An Open Letter to Juan Williams (Etan Thomas)
Mr. Williams , let me first say that I have enjoyed reading your books, columns, and think that you used to do a lot of good work at NPR. Your book Enough, although there were aspects of it that I definitely disagreed with, was definitely a great read, and a book I would highly recommend. On one hand, I don't agree with your firing. I thought that the entire point of being on National Public Radio was that opinions were allowed to be expressed whether popular or not. I can make the argument that in a public forum we should be able to have dissenting views that bring about healthy dialogue without someone's 1st amendment right being censored. I could make the argument that in a setting where dissenting views are commonly expressed, you being fired for expressing an honest opinion (as long as that was the actual reason you were relieved of your duties) was unfair and is furthermore a lost opportunity to confront the kind of fears that leads to the formation of stereotypical views about Islam and Muslims.
But on the other hand, another argument could be made that by expressing negative stereotypes about a racial or religious group you are guilty of breaching the ethics of fairness which is a necessary ingredient to succeed in journalism. Thus their forced resignation or firing was the right action. The fact that you publicly expressed a bias, excludes you from being viewed as has having the credibility to be an impartial arbiter of news. And In firing you, NPR did not violate your First Amendment rights, but rather It asserted the fact that your views were inconsistent with the NPR brand of impartiality. Now, I know that this is not the first time that NPR has exhibited some brand of impartial reporting, but that argument could definitely be made.
For quick recap, just so I can make sure I have all of the facts straight. You were a National Public Radio "news analyst," appeared on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor to talk about Bill O'Reilly's recent remarks about Muslims on ABC's The View; the latter' show's co-hosts, Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, had walked off the television set in protest. When asked what you thought about the incident, you responded: "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."
Honestly, I would expect something like that to fly out of the mouths of say Bill O Reilly (kudos to Whoopi Golberg and Joy Behar for walking out on him) or Sean Hannity, but to come from you was quite a surprise.
First of all, none of the 9-11 hijackers had on "Muslim Garb". They were all wearing regular clothing, and even if they weren't, are you really making the argument that there is a correlation between style of dress and criminal or terrorizing behavior? You expressed fear of people in a "Muslim garb." What exactly did you mean by "Muslim garb?" Besides the sheer idiocy of attempting to define "Muslim garb" your statement has also contributed to creating more fear about a group of Americans who are already negatively perceived and against whom hate crimes are on the rise.
Maybe you didn't see it like that. Maybe you didn't think you were actually contributing to bigotry by your statements, but you were. As Americans we can and should have vigorous debates. But bigotry simply has no place in a civilized society. Institutions like NPR, by trying to be impartial (whether they actually do or not), are attempting to build a firewall against this bigotry. Fox News on the other hand profits from fear-mongering. That's the base that they play to, and they are very successful at it. Why do you think they hired you so quickly? Because your statements fall right in line with their overall agenda. Why do you think that certain people came to your defense? Began actually protesting that your constitutional rights were being violated. Interestingly enough, these same people didn't come to the defense of Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez or Octavia Nasr when they were fired for essentially the same guilt of making stereotypical and insensitive comments. But why do you think they embraced you and took your cause? Come on Mr. Williams, if people like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich are coming to your defense, doesn't that make you start to question yourself?
Second, for a black man to say something like that is absolutely amazing. How long have some white people made the statements that they clench their purses whenever a black man walks by them, or becomes terrified and uncomfortable if a black man gets on the elevator with them, and lets not even talk about the police. But how can a black man make a statement like every time he sees a person in Muslim garb on a plane he gets nervous? Now I now what you are probably going to say, and i did read the rest of the interview where you expressed that we cannot put all Muslims in the same boat etc. but unfortunately, the damage had already been done with your first statement.
Michael Moore made a very good point which I hope you heard. He wrote in his open letter to you...
...The Washington Post Magazine ran a Richard Cohen column defending jewelry store owners who wouldn't buzz in young black men. It caused such a big controversy that the New Republic ran a bunch of responses to it, including one by you. You might find it interesting to go back and read what you wrote then -- for instance, "Racism is a lazy man's substitute for using good judgment... Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me."
