Lots of smart people I like having been writing about Juan Williams. If you don't know, he was an NPR reporter who was fired for admitting on national television that he is uncomfortable when he sees someone on an airplane in Muslim garb.*
Should he have been fired for expressing controversial views?
Personally, I'm asking the question this way: How are Williams' future interviews with Muslim sources likely to go? Even if they make nice with him and try to be understanding, hasn't Williams pretty much completely hosed his chances of having a Muslim source or someone else who thinks he's a racist trust him and open up to him in the future?
That is the crux of why reporters aren't supposed to do what Williams did.
Example from my own brief journalism career: One time, a county official was ranting (in a private conversation with me) about how the departing Clinton staffers had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars in White House property during the Clinton/Bush transition. I said simply that I'd read that the GAO did an investigation and concluded that the damage and missing items were minimal, costing less than the GAO investigation itself.
This guy didn't argue with me then, but never took another one of my calls or gave me any more information and it seriously screwed with my ability to write stories having anything to do with his area of authority in his part of the county. (In a small town, one guy can easily be the hub of information on a given subject.) Eventually, my editor took that beat away from me and gave it to the new reporter. He would talk to the new reporter.
I still think what that guy did was completely insane. I was very young then and remain fairly blunt now, but I don't think I was in any way rude about what I'd said. I really don't think I even gave my own opinion, I simply pointed out in a private conversation that the GAO report disagreed with his assertions. And it cost me my beat and made me look very bad in front of my editor.
So yeah, that kinda stuff happens to reporters, and I can certainly see how what Juan Williams did would seriously hamper his ability to do his job. His comments on national TV hampered also showed that he is a dude with seriously poor judgment willing to do things that hamper his ability to do his job. Y'all know what the state of journalism is these days. Is it really so surprising that his actions go him canned?
Of course, now he works for Fox, where getting the other side of the story from a Muslim source likely won't be that big a part of his job.
*Of course, the 9-11 hijackers didn't wear Muslim garb, they dressed to fit in with other people on the plane. This was the first thing that made me wonder about Williams as a reporter.
Williams isn't a reporter. He gives opinions. What he said was dumb but hardly controversial. I suspect the real issue was not his opinion, but his working and appearing on Fox. That's the demon channel, and a Liberal isn't supposed to be there.... NPR free to fire him for his opinions, but we taxpayors should be free to push for defunding NPR too. We don't need publically funded radio or TV anymore.
Hypothetical question about your anecdote:
What if the guy didn't return your calls because you'd written a story that was fact-based but made him look bad?
Would you have been any less culpable?
Would your editor have been any more sympathetic?
Does the fact that this county official believed something that was patently found to be NOT TRUE deserve to be a story? Should you have written a story about it?
DSD -- a working journalist who isn't sure how I feel about the whole Juan Williams thing...
I had tended to find Juan Williams's point of view as expressed on NPR puzzling. Since he has moved to Fox, I am not likely to consider his statements seriously as opinions, although they may possibly have some influence and must be considered in that sense, like the views of Glenn Beck.
I rarely heard him on NPR. If I listen to public radio, it's for local coverage. If I see Williams now it's on O'Riley as I'm not home in time for the Panel on Fox News.
Puzzeling, unserious, whatever you think, the guy was fired for expressing a view. The whole point of Religous garb whether it a hajib, yamalka, Hasidic coat, or Amish dress, is to set one apart. That seperatness provokes a reaction and creates a wall...deliberatly. Travel overseas as an American and you learn to become situationally aware but Islamic dress is hardly one of the tripping points.
Williams said something goofy, and his down that more than once, but I suspect this is more an effort to isolate Fox as outside the pale.
That's a really bad move on NPR's part.
Media Matters does consider appearing on Fox as grounds for dismissal in and of itself, and is call for Mara Liasson to be fired as well.
Paul posted the following, which I screwed up and deleted:
@ Bill - I used to would've argued with you about defunding public radio and TV. But then they shot themselves in the foot with their own programming choices. Still, things like the News Hour don't have any equivalent in commercial television. Oh, there are all manner of tries, but nothing measures up, IMO. Back in the day, before the plethora of "news" channels, CNN killed broadcast news. The News Hour has it on life support.
But tell me, Bill, without PBS where are the anglophiles that don't get premium channels on cable supposed to get their fix of British stuff? (Which, by way of full disclosure, I muchly love too.) In my area, all of those options cost an extra subscription that is, what?, something like the amount a conscientious PBS viewer would pay annually in PBS pledges?
The alternative to for anglophiles is the net or satellite...people all over Chicago get their native land's TV. My Arabic teacher got Beruit TV. There's simply no need for the taxpayer to be funding an alternative.
Bill- some of us can't afford cable TV. PBS is the only TV we watch (Antiques Roadshow.)
(((What if the guy didn't return your calls because you'd written a story that was fact-based but made him look bad?
Would you have been any less culpable?
Would your editor have been any more sympathetic?)))
I think that my editor would have been fine with that. The difference there is that I would have pissed the source off by doing my job rather than pissing him off with extraneous commentary.
(((Does the fact that this county official believed something that was patently found to be NOT TRUE deserve to be a story? Should you have written a story about it?)))
I don't think that him having his facts wrong on a political issue is worth a story. Back when I followed politics very closely and paid careful attention to what legislation actually said, I caught people in errors all the time. Never pointed one out when I was in a professional capacity again, though.
Williams gives analysis which is not the same as just giving opinions. Further, he does interview sources and the sorts of things other reporters do.
The position he will hold at Fox actually is an opinion position.
FWIW, Williams has been appearing on Fox since 1997. If NPR had such a problem with that, I don't think they would have taken 13 years to do something about it.
I've certainly not written stories when I've had an opportunity to that would show what an ignoramus someone I cover is. I'm not sure that I made the right decision, though.
As for NPR/Williams: I believe it's been widely reported that they've been troubled by his Fox relationship for some time, so I don't think it's quite fair to say
If NPR had such a problem with that, I don't think they would have taken 13 years to do something about it.
...which makes it sound like his firing was on a whim.
DSD, who's come to think that NPR probably shouldn't have fired him, but also thinks the whole thing is just a much more complicated mess.
(((..which makes it sound like his firing was on a whim.)))
To me it makes it sound like his firing was for cause, which as far as I can tell, it was.
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