Perhaps the stupidest explanation coming from NPR about the firing of Juan Williams is that of Alicia C. Shepard, the NPR ombudswoman. Williams, she told the press, was a “lightning rod” for their network, because he “tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.”
Let us interpret this absurd statement. If Shepard is right, his dismissal had nothing to do with the fact that he concurred with Bill O’Reilly’s view that jihad “is the biggest threat on the planet.” Nor did it have anything to do with his candid admission that when he sees people in Muslim garb at the airport, he gets worried and nervous.
First, anyone who listens to Williams on the Fox News panel at 6 p.m. knows that he is Fox’s resident liberal. Very few are the times he agrees with Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Stephen Hayes, or any other of the resident conservatives at Fox News. Indeed, Williams often takes such standard left/liberal positions that his fellow panelists look at him in utter frustration for what they consider his failure to face up to facts. They are what we would call the regular outlook of an NPR commentator or listener. And that is why Fox put him in that place; he is the official contrarian to the position of most of the Fox team.
The one area in which Williams does dissent from the regular liberal shibboleths, however, is race. And that, I suspect, is the real reason NPR used his Fox News statement about Muslims. They raced to move right away because they never would be able to dismiss him for his unorthodox views — views that must enrage the left-wing black establishment, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the guardians of political correctness on the issue of race.
Remember that when the White House and the Justice Department moved in a nanosecond to fire Shirley Sherrod last July, Williams responded with an article in which he asked the following question:
How is it possible that the once glorious NAACP — the leading name in America’s fight against racial segregation — has come to the point where it is pushing the first black president to fire anyone — but especially a black woman — on a charge of racism without checking to be sure she was a hateful racist? And the NAACP had the full tape, the full facts before they went after her.
“Since when,” he asked in disbelief, “is Glenn Beck the czar of White House race relations?” Williams was referring to the administration’s desire to fire her before Beck would play the edited video that made Sherrod out to sound like a black racist. (Beck did not have the tape, and did not play it.)
Is a man who wrote the narrative for the prize-winning PBS civil right series Eyes on the Prize (and a person long associated with that movement) really the man to fire because his current ideas challenge those of the NAACP and the present-day black establishment? Moreover, a few years ago, Williams penned the politically incorrect and courageous book titled Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It. The title alone tells you all you need to know about what Juan Williams thinks about this issue. The book was praised by the likes of John McWhorter and Thomas Sowell, not two black intellectuals the left-wing and the Julian Bond civil rights establishment generally hold in any kind of good regard.
I was not surprised to see Williams move in that direction. Many years ago, I sat with him on a panel held in Washington, D.C., called “Second Thoughts About Race in America.” It was put together by conservatives Peter Collier and David Horowitz. At that time, Williams did not have the point of view he has now, but simply to appear at the conference alongside me and another unorthodox black intellectual, Julius Lester, said a great deal about his integrity.
I imagine, as ombudswoman Shepard hinted at, there were many leftist NPR listeners who simply did not like what Williams said on NPR, and who never watched him on Fox News. She mentions some 378 listener e-mails complaining about him. That is not a large number, and I suspect they served as a warning to liberal NPR bosses to be on the lookout for an excuse to get rid of him.
So, let me conclude with a simple question. When will NPR listeners who continually complain about the right-wing bias of Fox put the pressure on their network of choice to allow honest dissent from their own contributors? Or does liberalism today mean that only acceptable leftist positions are allowed on NPR?
Update:7:30 p.m. EST
Today, writing on the Fox News website, Juan Williams puts his dismissal this way. ”
My comments on “The O’Reilly Factor” are being distorted by the self-righteous ideological, left-wing leadership at NPR. They are taking bits and pieces of what I said to go after me for daring to have a conversation with leading conservative thinkers. 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.
Williams, who is the model of an honest centrist liberal, understands fully that NPR is run by ideological leftists, and is as much an opinion leader for the Left as Fox News is for conservatives. Moreover, it was reported on the news tonight that the head of NPR news made it clear that over the years, they have felt Williams had crossed the line when he expressed opinions on other matters. Neither of them said what their particular differences with Williams were about. I suspect, again, that it had to do with his blunt statements on race, as well as the book he published about it.
Kudos to Juan Williams for this brave letter of explanation, and for not backing down. Can we soon expect to hear support for him from at least some of his former NPR colleagues? Don’t hold your breath.