What’s going on? The pull to be provocative on news talk shows is defeating some of the biggest names in television news.
Wednesday night commentator Juan Williams was abruptly canned by National Public Radio for comments he made about Muslims, the New York Times’ Brian Stelter reported.
What did the esteemed commentator say?
In an exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly about Muslims, Williams got jiggy with the conversational flow. That’s the Fox way.
On Monday he said: “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.”
Now, O’Reilly will never have his knuckles rapped for his absurd Muslim-terrorism insinuations over the years. But the once-more-circumspect Williams, under contract with NPR, let the Fox vibe overwhelm his news groove.
Williams went on to feed the notion that the United States is at war with Muslims – or, perhaps more accurately, that the Muslim world is at war with the United States.
Speaking of the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square, Williams said: “He 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.”
Just days after CNN gave the fastest axe on record to Rick Sanchez for his ill-considered remarks about Jews, NPR wasn’t waiting around for a backlash.
Read also: Juan Williams on NPR Firing: I'm Not a Bigot
Williams' remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR,” the station said in a statement.
Now it is tough, and quite possibly nigh impossible to have a dual career as a commentator on Fox and NPR. On the former, your job is to be as incendiary as possible. On the latter, your job is not to betray a human emotion.
But honestly, Williams was close to telling the truth; much of the Muslim world does consider itself in opposition -- OK, let's just say it, at war - with the United States. You can have a lot of Muslim friends, as I do, and still know that that's the reality.
And furthermore, if you fly and you are sitting next to a Muslim in galabiya and beard, there is little chance that you going to be able to ignore that fact. (Ironically, this statement echoes those of 20 years ago, when it was politically incorrect to acknowledge that being followed by an African-American man on an unlit street might make a white person uncomfortable. It took the truth-telling of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock to call that out.)
But reality may not be what NPR wants. We don’t like to speak truthfully about uncomfortable topics, especially when it comes to Islam. (Hence the success of the likes of Jon Stewart. And Bill O’Reilly for that matter.)
Maybe NPR was feeling nervous because of the Rick Sanchez anti-Jewish bloviation. Maybe Juan Williams was living in contradiction of his two masters, Fox and NPR. Either way, my advice to news commentators these days is -- watch out.