A case of poetic justice?
Like everybody else I have heard remark on the incident, I was shocked at the summary dismissal of the highly regarded long time journalist Juan Williams by NPR because of an allegedly bigoted comment against Muslims. After I actually viewed the video clip of Juan’s statement I concluded the executive who fired him must have a hidden agenda, or she has lost her mind!
Taken in context Juan’s comments are clearly a repudiation of the anti-Muslim attitude of Bill O’Reily; his intent is unmistakable! Hence this decision by NPR can only be viewed as a brazen abuse of power, and the response of Ms. Schiller, the CEO of NPR, to Juan’s complaint that he was never consulted about his comment by Ellen Weiss, the Vice President for News, only adds insult to injury. Schiller said he should talk to his publicist or “psychiatrist.”
The sheer arrogance of her attitude reminded me far too much of the kind of white arrogance that African Americans have had to contend with from white males throughout our history. Hence for black Americans this incident raises the question: “Are we now going to have to go through this again with newly minted white female power brokers?” Yet even if we remove the race issue, it remains a harrowing case of management abuse of a worker which should every on air talent in the industry. The whole affair is so disconcerting that it has led me into a position that I could never have imagined just a few days ago: A defender of Juan Williams.
Let me be candid: I detest Juan Williams! I have made no secret of this virulent enmity; you can even see me shadow boxing and challenging him to a fist fight, threatening to whip his ass on YouTube. My challenge was sparked by Juan’s attempt to get Professor Boyce Watkins, an Afro-American professor of finance at Syracuse University, fired from his job because he criticized Juan’s coon show antics on Bill O’Reiley’s show. Thus one could view Juan’s present predicament as poetic justice!
My disdain for the much celebrated journalist and ubiquitous commentator on political affairs goes far beyond that incident however. It is fired by my conviction that Juan is an intellectual quisling who supports reactionary political forces that oppose the aspirations of Afro-Americans and all working people. His long association with FOX News is, in my eyes, an indictment.
Yet it must be said that he is more often than not the oppositional voice in the discourses, offering a counter-statement to the mindless right wing drivel that passes for serious argument on FOX. Watching him I have sometimes felt that he is like the carnival clown who holds his breath and kisses a hog because it’s part of the show. But other times I am convinced that he has made a Faustian bargain; selling his soul to the Devil in exchange for the sweet smell of success.
Whatever is the real deal about Juan’s motivation to do the jive things he do, his firing from NPR is dangerous abuse of power by management. For in the final analysis this is a problem of management employee relations. Is there anyone in American who is a worker that would like to be treated like that by their boss? Ironically, this foul deed may well blow back and devour his executioners. Already the forces on the right who have long wanted to scrap NPR are sharpening their rhetoric and their knives.
We are provided a glimpse of the role bullshit and duplicity will play in the unfolding drama, when we witness Roger Ailes, the head honcho at FOX television, stepping forth and awarding Juan a Two Million Dollar Deal, which surely makes him the highest paid black journalist in America. Considering the propaganda value of the signing, it was well worth the investment. Among the nation’s serious journalists, media critics and Journalism professors – and I have been all three – the FOX network is a joke, a shill for the most deranged elements of the Republican right.
Yet FOX advertises itself as the place where one can always find a “fair and balanced” account of the news. Thus it is not without irony that by its precipitous dismissal of Juan Williams the management of NPR has provided this bogus outfit with the opportunity to play the knight in shining armor defending free speech. And Roger Ailes, sly old fox that he is, has made the most of it. When announcing the fabulous contract extension he awarded Juan, Ailes pronounced that although he is an avowed liberal Juan was a fine journalist and his right to speak his mind will be protected at FOX!
The problem NPR management will have in defending their decision to terminate Juan is that the overwhelming majority of Americans share his feelings on the questions of Muslims on airplanes that they are boarding. His statement that caused all the trouble is considered reasonable by most Americans…including this writer. It is only natural considering that we are at war with Islamic Jihadists who view airplanes as weapons of mass destruction. Hence one has to wonder if the management of NPR is totally out of touch with what the Average American feels. And to say that everyone who feels this way is a bigot is prime facie absurd!
A great part of the problem here is that many on the left mistakenly believe that to admit there is a real threat from Islamic militants somehow dilutes, or weakens, their critique of American aggression in the Islamic world. But it doesn’t! This is not an either or situation – as few things in real life are. Not only do these two positions fail to cancel each other out, they have a symbiotic relationship. The reason why the Jihadist want to blow up American Airliners is precisely because of American policies in the Middle East for the past sixty years.
They have repeatedly told us that they wish to kill as many Americans as possible when Islamic militant are captured. And they keep trying, as the numerous foiled plots verify. Anybody who does not believe this threat is real, a clear and present danger, is either a mad man or a moron! In our present situation being a little suspicious is not only a good thing: It could save your life! That’s why Juan enjoys broad support from the American people, and NPR is now being targeted for destruction by forces on the reactionary right.
As I write Bill Bennett, that flawed old Republican war horse, has denounced Juan’s firing and used the incident to paint NPR as some far left mass indoctrination outfit posing as an honest journalist enterprise working in the best interest of the public – whose tax dollars are funding it. And he says he can envision no justification for spending the public purse in this way. Demented Jim Demint, the Republican Senator from South Carolina, has already announced that he will be introducing a bill to cut off funding for NPR. And some people are even calling for President Obama to get involved…which is the last thing he needs to be distracted by.
All of this, the entire shit storm that threatens to obliterate NPR, was precipitated by this arrogant and thoughtless decision. If the Republicans take the congress in the coming elections as predicted, there will be hearings on this affair and the inquisitors will have subpoena power. These reactionaries will try their best to cut the budget and even repeal the act creating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Should they succeed in their nefarious ambitions the management of NPR will have dug their own graves, achieving what the Republican ideologues have failed to do on their own.
Harlem, New York
October 23, 2010