"[Juan] Williams is just the latest big-name reporter, after Rich Sanchez and Helen Thomas, to be fired for expressing a personal opinion about a sensitive topic." a Christian Science Monitor writer said. It's an obvious connection many of us have made in the fallout to Williams' unexpected firing from NPR last week. You can blame technology for the latest run-ins journalists are having for expressing their opinions - Williams on a Fox News show, Sanchez on a radio show, and Thomas during a video interview released on the internet. "Whose head will roll next in this pompous purge of the news media?" asks Syl Jones at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Censoring unpopular opinions is not the way to move forward, says the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page. Instead, "we should be finding ways to build bridges of understanding with serious thoughtful discussions. We who work in the news media have a great platform on which to start those conversations, if we're not too afraid of being punished." Here's what other commentators suggest in the wake of this episode:
It could have been deal with better: NPR could have found "a cannier way to handle this sort of problem, says Leslie Savan at The Nation. "Instead of firing somebody, let's have an open discussion of race, with all sides taking part, every time this happens." We've seen these open discussions work better, most recently about the "Ground Zero mosque." That would have been a teaching moment.
It was what Williams said, not that he said it: Newspapers used to have stated agendas, but over time they became more impartial and neutral, says CNN's Clint Hendler. "Now, journalists -- online, via Twitter feeds, and in an ever-mutating body of cable shows -- are being called on to offer their opinions, for the same basic reason they once stopped: money." The network ruled this to be a fireable offense "for the sake of avoiding controversy rather than because someone broke some cardinal rule" against chiming in. This decision should leave people "suspicious of the real motives."
We're better than all of this: For these journalists, "their exits were bigger stories than anything they'd done in their careers," says Mitch Albom in the Detroit Free Press. The underlying issue - of Islamophobia - is bound to trickle into our midterm elections. "Come on. We are the best country in the world. But we are the only country so media-soaked that we would turn these isolated sentences into a national referendum."