NPR, the public radio service that incessantly begs for our listener support, fired commentator Juan Williams this week for saying, on Bill O'Reilly's "Fear Factor" television program, that he is nervous when he flies with people who dress in Muslim garb.
Poor Juan. It was a dumb remark. He should recognize that his fears are unfounded, apologize, and move on.
But NPR sanctimoniously canned Williams. Which raises this question: Who among us is so devoid of irrational fears and contradictions that we should not be fired? Let's just dismiss the media at large -- well, that's not a bad idea, actually, but you know what I mean -- for transmitting stupid things each and every day.
Helen Thomas, at the age of 90 and after a distinguished career as one of Washington's most revered (and hated) journalists, recently lost her job for saying that the Jews should get out of Palestine. As a news reporter -- not a commentator -- Thomas might have been more thoughtful about how she expressed her personal views. She gave voice to an unpopular opinion and, as a reporter, that's not her role. But had she been extolling the virtues of our military adventures, would Thomas still be employed? Probably.
The same is true of Mr. Bombast himself, Rick Sanchez, late of CNN, who made a stupid comment on satellite radio claiming that Jews were not subjected to bigotry. While the meter was running, he added complaints about how the Jews run the media.
Sanchez should have been fired long ago for sheer idiocy. He was actually terminated because his protector at CNN, Jon Klein, had been sacked several days earlier. But should Sanchez have lost his job for those remarks? Or, should he have been sent back to college to learn American history?
Whose head will roll next in this pompous purge of the news media?
As a public service, I'd like to serve up my own. For years, I used to fear the presence of nuns and priests on airplanes. In fact, pretty much anyone who wore a uniform freaked me out, especially after 9/11, because -- and here's the point -- we've been trained to fear that on an airplane, anyone might be a terrorist. Most of us realize that the real terrorists don't telegraph their affiliation by wearing exotic religious garb. At least not yet.
Oops. I hope I didn't offend anyone with that remark.
No, the guy wearing work pants, a plaid shirt and a farm implement maker's cap is just as likely to be wildly insane. That's why it's difficult for me to walk into a federal building these days and not imagine that I see at least a dozen Timothy McVeighs.
Oh, I'm sorry. Was that offensive to anyone in the audience?
Williams probably brought this on himself because of his cozy relationship with Fox News, where he guest stars as a liberal commentator whose views can easily be dismissed by the viewing audience because he's, you know, black. It was always uncomfortable watching him squirm among the likes of William Kristol and Brit Hume, but I understand why he did it.
Williams was trying to make a living as a black commentator, and there is no more difficult or thankless position in journalism today.
Williams' affiliation with Fox made NPR uncomfortable because the public radio service doesn't understand the temptations that plague a brother trying to make a living. When the whole country is leaning right, it's hard not to jump in that boat and start rowing. Alan Keyes is doing it, Shelby Steele did it, and thousands more are willing to shuck and jive for whoever is in the lead at the moment.
I'm sorry if that observation stung a little. I'd like to take it back. But you know what they say about spilled milk.
Maybe if we turned the volume down a little, we could hear what is actually being said. Lots of us are deathly afraid of people and things we don't understand. Many are so fearful that they begin to hate or shun entire groups of people. Most keep these fears to themselves. Juan Williams did not. So, off with his head.
But ask not for whom Williams' head rolls. It rolls for NPR and Fox -- and for thee.
Syl Jones, of Minnetonka, is a journalist, playwright and communications consultant.
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