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What Juan Williams Has In Common With Shirley Sherrod

I’m generally in agreement with James Joyner’s take that NPR had every right, legally and most likely under the terms of their contract with him, to end its relationship with Juan Williams after a controversy arose, mostly on the left, over comments he made on The O’Reilly Factor on Monday. However, after actually listening to what Williams said, it seems to me that he has been treated unfairly and that, much like this summer’s Shirley Sherrod incident, he has been the victim of rather unfair editing of his remarks.

Let’s start with the 46 second clip that started this controversy:

Now, if you just go by the clip that Think Progress gave us, you might easily draw the conclusion that Williams was endorsing bigotry against Muslims. The conversation enters a totally different light, however, when you watch the entire, nearly seven minute segment:

Based on that clip, it seems to me as though Williams’ remarks as publicized are being taken dramatically, and unfairly, out of context, as the panel on Morning Joe noted this morning:

To call Williams’ remarks an example of bigotry, as some lefty blogs have done, strikes me as simply absurd once you watch the whole segment. In fact, it seems to me that Williams was making, in a different context, pretty much the same point that Shirley Sherrod was about how we all need to get beyond our irrational prejudices.

And that’s what he got fired for ?

Ridiculous.

So, yes, NPR had every right, legally, to fire Juan Williams, but it seems pretty clear to me that he was the victim of the same unfair editing and rush-to-judgment that Shirley Sherrod was and that their decision to do so says as much about the biases at NPR as it does about any bias that Williams may have.

William Salaten at Slate makes the same argument:

I’m not saying Williams is the world’s most enlightened guy. He’s wrong, for example, about the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero. And it’s certainly unsettling to hear him admit that he worries when he sees Muslims in distinctive dress. But admitting such fears doesn’t make you a bigot. Sometimes, to work through your fears, you have to face them honestly. You have to think through the perils of acting on those fears. And you have to explain to others why they, too, should transcend their anxieties or resentments and treat people as individuals.

That’s what Shirley Sherrod did in her speech to the NAACP. It’s what Juan Williams did in his interview on Fox News. It was wrong of conservatives to take Sherrod’s remarks out of context. It’s just as wrong of liberals to do the same to Williams. The USDA, after reviewing Sherrod’s remarks in their entirety, offered to rehire her. Now it’s your turn, NPR.

It’s time for a little test of intellectual honesty, folks.

Update The analogy to the Shirley Sherrod story gets even more exact as Williams described how he was fired over the phone:

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    Well said. Agreed on all points here.

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  2. [...]  After reading Doug Mataconis‘ “What Juan Williams Has In Common With Shirley Sherrod” and viewing the quote in [...]

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  3. oxhop says:
  4. I would like Greenwald to watch the entire segment and then see what he says

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  5. Franklin says:

    This was a stupid firing EVEN IF the comments were viewed out-of-context. Are people not allowed to talk anymore? I don’t personally have the same irrational fear that Williams does, but that doesn’t make it illegal to have and to talk about.

    The fact that it was out-of-context and that he acknowledges that it is an irrational fear makes the firing doubly stupid, if that’s possible.

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  6. Mithras says:

    Seeing the full video in context, the most charitable interpretation is that Williams seems to be saying that it is right to be afraid of Muslims but wrong to act on that fear. Sherrod said nothing of the kind about white people. They are not analogous.

    Can someone on here who is defending Williams summarize his position differently?

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  7. TG Chicago says:

    @Mataconis: see Greenwald’s second Update

    The comparison to Sherrod is misguided. Sherrod brought up her feelings of bigotry in the context of explaining why those feelings were wrong and how she came to realize that she needed to fight them. Williams said no such thing. He said he’s afraid of scary Muslims, then never indicated that those feelings of fear were misguided or needed to be combated.

    Yes, Williams said some things later in the segment that did not demonstrate anti-Muslim bigotry, but the general impression was that it’s okay to be anti-Muslim as long as you’re only kinda anti-Muslim.

