Open Thread – Juan Williams Fired by NPR for comments on Fox

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I was not intending to post about this, as I though the entire incident was blown out of proportion. However, since I am apparently the only one in the blogosphere that thought so, here is an open thread for any in the commentariat who want to weigh in.

A couple of thoughtful posts on the subject:

Glenn Greenwald:

“I’m not someone who believes that journalists should lose their jobs over controversial remarks, especially isolated, one-time comments. But if that’s going to be the prevailing standard, then I want to see it applied equally. Those who cheered on the firing of Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez — and that will include many, probably most, of the right-wing polemicists predictably rushing to transform Juan Williams into some sort of free speech martyr sacrificed on the altar of sharia censorship — have no ground for complaining here. Those who endorse speech-based punishments invariably end up watching as the list of Prohibited Ideas expands far beyond the initial or desired scope, often subsuming their own beliefs. That’s a good reason to oppose all forms of speech-based punishment in the first place. There’s obviously a fundamental difference between (a) being punished by the state for expressing Prohibited Ideas (which is isn’t what happened here) and (b) losing a job for doing so, but the dynamic is similar: those who endorse this framework almost always lose control over how it is applied. And that’s how it should be.”

Conor Friedersdorf:

“Contrary to what Mr. Williams implies, it is irrational to fear for one’s safety upon seeing someone on a plane dressed in “Muslim garb.” The vast majority of people who dress in the way he alludes to aren’t terrorists, the odds of a plane carrying people in Muslim dress being hijacked is minuscule, and actual Islamist terrorists don’t advertise their faith. Nor is there anything inherently scary about identifying oneself “first and foremost” as a Muslim. The equivalent sentiment among Christians is quite common.

But I don’t think that Mr. Williams should be fired by NPR, or that it’s good practice in general to fire people based on a single remark, however offensive. (There are exceptions. This isn’t one of them.) I say this as someone who is glad that there is a strong social stigma against bigotry. There is an upside to this stigma that is under-appreciated: it signals to some people that bigotry is wrong, even if they don’t quite understand why.”

My take – Juan Williams comments betrayed irrational bigotry toward Muslims, but not maliciously so. He should have had an opportunity to acknowledge the mistake and keep his job. That said, I understand and appreciate that any media outlet or broadcast entertainment organization, whether public or private, are well within their purview to dismiss on-air talent who make public statements that alienates their audience, subscribers, and advertisers.