Friday, October 22, 2010

The Williams Mess

I'll let other people discuss the firing of Juan Williams in great detail; let's just say that NPR's decision is ridiculous for any number of reasons, including that Williams is anything but a bigot. Let's also note that like most conservatives, I disagree with a lot of Williams says, but I respect the way he makes his arguments, his sincerity, and his intellectual honesty.

But I want to address two arguments in particular.  One is a false analogy -- Will Saletan seems to think this is the equivalent of the Shirley Sherrod controversy.   The analogy may work if you want to say NPR is the equivalent of the Department of Agriculture.  But there are a couple key differences -- Breitbart didn't edit the tape of Sherrod, he got an edited tape, and the point of Breitbart's tape was not to excoriate Sherrod so much as to attack the hypocricy of the NAACP accusing the Tea Party of racism while its members were nodding along and agreeing with Sherrod's initial comments.  At the end of the day, there's actual malice here from the lefties toward Williams; there doesn't appear to be actual malice from Breitbart towad Sherrod so much as the NAACP as a whole.

But the best point about the whole affair comes from Matt Welch at Reason...
Williams' firing is a clarifying moment in media mores. You can be Islamophobic, in the form of refusing to run the most innocuous imaginable political cartoons out of a broad-brush fear of Muslims, but you can't admit it, even when the fear is expressed as a personal feeling and not a group description, winnowed down to the very specific and nightmare-exhuming act of riding on an airplane, and uttered in a context of otherwise repudiating collective guilt and overbroad fearmongering.
In other words, it's okay to allow your preconceived notions of some Muslims as violent to censor your own work, so long as you pretend that's not the reason (the best option being hiding behind sensitivity to other cultures, although these folks would gladly support the right of an artist to dip a crucifix in urine).  And God forbid you actually articulate that fear, or you may be fired... although Williams now got a $2 million contract from Fox.  So he's probably not complaining as much now, seeing as how he'll be able to console himself with all that extra cash.

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