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  8. Mithras says:

    To be clear, what makes Williams’s statement unacceptable is that he takes the position that being openly Muslim can reasonably be interpreted as a threat. When you believe that about any religious group (or any large group, really), especially American citizens, it’s reasonable to think you lack the sense of fairness necessary to be a good reporter or commentator.

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  9. Herb says:

    “It’s time for a little test of intellectual honesty, folks.”

    From Think Progress? Yeah, right. They suck.

    I remember last year when they went after Paul Broun during the healthcare debate. They edited his remarks about treating depression at the emergency room in a way that fundamentally changed the meaning and tone of what Broun was saying. It doesn’t surprise me at all that they’re still doing it.

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  10. TG Chicago says:

    Just saw this comment at Saletan’s article in Slate and thought it was perfect:

    ——

    Sherrod – Told a story about how she overcame her bigoted views
    Williams – Told a story about how he has bigoted views

    How are those the same?

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  11. jb says:

    The irony of Doug Mataconis instructing us that it’s time for “intellectual honesty” is not lost on…well, anyone.

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  12. legion says:

    Actually, it occurs to me there really _is_ a commonality between Sherrod and Williams…
    – Williams: Went on Fox News to mouth conservative talking points; got fired
    – Sherrod: Worked for a reactionary, spineless jellyfish of a cabinet secretary; got fired

    The lesson here? If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

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  13. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Good thing none of the leftist posters here are in charge of our liberty. Williams did not say he was afraid, he said he was nervous when, as he may be boarding an airplane, he sees someone on that plane in Muslim garb. I guess the statement in open court, by a Muslim that we are in a war with Muslims is discounted because it would be politically incorrect to believe him. And besides, CAIR says we are not., The censorship exhibited by NPR will cost them. Doug is wrong. This has absolutely nothing to do with Sherrod and her scam Find the video “Stone age”. Watch it and then tell me what is so wonderful about Islam that you want imposed upon us. If you do not think that is the goal of islam you are just plain stupid. NPR is a left wing organization who believes in free speech for those who agree with their point of view.

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  14. mantis says:

    If an NPR commentator went on FOX News and said, “When I see a black person on the street, I get worried. I get nervous,” would that be bigotry, Doug? Would NPR be right, in your mind, to fire that person? (We all know FOX wouldn’t fire them; they would probably give them a show).

    Because, you know, it’s the same exact thing, unlike your false Sherrod equivalency.

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  15. If an NPR commentator went on FOX News and said, “When I see a black person on the street, I get worried. I get nervous,” would that be bigotry, Doug?

    There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved…. After all we have been through. Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets, how humiliating.

    — Jesse Jackson November 1993

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  16. mantis says:

    Would you have a problem with NPR firing Jesse Jackson for saying that, if he had worked there?

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  17. Mithras says:

    I didn’t know Jesse Jackson worked for NPR.

    Try again, Doug.

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  18. mantis says:

    Are you a big Jesse Jackson fan, Doug? Do you think he would make a good, objective journalist worthy of a position at a respected news outlet?

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  19. Mantis,

    No, you try again. Because taking 46 seconds out a six minute interview where Williams made the point that we need to move beyond our prejudices is just nonsense.

    I posted the Jackson quote because it seemed appropriate given your hypothetical

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  20. mantis says:

    I didn’t tell you to try again. I’m trying to get you to answer my questions. You refuse, apparently.

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  21. Ken says:

    I completely understand how people can look at the single quote from Williams and, reading it in isolation, conclude that it’s a statement justifying or encouraging bigotry. What I can’t understand is how you can still read it that way if you view it in the context of the rest of the things Williams said in the interview — like suggesting that we don’t blame all Christians for Phelps or Christian terrorists, or how O’Reilly’s rhetoric threatens to inspire hate crimes, or how it’s extremists, not all Muslims, who are responsible for Muslim extremism.

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  22. The answer to your question, quite obviously, would be that I cannot answer without knowing the context of the quote.

