Larry Mantle

Juan Williams on NPR and speaking openly

Tuesday morning on AirTalk, Fox News’ Juan Williams talked about his new book, Muzzled:  the Assault on Honest Debate.  He used his firing from NPR as a springboard for his argument that political correctness on the Left and moral judgments on the Right have shut down honest conversation.  Each side is able to dismiss the other as intellectually or morally deficient, and then ignore what the other has to say.

Juan is particularly critical of NPR’s reaction to his comment about getting nervous when seeing fellow air passengers dressed in Muslim garb.  He claims that NPR executives failed to hear his larger point that public policy shouldn’t be determined by such emotional reactions.

NPR executives, at the time, defended the firing of Williams by saying he crossed the line in talking about his personal prejudicial reaction.  NPR’s top news exec, Ellen Weiss, later resigned following an outside investigation into how the firing was handled.

Part of the problem might have been the title NPR gave Williams.  As a “senior news analyst,” NPR says it expected Williams to leave his personal views out of analysis, including when he appeared on FNC.  However, that’s a difficult line to draw.

Perhaps a “contributor” title would have been better for Williams, allowing him more latitude for personal comment.  Regardless, it was a tough time for NPR, and for member stations dealing with the funding threat aftermath.  Though Williams lost his NPR job, he quickly rebounded professionally when Fox signed him to a lucrative multi-year contract.

What do you think of Williams’ argument that people with a self-serving interest in shutting down real debate have done so by demonizing those with whom they disagree?  Are we too quick to negatively label arguments, question the motivation of others, and shut down those who see the world differently? 

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