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Blog Archive – October, 2010

How Many Juan Williams Are Out There?

October 27, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I’m not suggesting he’s a bad guy. Although his remark about “feeling uncomfortable in a plane with people wearing Muslim garb” is disappointing as well as loathsome. National Public Radio’s senior correspondent’s ‘slip’ follows that of several prominent journalists—Helen Thomas of the White House Press Corps, and Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez of CNN.

Yes. I know Thomas and Octavia got the boot because they dared to express solidarity or sympathy with America’s adversaries--Palestinians in the case of Thomas and a Hizbullah luminary in Nasr’s statement. In Sanchez case, he made remarks suggesting what everyone knows about the power of Jewish individuals and media in the US.  

Williams’ remarks, by comparison, exposed his bias against Muslims. Hitherto, comments against Islam and Muslims went unchallenged. What has changed? Does Williams’ expulsion mean the Muslim lobby is making some gains? Does it signify a growing commitment by media bosses to ensure political correctness, even when it comes to Muslims?

Or are we all so closely and scrutinized that any show of personal preferences or fears are swiftly challenged and condemned? Perhaps media personalities are so influential today that they dare not say anything that exposes this very condition. They must appear neutral. (Of course none of this applies to Jewish individuals in the US, in or out of media; viz NYT’s Tomas Freedman, PBS’s Charlie Rose, or NPR’s own Terri Gross and Daniel Shorr. Although the famous Dr. Laura who remained an unchallenged radio host for years, was recently forced out due to anti-Black references, finally despite her record of racist offences.)

Perhaps there a campaign underway to root out certain media voices in preparation for a media compliant new war? US media has already shown its reliability at times of war, especially in the early days. Patriotism rules the airwaves; public opinion is needed to pull off an assault that is either illegal or unnecessary. Later, when some begin to question a war, some media resume a critical role. By then the forces are already well entrenched with unremitting support from Congress guaranteed.

There is another explanation for the string of purges: a campaign by people like O’Reilly of Fox News to entrap influential individuals from the less right wing news organizations, and thereby weaken their institutions. (Williams has been signed up with the Fox TV network!)

Noteworthy is how little we heard about those fired individuals fighting back—from Thomas to Williams. They slip away quietly and without a fight. Why?

I listened to Williams’ NPR reports, first his news stories then his comments as a senior commentator, for many years. He is good, but like most NPR reporters, not extraordinary and not cutting edge. Williams was careful never to go too far on taboo subjects such as Palestinians rights or Muslims rights. Or Venezuela’s rights, or Cuba’s or Iran’s sovereign rights for that matter. This, although he eventually became known as NPR’s ‘rights’ expert.

The question is not, in my view, has political correctness got out of hand? It is rather how and why was Williams caught and so swiftly dispatched? Bill O’Reilly is well known for his provocations and his skill in disarming guests. Williams is not the first victim of O’Reilly’s wily ways.  O’Reilly’s positions are so well known, moreover, that you have to be very practiced if you dare enter a debate with him.

In the case of Thomas and Nasr, they may well have been entrapped. But as I wrote about Helen Thomas (in this blog) at the time of her banishment from Hearst and from White House press conferences, an old Washington hand like Thomas had to be ready for anything. If she wanted to say something strong and eloquent against Israeli policies, she should have used better discretion. Thomas, so admired for her assault on US presidents, could have chosen her time, prepared her justification, and had her supporters and Hearst Syndicate ready for the inevitable attack.

Nasr too is a politically savvy lady. The term ‘Twitter’ may sound innocent and ephemeral. But Twitters are very public. Really; how important was it for her to express public sympathy for the passing of a Muslim cleric? If it really was essential to her, she too could have chosen a more effective and timely venue.

Is there a housecleaning going on here? Or is our media business such that only official positions, even loathsome ones-- or those passed by Israel-- are acceptable?

In the meantime, while this purge is underway, how ironic that the forces of the right, represented by the likes of Beck, O’Reilly and other Republican or T-Party leaders, are able to say offensive things with impunity? Their proposals, accusations and exhortations border on incitement to violence and seem directed to deepening the racism that already weakens US society.

It seems that as the right wing interests and advocates get bolder, those representing moderation and deliberation become more timid. This will mean that good leadership, whether by President Obama, or journalists and professors is slipping away from our future.

[ How Many Juan Williams Are Out There? ]


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