RAND analysis also suggested that the “at war” approach “alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment.”