2010-11-12 / Letters

A Hole In Juan

Dear Editor,

Juan Williams, formerly employed as a commentator at NPR (amongst other gigs) stuck his foot in his mouth by stating his true feelings when he witnessed Muslims dressed in native garb board his flight. To whom did he communicate his fear of Muslims as terrorists? Did he tell the person standing next to him? Did he text his relatives? Did he phone a friend? The answer is, no, to all three questions. Mr. Williams ill-advisedly broadcast his true feelings on National Public Radio, a politically and socially neutral station. By using his bully pulpit to air his true feelings about Muslims, Juan revealed his fatal flaw placing the neutral part of NPR on its ear.

Oh, yes, in a perfect world, we could all cry fire in a crowded theater or say what we honestly feel about anything and everything without fear of reprisal; but, we haven’t reached that plateau of a prejudicial perfection to allow for gut dumping by media personalities.

You’ve undoubtedly heard comparisons as in, “every time I see a group of high school age children walking toward me, I feel threatened.” Or, “every time I see somebody who appears to be homeless on Beach 116 Street, I protect my wallet.” But, thinking these thoughts or telling them to another individual or a group of individuals at a party is one thing. Expelling your prejudices on National Public Radio is quite another.

NPR as chartered is a media outlet that is issue neutral. For this stance (or lack of stance), the station is financed by the public through Congress. When an NPR employee breaks the contract with Congress, his services can no longer be retained there. Poor Juan!

Where can poor Juan’s services be a boon? The obvious answer is on opinion talk radio and television. Where did Juan get a spanking new contract after his NPR indiscretion? Mr. Williams is as snug as a bug in a rug at FOX where his personal opinions will be welcome.

Exactly how snug will Juan be?

Three million dollars a year snug. That’s how snug. Now when FOX takes the family Xmas photograph, Williams’ position between Laura and Bill or Sean and Michelle or Glen and Sarah will prove the network is visually fair and balanced.

Getting down to brass tacks, with the mosque controversy in lower Manhattan roiling in the craw of a number of Americans, this is hardly the time to incite the public using anti-Muslim aspersions. The broad brush type of comments that we, in this country are trying to avoid, should, at the very least be dodged by media personalities, especially on NPR.

Yes, we all have first amendment rights. However, adhering to the charter of your workplace was, in Juan’s case, the better form of valor.

Perhaps Mr. Williams felt so at home on NPR that he said what he felt minus the self-censorship that separates a media guy from someone outside of public ear shot. Who else should be practicing self-censorship? Teachers, clergymen, coaches, columnists, politicians and entertainment personalities should double check their speak as their influence to hurt or help is apparent and far-reaching. Does this form of censorship compromise Americans’ entitlements to first amendment rights or does it fit on the fence side of caution?

Americans can not allow people who command audiences to influence them against people of particular religions, sects, color or gender preference. Say what you will in your own home; but, once you leave the sanctity of the home, use discretion so as not to incite others in a wrongheaded direction. Yet presenting information without opinion and allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions appears to be a lost art.

Was Juan Williams’ gut utterance wrong? Yes for the venue on which it appeared. Was he given the opportunity to recant his blatant prejudicial exclamation? Yes. Did he recant it? No. Does he understand his responsibility with regard to his employment at NPR? No. Does NPR have the right to fire him? Yes. Should they have fired him? Had Williams commented stereotypically about a person of color or a person of a particular religion, he would have been fired. He deserved to be fired. Why there is so much rallying behind Mr. Williams is ridiculous.

Financially, he tripled his salary with his employment at FOX where he can rip Muslims to his heart’s content with the likes of Bill, Glen and Sean without fear of reprisal. Yentl couldn’t have made a more perfect match.

JOAN METTLER

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