So Juan Williams gave a lecture — on the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall — at the University of Maryland School of Law, where he received a standing ovation from a pack of lawyers from Baltimore. That, my friends, is not a Fox News crowd.
Williams also agreed to an interview with The Baltimore Sun, in which he declined to declare himself a sinner.
What interests your GetReligionistas, of course, is the ongoing issue of what Williams actually said in his now infamous visit with Bill O’Reilly. We are interested in everything he said, especially since Williams was offering a classic “Yes, but” message. I remain convinced that one of the worst sins that journalists can commit is to edit a person’s words so that they end up saying the opposite of what they actually said.
Alas, here is the short Sun summary of the controversy:
NPR announced Williams’ firing last Wednesday for comments made two nights earlier on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox show saying that when he sees passengers in traditional Muslim “garb” on an airplane with him, he feels “nervous.” Within hours of the firing, Fox News expanded his duties at the top-rated cable news channel with a three-year, $2 million contract.
Williams said Tuesday that he remained emotionally “roiled” by the abrupt termination that has earned NPR harsh criticism, and which touched off a firestorm over political correctness and whether the public radio network welcomes divergent political views.
Later, the Sun did allow Williams to throw another dose of gasoline on one of the many hot issues linked to his departure from public radio:
“At NPR … they don’t know this: A third of the audience for Bill O’Reilly’s show is made up of people of color,” Williams said. “At NPR, they think, ‘Oh, these people who watch Fox don’t appreciate diversity of opinion, they’re not smart people. They’re not informed people. Oh, yeah? I’ll tell you what: They’re informed. …
Williams said Tuesday that Fox executives were more enlightened than many on the left give them credit for, especially since the network “allows a black guy with a Hispanic name to sit in the in the big chair and host the big show. Do you see it on CNBC? … Do you [see] it at CNN in prime time?”
So, you can watch William’s controversial statement for yourself or you can read the transcript of his statement in which he reminds viewers of what he said the first time, putting his words back into context. Here’s a sample of that:
The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims. This is not a bigoted statement. It is a statement of my feelings, my fears after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by radical Muslims. In a debate with Bill O’Reilly I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith. I pointed out that the Atlanta Olympic bomber — as well as Timothy McVeigh and the people who protest against gay rights at military funerals — are Christians, but we journalists don’t identify them by their religion.
And I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to the violation of anyone’s constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without the fear of having your throat slashed.
Actually, people do — and rightly so — note that the Westboro Baptist protesters are Christians who keep attacking other Christians. Oh, and Timothy McVeigh went out of his way to distance himself from Christianity in any known form.
Nevertheless, what Williams said went something like: This is what I feel, but we cannot allow our feelings to interfere with the rights of others. We cannot blame all Muslims for the actions of a few.
So, if you are looking for an in-depth look at what started this media storm, from a viewpoint just about as far from Fox as possible, check out William Saletan’s “frame game” piece at Slate.com, which has many useful links for further research. Here’s a look at some of the key analysis:
The damning video clip of Williams … cuts off the speaker just as he’s about to reverse course. According to the full transcript, immediately after saying, “I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Williams continues: “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.” That continuation has been conveniently snipped from the excerpt.
A few seconds later, Williams challenges O’Reilly’s suggestion that “the Muslims attacked us on 9/11.” … Williams reminds O’Reilly that “there are good Muslims.” A short while later, O’Reilly asks: “Juan, who is posing a problem in Germany? Is it the Muslims who have come there, or the Germans?” Williams refuses to play the group blame game. “See, you did it again,” he tells O’Reilly. “It’s extremists.”
The bottom line for Saletan is that it’s wrong when journalists play this game, turning the meaning of a person’s words upside down. It’s wrong when conservative activists do it, too. It’s wrong when liberal activists do it. It’s even wrong when the high priests of NPR do it.