Mere moments before he uttered the words that ended his long and distinguished career at National Public Radio, Juan Williams foretold his own demise:
"I think political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality."
Williams proceeded to address reality:
"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.”
That he spent the balance of the segment drawing important distinctions between Islam and its radical adherents was, evidently, immaterial to the powers-that-be at NPR. Williams had already committed the unpardonable sin of breaking liberal orthodoxy and dealing honestly with a controversial subject. Worse, did so on Fox News.
Many people have written, and will continue to write, far more eloquently about the implications of this disgraceful episode than I, but it's important to note that this kerfuffle says far more about NPR than it does about Juan Williams. (Disclosure: I have met Juan on several occasions and find him to be a kind, thoughtful, and serious person, even though we often disagree politically).
The truth is that NPR has been fishing for a pretext to terminate Williams for some time. In February of 2009, Williams -- again appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor" -- had the temerity to offer unflattering analysis of Michelle Obama as a political liability. This set off a firestorm among (literally) dozens of the bien pensants who populate NPR's boardroom and listening audience. In a melodramatic column, the radio network's ombudsman -- excuse me, ombudswoman -- chided Williams for his tendency to "speak one way on NPR and another on Fox." As I wrote at the time, tailoring one's style to his intended audience is Media 101. The network ultimately directed Williams to drop all on-screen mentions of their precious brand name during future "O'Reilly" appearances.
One of the more troubling elements of the 2009 flare-up was the weight NPR seemed to assign to a relatively insignificant number of listener complaints. At the time, NPR ombudsperson Alicia Shepard wrote the following hand-wringing paragraph in her column addressing the matter:
Last year, 378 listeners emailed me complaints and frustrations about things Williams said on Fox. The listener themes are similar: Williams “dishonors NPR.” He’s an “embarrassment to NPR.” “NPR should severe (sic) their relationship with him.”
The latest flap involves Williams’ comment on Fox about First Lady Michelle Obama. To date, I’ve received 56 angry emails.
Now that her network has delivered a politically-correct coup de grace against Williams, Shepard is trotting out these same statistics in an apparent effort to justify the firing. From today's New York Times:
Alicia C. Shepard, the NPR ombudswoman, said at the time that Mr. Williams was a “lightning rod” for the public radio organization in part because he “tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.”
Ms. Shepard said she had received 378 listener e-mails in 2008 listing complaints and frustrations about Mr. Williams.
That averages out to about one complaint per day. Is that all it takes to achieve "lightning rod" status at NPR? Given this preposterously low bar, might conservatives undertake a campaign to inundate NPR with "complaints and frustrations" against, say, Ombudsperson Alicia Shepard? We might even manage to produce two grievances per day, if we really try.
Such an effort would prove fruitless, of course, unless its target colored outside socially-permissible lines, as defined by the Left. In a chilling new twist, the Left-wing hacks at Media Matters -- who helped drive this meme -- are now calling on NPR to "address" commentator Mara Liasson's "association" with Fox. One scalp is never enough for the Thought Police.
Juan Williams is not a bigot; he merely articulated on national television a sentiment shared by countless Americans, before defending peaceable Muslims against broad-brush stereotypes. Williams’ broader context and motivation were immaterial; this was NPR’s opportunity to rid itself of an ideologically unpredictable free thinker, so his fate was sealed. Williams says NPR executive Ellen Weiss "abruptly" dismissed him over the phone and denied him even the courtesy of an in-person meeting to discuss the controversial TV segment. She reportedly told him, “There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.” Liberalism, distilled.
I suspect that Juan Williams will be better off now that he's free from NPR’s ponderous hand, but the reverse isn't true. National Public Radio has foolishly purged one of its most respected analysts, and in the process, has laid bare its perverse values and priorities. NPR has again proven itself unworthy of our tax dollars, to which it owes its very existence. If the network would prefer to go all-in and become National Soros Radio, that's their prerogative. But as long as it's subsidized by American Taxpayers and bears the name National Public Radio, we the public should demand that it either radically alter its course, or go private.
Shame on NPR.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography