Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams got the Shirley Sherrod treatment

Americans interested in public affairs are still shaking their heads over NPR's firing of Juan Williams. What is clear is that NPR had a knee-jerk reaction to a small portion of what he said on Bill O'Reilly. And their reaction was just as error-ridden as the Agriculture Department's firing of Shirley Sherrod when they heard an excerpt from his speech.

Remember what Juan Williams said on O'Reilly that triggered his firing. First O'Reilly gave his piece defending what he'd said on The View that "Muslims attacked us on 9/11." O'Reilly said that it was understood when he said that that he wasn't talking about all Muslims.
No sane individual thinks Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is responsible for 9/11.

But the reality is that most Americans are uneasy with the Muslim world in general because moderate Muslims have not stepped up in a visible way to help combat the jihadists. Look at all the problems we're having with Pakistan. We've sent that country billions of dollars hoping to motivate them to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.
After defending himself some more, he let Juan Williams talk.
JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don't want to get your ego going. But I think you're right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality.

I mean, 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.

Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.

But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it's not a war against Islam. President Bush went to a mosque --
O'Reilly went back to his words on The View and pressed Williams again to agree that it was Muslims who attacked us on 9/11. Williams wouldn't go that far.
WILLIAMS: Wait a second though, wait, hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals, very obnoxious, you don't say first and foremost, we got a problem with Christians. That's crazy.

O'REILLY: But it's not at that level. It doesn't rise near to that level.

WILLIAMS: Correct. That's -- and when you said in the talking points memo a moment ago that there are good Muslims, I think that's a point, you know?

O'Reilly interrupted him some more and then Mary Katharine Ham spoke up and said that the left is hypocritical when it gets all upset about extremist rhetoric. Then she made the point that right wingers should be careful about tarring all Muslims because there goes the rationale behind our efforts in Iraq and that we need to be careful to distinguish between moderate and extremist Muslims. A fair point, that. Then O'Reilly brought up what Angela Merkel said earlier this week about the failure of multi-culturalism. O'Reilly pressed Williams to say that the problem in Germany is Muslims. Williams rejected that view.
WILLIAMS: I think -- I think -- no, no, wait. See, you did it again. It's extremists. It's people who refuse to --
O'Reilly interrupted some more (are you sensing a trend here?) but here are some other things that Williams said on the show. O'Reilly brought up the guy who got up into a cab and attacked the Muslim cab driver.
WILLIAMS: I don't know what is in that guy's head. But I'm saying, we don't want in America, people to have their rights violated to be attacked on the street because they heard a rhetoric from Bill O'Reilly and they act crazy. We've got to say to people as Bill was saying tonight, that guy is a nut.
So, as you read through the whole transcript, there is a more rounded picture of what Williams was saying. He first expressed his own misgivings when he sees someone in Muslim garb on an airplane and then later went on and made it clear that it was "crazy" not to distinguish between extremist Muslims and the rest of the Muslim community. In the full conversation, he was expressing something close to what Shirley Sherrod had said in her speech. The first clip that came out on Breitbart made it sound as if she wanted to help only black farmers, not a white farmer. And Tom Vilsack then pulled the trigger on her without ever seeing the full tape. Once the full speech was made public, it turned out that she was making a much more nuanced point about how everyone needs to get past their prejudices. That is the way she advised achieving racial healing.

The lesson is clear. Look at a full transcript before making a sudden decision to fire someone. As William Saletan points out, NPR, in their statement announcing Williams' firing, they quoted an edited excerpt from what Williams said and left out the part he said immediately after referencing what President Bush had said about this not being a war against Islam. And this edited clip corresponds to the edited clip that Think Progress had been circulating on left-wing sites.

Just as it was wrong to base a decision on firing Shirley Sherrod from an edited clip of her speech without looking at the full context, it was also wrong to fire Williams based on an edited clip.

But let's face it, this was not about what Williams had said on O'Reilly. NPR didn't like his appearing on Fox. Williams has a column up at talking about his firing and relates how NPR has been uncomfortable with his role for quite a while.
They loathe the fact that I appear on Fox News. They don’t notice that I am challenging Bill O’Reilly and trading ideas with Sean Hannity. In their hubris they think by talking with O’Reilly or Hannity I am lending them legitimacy. Believe me, Bill O’Reilly (and Sean, too) is a major force in American culture and politics whether or not I appear on his show.

