2010-11-04 / View From the Middle

Sometimes, Just Speaking Your Mind Can Get You Fired

View From The Middle
By Charles Rogers
He’s been a familiar face and voice on television and radio for at least the past couple of decades, but, frankly, although I recognized the face in a newspaper recently, I couldn’t place the name with it.

“Oh, sure. That’s Juan Williams they’re talking about,” I muttered to myself, “now I know.” I’d seen him many times on FOX News, during their Sunday talk show more specifically. And I’d heard him on National Public Radio (NPR). I can’t say he was the Voice of Reason so much as the voice of controversy in the political ring.

He was the one who would always do the interrupting when it came to political discussions, not necessarily with a response that might get a laugh from those pundits sitting around the table facing Chris Wallace and others. Oh, yes, as far as I could see, he was always the serious one.

He didn’t do many of those TV shows at first; and then it was mostly as guest journalist at the controversial gabfests, with his credentials being his editorializing at his radio job. But he recently became a “contributing” regular on FOX; until this latest episode, which garnered him a permanent job with the TV network and the loss of his job with NPR.

That’s how he became one of THE big national news stories within the past few weeks.

Juan Williams was a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a Fox News staple that often draws controversial guest pundits. On this particular date, he said to host Bill O’Reilly, “When I get on a plane…if I see some people who are wearing Muslim garb, I get worried…”

GASP! It must have been no more than five minutes that passed before Williams’ boss at NPR, Vivian Schiller, got on the phone and in no uncertain terms, fired Williams on the spot.

GASP! again!, this time from Williams, who, within just a few more minutes was called by the head of Fox News who offered him a couple of million dollars if he would join Wallace’s television Sunday show as a permanent guest.

Since that time, the whole mess has quieted down; but the argument goes on: Some are saying that NPR was right to fire Williams because what he said regarding Muslims was cruel, racist, biased and downright nasty. On the other hand, some said it was not only “not so bad” but was merely the truth, not offensive and that they’d heard far worse epithets coming from many other so-called pundits.

Some are saying that Williams, first, was not on NPR when he made the airplane remark and, second, was merely voicing an opinion that he got nervous if he was boarding a plane with people wearing Muslin clothing. He said he didn’t mean to hurt anyone by the remark, but Schiller said the firing stands.

She later admitted she might have handled the situation with a little more tact. Remember, NPR depends on private donations and U.S. Government dollars to exist, as does the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Schiller also later said some NPR contributors wanted to take their donations back and cancel their subscriptions.

At this point, it’s obvious that Juan Williams wouldn’t go back to NPR if they came to him on bended knees. Yes, he’d had a small following there, as well as his following, although sporadic, on Fox News. But now he’s holding this permanent gig on Fox and his following is getting bigger already. He’s still angry at the situation, of course, especially when it comes to HOW he was let go. He said he saw it coming and his radio bosses were just trying to find a way to make him a scapegoat.

Well good for Juan Williams. I don’t always go along with his political views, but saying he gets nervous if a Muslim’s “garb” upsets him, can’t, logically speaking, be grounds for firing.

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