Thursday, October 21, 2010

Juan Williams Fired at NPR

When I saw this in prime time the other evening (yes I watch O'Reilly -- so shoot me) I immediately had two reactions. The first was, Juan, that's a little creepy. He was confessing what is in fact a predjudiced emotion, and in a tone that suggests that such a feeling is understandable, perhaps even rational. The second was that he had just damaged himself.

Little did I know! Soon Williams was fired from his decade-old job at National Public Radio by means of a phone call -- no discussions, no meeting, no appeal, and despite his having a contract. (This last may mean he can sue them. I sure hope so!)

What amazes me is that he made this statement in illustrating the idea that political correctness can make it impossible to discuss reality as it exists. I guess NPR doesn't do irony. They also don't seem to care about the PC (but sensible) things Williams went on to say in this interview (see the above link.)

If we are going to discuss prejudice, people have to be able to confess to it. And the idea that it can be understandable is one of the views that have to be defended. That is an indispensable part of the process of assessing the truth of such ideas. NPR has made a mighty move to paralyze such discussion.

Update: Here is an article with an online poll on whether NPR should have fired Williams. Even though the site is one that would attract people who appreciate "politically correct" concerns, the vote is overwhelmingly "no." This is heartening!


Anonymous said...

It is discouraging that 30% agreed he should have been fired. I always want to hear different opinions, and like you, I will watch shows that do not follow with my political POV.

The insular mentality is one of the most regrettable trends in journalism but it has given rise to the citizen blog. Lester, I don't agree with your idea that he is confessing a prejudicial thought.

He legitimately feels concern when he sees traditional Muslim regalia. Is that a prejudice? I don't think an emotional response rises to that level.

When I am in a crowded auditorium, I automatically scan for the closest exit. Does this emotional response mean that I hate people? My experience of a childhood fire makes me cautious and my response is based on my reality. Mr. Williams has his own legitimate reason for his response, and we need to learn to respect that he as an individual is entitled to his own feelings.

Lester Hunt said...

I suppose that the judgment that it is prejudiced rests on a more basic assumption that it is not rationally warranted. The chances that any one Muslim is going to blow you up (on a plane boarded in the US) is, literally, vanishingly small. Further, the one that will blow you up is extremely likely to take steps to not attract attention to his/her religion. From what information we have, it appears than none of the men who have committed relevant acts of terror in the US since and including 9/11 were people you or I would have noticed at all --- until they opened fire, seized control of the plane, or whatever it was that they did.

So the feeling Juan is confessing to does not rest on a rational assessment of objective probabilities. What then is it based on? Feelings about Muslims, I would think.

Lester Hunt said...

Hm. I myself have a confession to make. Immediately after writing the above, I found an article where a *Muslim* American admits to having exactly the reaction Williams is admitting to.

Here is the URL for the article, which is very interesting:

Also interesting is the fact that this author gives one of the same arguments I give in the post for the conclusion that this emotion is not based on a rational calculation of probabilities. What then is it based on? Maybe part of what is going on here is the fact that the human mind systematically exaggerates certain dangers -- eg., those having to do with terrorism and plane crashes.

So maybe I should say Willams' reaction might be prejudiced, and might not. It raises the issue of prejudice, but is not dispositive.

Anonymous said...

I was just taking you to task for your reply!

Anonymous said...

Your article gave a quote that summarizes my thoughts on Mr Williams' actions.

"In the long run, it's what we do with such fears that matters, not that we have them."

I understand all to well. It is not rationally warranted for me to panic in crowded public rooms, the fire was in my house.

Perhaps Juan personally knew a victim of one of the 911 flights, and that in itself causes his reaction.

I don't want to ever be the mind police, and in effect NPR has chosen to act as if they are.

Anonymous said...

As a prejudicial statement it is reminiscent of Obama's comment about his grandmother crossing the street when she saw two black men approaching her.

"Taken as a whole" not many reporters would make a comment like this even though Williams is "a person of color".

However this was the Fox Network which has a particular demographic audience and although he did not say it on NPR, NPR and Fox are apparently at war.

Like the tree falling in the forest, had no one made great light of this comment, it would have simply slid.