It seems as though you have forgotten these principles. Of actually not judging someone because of the color of their skin. The nerve of you after everything that we have gone through in this country as black people dealing with this same type of ignorance and fear directed toward us for you to turn around and direct that ignorance to another group of people.
Finally, to make matters worse, you don't feel any remorse or embarrassment over your statement, but rather defend it and surprisingly Fox News as not being racist because they allow, in your words, "a black guy with a Hispanic name" to host O'Reilly's show. It made me think of an old Damon Wayans act where he described the difficult position that he along with many other prominent successful black men are currently put in. Wayans painted the picture of a white interviewer putting him on the spot saying,
"Now that your rich, and now that you have made all of this money, and we're not counting. I just want to ask you this question.... Is there racism in America"?
He described the reaction of the black man put on the spot as having thoughts of his paycheck dancing in his head as he replies....
"No suh.... If'n there is I ain't seen none"
Sadly, that comedic sketch has become reality for you.
Next page, 'In Defense of Juan Williams' (Laron Profit)
In Defense of Juan Williams (Laron Profit)
I have never been a fan of Juan Williams when he has made appearances on Fox News as a guest on Bill O'Reilly's show or any other show for that matter. He has come off to me as the kind of guy who just seems to agree with most of the conservative views displayed on the network. So when I heard that he had been fired from his post on the NPR I wasn't very disappointed at first; but when I saw the actual interview that he did with Bill O'Reilly that got him fired from his post, I have to admit I was confused.
When you see the video, which has been shown millions of times on all the news networks, I am really still having a hard time figuring out what exactly he did wrong? I mean, he simply stated an opinion he had that millions of people have at some time or another either said or thought about at some point if they have flown on a plane since 9/11. I can honestly say that I have felt similar to what he felt in certain situations in a airport since the 9/11 incident occurred. Does that suggest that I am a bigot? That I'm a racist? That I'm somehow insensitive to the millions and millions of Muslims who are peaceful, loving and have never had one thought about participating in any violence against the US? I highly doubt anyone who has ever spent any time around me would agree with me being any of those things. And I won't give the standard line people give stating how they have "so many Muslim friends"; it would be impossible to label me a racist or anything of the sort (not my style).
The thing that has people so riled up seems to be that a journalist actually gave an honest opinion of what he felt on air about a situation that has people choosing sides left and right. And ironically it has become a battle of the "left" and "right" that seems to be driving this issue as much as it has been. Juan Williams was asked a question and he gave an answer, his opinion at the time, and he also made sure to mention that he was not saying all Muslims are guilty of somehow being terrorists, but when he sees them in an airport or on his plane he does have a moment of anxiety or becomes a little nervous. True? Absolutely for many people immediately following the 9/11 incident. How do I know? I have heard millions of jokes and funny comments made about that very same subject while I stood in the security line at the airport by people of all races and ethnic background. Why do we ask people to get on television and give an opinion, then when they do and we disagree with it, we become upset and demand that they be fired or replaced. If we put them in an environment where we ask them to be honest, shouldn't we give them the freedom to do just that? I mean, the First Amendment does kind of address that issue, I believe, but obviously it doesn't apply when concerning journalists speaking on television.
If Juan Williams somehow broke his contract with NPR with his comments and that is the reason he was fired, then fine; I can't argue with that because they have the right to do that as a company. However, if he was fired simply for stating that he sometimes gets nervous or anxious when he sees people wearing Muslim garb who are identifying themselves as Muslims first and foremost, then I have a real problem with that. Are all Muslims terrorists? Of course not! But it's something that a lot of people, if you asked them in a moment of honesty, would probably admit they have thought as well -- it just so happens that they don't share their opinions on Fox News network where millions of people can hear them. I'm all for honesty by these people, say what you feel if asked a question and stop being PC (politically correct) just because people are sensitive to the truth these days. If you are analyzing news, then you should be unbiased and stick to the facts. But if you are on a talk show where you are asked your opinion, then you should do exactly what Juan Williams did and tell the truth about how you really feel, at least then we know where you really stand. And believe me, if Juan Williams was saying or doing something I thought was out of line, I would be the first one to say it. In this case, the only thing I find him guilty of is being honest about a sensitive subject, and these days that will get your fired I guess.
Follow Etan Thomas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/etanthomas36