Last week, National Public Radio news correspondent Juan Williams was fired after making some disparaging remarks about Muslims on the Fox News program "The O’Reilly Factor." Williams told host Bill O’Reilly that when on airplanes, the sight of Muslims still makes him "nervous."
His firing created a political firestorm. The Republicans wanted Congress to cut NPR’s funding and accused the radio station of censorship, using the usual "liberal fascism" hysteria that they always have.
Personally, I have no problem with NPR firing him. Williams violated the NPR Code of Ethics with his comments. The code says in its third section that "respect [is defined as]…treating the people we cover and our audience with respect by approaching subjects in an open-minded, sensitive and civil way and by recognizing the diversity of the country and world on which we report, and the diversity of interests, attitudes and experiences of our audience."
Williams saying that Muslims on airplanes make him nervous is not consistent with that belief. Reporters have to be very careful about revealing any of their prejudices because their credibility could be compromised in the process. Objectivity must always be retained, no matter what.
Also, NPR is not censoring Williams by firing him. I feel like a broken record saying this, but it’s not censorship if someone is reprimanded for something they said after the fact. If some random person decides to give a speech in front of the Capitol building, and the government orders him not to, that’s censorship. Getting fired from your job when you break their rules is not. Politicians should crack open a media law book every once in a while.
However, this controversy brings up another very interesting question: was Juan Williams just telling the truth?
Not enough people are examining this part of the controversy. Even though Williams shouldn’t have said what he said, that doesn’t mean what he said is not an accurate assessment of how a lot of Americans feel. I know a lot of people who share Williams’ unease.
While it is unsettling that people still feel nervous about Muslims, it is something that does occur. After 9/11, it was something that was bound to happen. The nervousness around Muslims is just part of a long-standing human tradition: ethnic stereotyping. Everyone on Earth stereotypes to some extent, but many people don’t say what they think out loud. Most of us do not even realize we’re doing it. Although Williams made a mistake saying what he did, knowing that as a news correspondent it would get him fired, he does deserve some credit for calling a spade a spade.
Instead of attacking Williams and calling him a bigot, we could use this situation as an opportunity to examine our own problems with prejudice and stereotyping. Juan Williams, or anyone else, might not feel nervous around Muslims if there was an increasing focus on understanding other cultures and races, which is why things like the Muslim community center near Ground Zero are so crucial. The only way to get rid of racism in this country is to deal with racial issues head-on, and not hiding behind political correctness, or being to afraid to ruffle any feathers. The only thing worse than prejudices and stereotypes is denying they exist. What NPR did to Juan Williams wasn’t censorship, but by shoving racial issues to the side we are censoring ourselves, which will lead to the censorship of social progress.