Years ago NPR tried to stop me from going on "The Factor." When I refused they insisted that I not identify myself as an NPR journalist. I asked them if they thought people did not know where I appeared on the air as a daily talk show host, national correspondent and news analyst. They refused to budge.

This self-reverential attitude was on display several years ago when NPR asked me to help them get an interview with President George W. Bush. I have longstanding relationships with some of the key players in his White House due to my years as a political writer at The Washington Post. When I got the interview some in management expressed anger that in the course of the interview I said to the president that Americans pray for him but don’t understand some of his actions. They said it was wrong to say Americans pray for him.

Later on the 50th anniversary of the Little Rock crisis President Bush offered to do an NPR interview with me about race relations in America. NPR management refused to take the interview on the grounds that the White House offered it to me and not their other correspondents and hosts. One NPR executive implied I was in the administration’s pocket, which is a joke, and there was no other reason to offer me the interview. Gee, I guess NPR news executives never read my bestselling history of the civil rights movement “Eyes on the Prize – America’s Civil Rights Years,” or my highly acclaimed biography “Thurgood Marshall –American Revolutionary.” I guess they never noticed that "ENOUGH," my last book on the state of black leadership in America, found a place on the New York Times bestseller list.

This all led to NPR demanding that I either agree to let them control my appearances on Fox News and my writings or sign a new contract that removed me from their staff but allowed me to continue working as a news analyst with an office at NPR. The idea was that they would be insulated against anything I said or wrote outside of NPR because they could say that I was not a staff member. What happened is that they immediately began to cut my salary and diminish my on-air role. This week when I pointed out that they had forced me to sign a contract that gave them distance from my commentary outside of NPR I was cut off, ignored and fired.
Got that? They deliberately forced a contract on him to insulate themselves what he said outside of NPR and then fired him for what he said outside of NPR.

It's clear that the whole problem is that he was on Fox News. As Howard Kurtz wrote at The Daily Beast, he seriously doubts if Williams would have been fired because he was on Fox.
To be sure, I suspect that if Williams had said the same thing to Charlie Rose, rather than on The O’Reilly Factor, he’d still have his radio job. Last year, Politico reported, NPR tried to persuade its White House correspondent, Mara Liasson, to give up her Fox gig.
And Media Matters is pressing NPR to fire Mara Liasson also.

Hmmm. Do you sense a connection here? Media Matters gets a big grant from George Soros in order to counter Fox News. Media Matters comes out against Juan Williams. NPR just got a $1.8 million from Soros to pay for 100 journalists around the country. NPR fires Williams. I'm sure it's all a big coincidence and they just all happen to have the same mindset when it comes to someone appearing on Fox News. And now Soros is going to fund the hiring of 100 more like-minded journalists. As Warner Todd Huston writes at Big Journalism,
One might recall the hullabaloo that was raised when it was revealed that News Corp, owner of Fox News, had donated one million dollars to Republicans for this election cycle. It was the end of the world as far as the left was concerned. It was “proof” that Fox could not be trusted.

Yet, here we have George Soros buying reporters for NPR, the same Soros who has an extremely left-wing agenda that he has been pushing on the world for decades. After all, if the assumption that conservatives owning Fox makes its news slanted, shouldn’t the same logic dictate that anything Soros owns reflects his ideology? Shouldn’t we assume that NPR’s new reporters will be left-wing hacks bought and paid for by one of the richest, most active, most extreme left-wing activists in the world?

So what is the difference between a left-wing billionaire buying 100 reporters for NPR and Fox News being owned by conservative owners? Why has the Old Media establishment completely ignored the extremist agenda of the foundation making such a large donation to NPR? Why isn’t NPR to be suspected of being a left-wing mouthpiece now?

The answer to this question can only be that the Old Media establishment is already bought and paid for by the far left and would never raise questions that might reflect badly on a left-wing agenda. Only conservatives need “outing” as far as the Old Media is concerned.
That's exactly it. As Stephen Hayes points out, Nina Totenberg, who once laughed about how justice would be served if Jesse Helms and his grandchildren got AIDS from blood transfusions, also goes on political discussion shows to express her opinions. And her opinions, of course, are decidedly liberal. But that doesn't seem to cause a problem for NPR and their whole attempt to draw a line between opinion and analysis.

Because it's only when a statement isn't in line with their own liberal mindset that they're prepared to edit out the context so that they have their own self-satisfied excuse for firing an inconvenient employee.