Juan gets cut off short — again

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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Passing By

    This op-ed piece in today’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, illustrates the fundamental dishonesty of reporting on the Williams firing.

    First, Sanders quotes the offending part of Williams comments, then refers to and dismisses the important part, on the basis that Williams is clearly a bigot:

    First of all, Williams’ remarks about Muslims were not only “irresponsible” and insensitive, but indeed biased. Even though he went on to say all Muslims should not be judged by the actions of a few, the damage was done because he already had articulated his bigotry (and we can debate to what degree) toward an entire group.

    Of course, to Sanders, Fox News is “ultra” conservative, and NPR is a simply sterling news organization, but that’s a given. BTW, I’m more likely to listen to NPR, but I don’t kid myself as to what it is: a voice for the liberal bourgeois class.

    NPR is the best broadcast news organization in the country. It is fair, thorough and inclusive in its coverage.

    I suspect that were the ideological poles were reversed, ol’ Bob Ray wouldn’t end it with:

    Let’s put an end to this ugly chapter. NPR did what it thought it should do, CAIR did what it is mandated to do and Juan Williams has gotten paid big time.
    It’s time to move on.

    Yes, it’s an opinion piece, but the Startlegram is a perfect image of what is happening to the newspaper business. The paper is physically shrinking as the cost rise. I don’t give it another decade and that’s a shame, because their local news is pretty interesting sometimes. But journalists, even opinion writers, need to respect their readers, staying honest to the facts. I’m not so stupid that I don’t know what Williams was actually saying.

  • Lynn

    Juan Williams has been shabbily treated, not only by NPR but also but many other media outlets. He had the good grace to spend an hour this week talking with Diane Rehm, on her show which is distributed by NPR. He exuded the sort of professionalism which should be applauded, but which seems to be undervalued in today’s news media marketplace.

    I think part of the problem is that NPR wants to hold to a news model based upon an attempt impartiality, as opposed to the opinion-spun news which seems to dominate the nation’s attention. To that extent, I can see why NPR would think Williams’ role as news commentator at Fox would conflict with his role of news analyst at NPR. However, such a conflict could have been, and should have been, worked out calmly and amicably. There wasn’t any reason for hia sudden firing. The use of a selective portion of his comment to justify the firing is reeks of dirty politics.

  • northcoast

    Maybe it should be observed that Mr. Williams has a contract with Fox News and has been a regular guest on Mr O’Reilly’s show. His function has been to provide a liberal, Obama friendly point of view in the discussion of the news.

    The justification for his firing seems ludicrous both because he certainly was not expressing hatred toward Muslims or Islam, and because I can’t imagine how NPR management can claim that they are impartial. How often does anyone at NPR say anything positive about Republicans, conservatives, the pro-life argument, or Tea Parties?

  • Dave

    I have to dissent from the apparent majority here. Williams did make a bigoted statement (pretend, in your own minds, that he’d made it about Orthodox Jews) and then denied it was bigoted, which doesn’t negate its inherent bigotry. NPR was faced with the quandry of having the man who made that statement as one of its public faces. I won’t defend NPR’s final decision as wise, or the means they used as sensitive, but that doesn’t change their basic quandry.

  • northcoast

    Dave, a more obvious comparison might involve young black guys in hoodies. Remember the 2008 speech when Mr. Obama mentioned the fears of his grandmother? Still I wouldn’t call that bigotry.

    I think the Mr. Williams was put off by Mr. O’Reilly’s attitude and wasn’t at the top of his game. Somebody else has pointed out that the 9/11 hijackings did not involve garb, and hijackers probably would try to avoid attention.