When I learned this morning that NPR had fired analyst Juan Williams for comments made on Bill O’Reilly’s show, the only thing that surprised me about it was the outpouring of indignation on NPR’s Facebook page. Here you have a news analyst who is employed by an organization that is, perhaps, the last real, living, breathing example of actual journalism on the face of the American landscape, and people were surprised when he gets fired for going on the Fox network and saying stupid things about Muslims?
The issue, as some see it, is Freedom of Speech. Some people believe that Juan Williams’ rights have been violated, and that he should not have been penalized for making stupid comments on Bill O’Reilly’s show. Others believe that it reveals hypocrisy at NPR. Still others believe that it reveals the inherent hypocrisy in “the Liberal agenda” (quite frankly, if you think NPR is a Liberal organization, you’re an idiot).
A sampling of the comments:
“Politically Correct Management, eh, NPR??? What happened to free political speech, especially for someone who is a columnist, not a reporter?”
“Shame on you NPR! What ever happened to freedom of speech and the press????”
“So do all of NPR’s reporters/contributors read from the Gov approved script? You are no better than Fox, but I knew this allready.”
“I guess that whole Freedom of the Press things and free speech only goes so far with you guys? What a bunch of Liberal hypocrits!!”
Here’s the problem. What most people don’t seem to grasp is that our guarantees of Freedom of Speech do not translate to “freedom from consequence”. NPR had long had a problem with Juan Williams appearing on Fox News and Right-Wing talk shows. He was a news analyst and a journalist who was expected to uphold the well stated standards of NPR. His firing was not about a man making a single, bone-headed remark, but was rather the final straw for a man who had crossed the line repeatedly.
What American Freedom of Speech protections guarantee us as citizens is that the United States government will not show up on your doorstep in the middle of the night to arrest you because you said something inflammatory about your political leaders or voiced an unpopular opinion (if that happened in America most of the Tea Party supporters would already be in prison over the things they’ve said about President Obama). Those protections are about keeping the government off of your back, but they do not protect you from your neighbors disowning you, your children being ashamed of you, or your employer firing you.
Juan Williams exercised his right to Freedom of Speech. Now he has to “man-up” (as Sarah Palin would say) and accept the consequences. Surely he could not have expected to repeatedly violate the standards and protocols of NPR without repercussions?
However Right-leaning pundits might want to spin this story, the undeniable truth is that Juan Williams was, and still is, protected by his right to Freedom of Speech. No government agents showed up on his doorstep; nor will they. There will be no formal investigation. He will not be interrogated. He will spend no time in jail. He will not be tortured. In short, his Freedom of Speech guarantees remain intact.
Juan Williams told Bill O’Reilly, “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot… 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.”
Juan Williams himself would have been outraged if someone else had said the same thing about Christians or African-Americans. In the end, that’s all you really need to know about this story. He repeatedly violated the impartiality and journalistic standards of NPR, and usually did so on Fox News or one of the Fox talk shows. That he is currently unemployed should not come as a surprise. That he has, simply, returned home, unmolested by government agents or police officers, shows that Freedom of Speech in America is alive and well.
Now perhaps Juan Williams has time to consider the foolishness of repeatedly provoking his former employer. Perhaps he’ll learn something from the experience, and take those lessons with him when his part-time job at Fox News is turned into a full-time position.