I can’t let the firing of Juan Williams, by Vivian Schiller, CEO of National Public Radio, pass without comment. First because I am a fan of Williams, and secondly because it affirms an opinion I have held since my college days in the sixties. Juan Williams and Leonard Pitts are two black journalists I have listened to and read over the years as they have both broadened my understanding of black issues. These two men bring rational arguments to bear on current issues and are more likely to change my opinions than most.
So, when someone I admire is publically treated unfairly, I feel compelled to comment, and it would appear Williams was treated unfairly. The first unfairness was for Schiller to fire him with a phone call without giving him opportunity to discuss the matter face to face. The second unfairness was to dismiss him for doing what other NPR journalists do regularly, apparently with impunity. The third unfairness was to base the dismissal on a statement that was truly taken out of context. I know public figures often declare their statements were taken out of context, whether the context matters or not. There are times, though, when a statement is taken out of context to create a pretext for some nefarious agenda, and this was one of them.
In her first statement about the issue, Schiller said the action was taken because Williams was hired as a news analyst, not an opinion columnist, and he was not supposed to express opinions whether on NPR or Fox News where he also provided commentary. I wonder how one does news analysis without expressing opinions since analysis is interpretation and interpretation is usually opinion based. I often read news analysis by the Associated Press in The Sun that is loaded with opinion. It is the nature of analysis.
News analysts from across the political spectrum immediately began to opine about this story, concluding that people with an axe to grind against Fox News or maybe the Council on American Islamic Relations were behind it. Few seemed to buy Schiller’s reason and she had to come out and deny all the other speculations, but her spin was not near as convincing as Williams who called it “evidence of one party rule and one sided thinking at NPR.”
My second reason for not letting this incident pass unnoticed is that it confirms an observation I made as a college student in the 60’s that there is nothing narrower than a broad minded liberal. At the time I came to this awareness I was a student at Alaska Methodist University, a liberal, non-sectarian school. I was probably the only vocal conservative student on the small campus. This awareness began when the dean of students banned Campus Crusade for Christ from the campus after some students complained about being proselytized, and it has often been reaffirmed since.
It seemed to me a liberal school should welcome opposing points of view and that college students need to learn to deal with propagandist on their own. Being editor of the school paper and a student councilman, I took the issue up with the college president and got the order reversed.
I was not surprised 45 years later to read Williams comment, “I’ve always thought the right wing was the ones who were inflexible and intolerant. Now I’m coming to realize that orthodoxy at NPR, if it’s representing the left, is just unbelievable.” Well, Juan, it is believable.
I know I am painting with too broad a brush as liberalism constitutes a spectrum. Honest liberals, please forgive me. The far left of that spectrum prefers the label progressive and their movement has been around long enough to have produced its own fundamentalist and its own orthodoxy.
I grew up in Christian fundamentalist churches and we were often accused of being narrow minded as opposed to the more virtuous broad minded liberal. That was fine with us and almost a badge of honor. We were doctrinaire absolutists, and I heard many sermons on the New Testament metaphor about the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life everlasting. This could be applied to either doctrinal or moral issues. Listening to other viewpoints would only lead to heresy.
The liberals, however, pretended to be different. They claimed they were open to giving all points of view a hearing and encouraged people to make up their own minds. But, the doctrinaire liberal pretends to be broadminded while being just as narrow as any other doctrinaire group whether Christian, Muslim, or Marxist. What sets a liberal like Williams or Pitts apart is that you get the feeling they are rational, they listen, and if it makes sense, they will actually change their position.