by Victor Davis Hanson
The Juan Williams Firing — Or a Primer on Elite Liberal Thinking
There were lots of slants on NPR’s firing of news analyst Juan Williams that reflect how surreal cultural liberalism has become. Let us walk through ten of them.
1 ) NPR is in some part either publicly funded or relies on a public brand to earn cash. Its charter is to promote the free exchange of ideas. That did not happen. Mr. Williams simply reflected the common experience of many Americans after 9/11 to tense up when someone in Islamic dress or otherwise identifiable as a Muslim boards an airplane — and then quickly explained why such an emotional reaction should not lead to prejudicial stereotyping.
For that opinion on another network he was fired. Note that for NPR to prove that it is even-handed in censuring controversial speech it would long ago have had to fire reporter Nina Totenberg for a long history of venomous partisan slurs (e.g., hoping Sen. Jesse Helms and his grandkids might contract AIDS). I think we can glimpse the operative NPR ideology: the exalted ends justify the tawdry means. Williams, you see, unlike Totenberg, is perceived as not working for liberal social justice and therefore allowances can be made to get rid of him.
2 ) Note how the NPR CEO Vivian Schiller herself slanders Williams by suggesting that he talk with “his psychiatrist” — and a subsequent brief apology cleans up her mess. So digest this: the person who fired Williams for supposedly inflammatory speech explains the firing by far worse inflammatoryad hominem invective, made worse by McCarthyite allusions to vague and unsubstantiated charges that Williams has a prior record of incendiary speech. So Williams wakes up in the morning a respected journalist and goes to sleep a few hours later with the burden of proving that he is not a bigot, and not unhinged and not under medical care in the eyes of his employer, and not guilty of a litany of additional but unspecified crimes. All this comes from soft-spoken contemplative NPR, which prides itself in being the antithesis of intolerant shock-jock right-wing talk radio. Hypocrisy is again a force multiplier to ideological prejudice.
3 ) Supposedly intolerant hard-driving Fox News has no problem with liberal Williams working for NPR; supposedly soft-spoken, inclusive NPR has a lot of problems with Williams working for Fox. The asymmetry is quite astounding, especially when we factor in the public/private angle. A private, for-profit company does not mind that Williams works for the public’s station whose views are considered liberal; but the liberal public station most certainly does care that Williams works for private conservative Fox News. Isn’t the network that takes public money supposed to be the more tolerant? Is this a reflection of audience taste and assumptions: Fox knows its viewers don’t care whether liberal Williams works at a liberal network; NPR fears mightily that its intolerant audience can’t stand anyone who is associated with Fox? Yet, again, conservative citizens own or run Fox; we the people own NPR.
4 ) Note how CAIR, the Islamic advocacy group, pressures NPR on Williams’s remarks, but gives a lifetime career achievement award to the anti-Semite Helen Thomas, who calls for the destruction of Israel by having the Jews “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to “Poland” and “Germany” (Gee, I wonder what happened to Jews in those two places once upon a time.). Wanting Jews gone from their homeland earns CAIR praise; discussing both fears and prejudices after 9/11 is hate speech. Why would anyone give this extremist organization any credence? Speaking of which…
5 ) Note the silence of the NAACP, which is usually the first to speak out when some African-Americans are deemed railroaded. By its present vote here, the organization simply gives a green light to go after African-Americans tagged not entirely liberal (or does anyone think Williams would be in trouble with NPR had he moonlighted at MSNBC or PBS?). Juan Williams becomes the Clarence Thomas of journalism, or proof of the notion that the NAACP has nothing really to do with race per se, but rather is concerned only with racial issues to the degree they touch on massive state support for racial identity, the publicly funded industry of racial grievance, and the rationale for public atonement and reparation — in other words, the reason to be of the NAACP. To the degree one is for all that, one is protected; to the degree perhaps not, one is on their own. In today’s spoils system climate, the NAACP would excuse the racial insincerity of a hard-left white liberal statist (cf. the crude racial remarks of a Howard Dean, Harry Reid, or Joe Biden), and equally ignore the ill-treatment of a prominent, but middle-of-the-road African-American done an injustice. With Williams we have a classic case of guilt by association: it was not what Williams said that incurred the wrath of NPR and the silence of the NAACP, but where he said it. (Note further that the NAACP is in the pre-election process of proclaiming that the Tea Party is racist.).
6 ) Notice that ideologue and partisan George Soros just offered NPR nearly $2 million to hire 100 reporters — and NPR accepted the gift. Would it have accepted money from, say, a more soft-spoken but conservative philanthropist such as Charles Koch who might target where NPR needed “help”? And, if it is a publicly funded agency, why do zillionaires have the right to donate and determine hiring for their pet causes? Maybe Bill Gates can offer to hire some IRS auditors, or Warren Buffet can fund a new branch of the SEC?
7 ) The firing of Williams exposes the assumed rationale of public entities such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or indeed universities that are either entirely publicly funded or receive substantial state and federal funds (e.g., someone at Winston-Salem just sent out a university email asking students to get out and vote Democratic — and in embarrassment the university is scurrying to make amends). They apparently believe that society is inherently reactionary (family, church, community, government, etc.) and so they are not biased by openly advocating liberal positions as “balance.” One of the better arguments, of dozens, for smaller government is that the larger the state becomes, the more it attracts social engineers under its protective umbrella. The latter do not wish to work in the private sector, but gravitate to a public/not-for-profit entity where theorizing and editorializing apart from the market are not only encouraged but inevitably lead to hostility to the market. In other words, the more one can find insularity from the market, the more one despises it — even as one often profits to a greater degree. Note in this regard the NPR CEO Schiller’s sneer that Williams should have talked to his psychiatrist or publicist — “take your pick”: Juan has gone market and therefore surely has one of those despised “publicist(s),” unlike the saintly NPRers who are shielded from such a crass need. Indeed, note the venom when she tacked on to the sneer “take your pick,” as in Williams should have addressed first his mental problems or his profit-making pathologies — “take your pick.”
8 ) The high-profile firing of Williams could not have come at a worse time for liberalism as an election looms in under two weeks. Consider: Public unions are rioting in France. Socialist Greece is broke from unfunded liabilities. The dollar is crashing under worldwide perceptions that the United States is printing money to fund out-of-control social programs. The voter now goes to the polls — with the firing of Juan Williams (who, unlike Prof. Gates or the Ground Zero mosque, so far does not earn a presidential intervention) by public radio, with the knowledge that anywhere in the world statism has been implemented it is imploding in the streets no less, and in despair that the United States under Obama is piling up record debt — and surely will be skeptical about candidates who advocate higher taxes to pay for more state agencies and employees to grow government and its apparent hostility to the private sector.
9 ) The country continues to poll center-right. Yet its most high-profile public institutions — NPR, PBS, the NEH, the NEA, universities, etc., often are left-wing. The rationale for that disconnect is freedom of speech and expression, and, by implication, that a minority unpopular liberal view can find resonance that it otherwise cannot earn in the private sector (cf. the fate of Air America or the ratings of Chris Matthews). OK, fine — but such subsidies are predicated on fair play. If a center-right country subsidizes a center-left network because otherwise it would not exist, then the latter has to at least avoid the censorship and invective that we see in the Williams case. Otherwise, there is no reason for an NPR to exist. We have no tradition of a monolithic, intolerant and state-run Pravda in this country.
10 ) Does NPR see that it is now in an entirely untenable situation: it simply cannot retain the CEO who slandered Williams, but fire Williams who slandered no one — and retain any shred of respect?
Ah, yes, a beer summit, anyone?
©2010 Victor Davis Hanson