    In this case, based on what Williams said and the manner in which Think Progress edited his remarks to make him seem like a bigot, I don’t think he was treated fairly.

    NPR had the legal right to fire him, I don’t think they should have.

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  23. TG Chicago says:

    Mr. Mataconis, you are proving how wrong your Sherrod analogy is by posting the Jackson quote.

    Note how Jackson prefaced the comment by saying that it was “painful” to reflect upon those feelings. He was clearly saying that it was A Bad Thing.

    Williams said nothing of the sort. He never indicated that it was wrong to prejudge Muslims based on their “garb”.

    That is the difference. That is the point.

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  24. mantis says:

    Ok fine. Imagine a journalist for NPR goes on TV and says, “When I see a black person on the street, I get worried and nervous. But we need to remember that not all black people are criminals.” What do you think listeners are going to take away from that, other than the fact that this person sees a black person and instantly thinks, “criminal.” Do you not think NPR might find that problematic? You do realize that station is funded almost entirely by listener donations, right?

    How is “I’m not a bigot, I just instantly think “terrorist” whenever I see a Muslim” any different?

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  25. TG,

    And you’re revealing your bias by clearly not judging Williams for the totality of what he said, but for a 46 second clip cherry picked by Think Progress and designed to make him look bad.

    If Andrew Breitbart had done the same thing, I’m fairly sure I know what your reaction would be

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  26. mantis,

    If NPR is so cowardly that it doesn’t want to expose it’s listeners to different points of view then that’s just another reason for me to continue to ignore 99% of it’s programming

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  27. [...] know that Juan Williams was fired from his gig at NPR.  Indeed, here at OTB both James Joyner and Doug Mataconis have commented on the issue [...]

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  28. mantis says:

    If NPR is so cowardly that it doesn’t want to expose it’s listeners to different points of view then that’s just another reason for me to continue to ignore 99% of it’s programming

    There’s a difference between exposing listeners to different points of view and employing a bigot (and piss-poor journalist) in what is supposed to be an objective position of journalism. This is apparently difficult for you to grasp.

    If you did listen to NPR, which you just admitted you ignore, then you would know that there is a wide range of different opinions expressed on their shows, including a lot of opinions some listeners would find offensive. The difference, as you are willfully ignoring, comes when you start talking about who they employ. Do you think any of the nice moderate Muslims Juan talks about are going to be eager to be interviewed by him after he admitted he looks at them and instantly thinks they’re terrorists?

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  29. Lynne says:

    In 1980, after leaving work and walking to my car by myself, I was held up by two black young men. One of them held a gun to the side of my head while the other ripped my purse out of my hands and took my wallet. The one holding the gun then hit me in the head with the gun, before both of them ran.

    That was thirty years ago. To this day, when I am walking anywhere by myself, and a black man is coming toward me, my heart beats a little faster and I grip my purse tightly. Is it irrational to do this? Hell yes. My rational self realizes that not every black man is a criminal out to rob me, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have that momentary fear and panic.

    Ask the victim of any violent crime and they will tell you that it stays with you, in some form or fashion, for the rest of your life.

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  30. TG Chicago says:

    And you’re revealing your bias by clearly not judging Williams for the totality of what he said, but for a 46 second clip cherry picked by Think Progress and designed to make him look bad.

    Can you point to me where in the full clip Williams expressed any remorse or suggested that it was inappropriate to feel fear when he sees Muslims?

    Pretty sure you can’t. You’re revealing your bias by clearly not judging Williams for the totality of what he said, but the totality of what you wish he had said.

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  31. TG Chicago says:

    Adding: if Williams had brought up his fear, then continued by saying that he realized it was important to face these fears and overcome them, then we would have a situation analogous to the Sherrod case.

    However, he did no such thing. He just brought up his bigoted feelings then moved on as though there was nothing wrong with them. It’s stunning to me that you’re having such difficulty processing this clear distinction.

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  32. TG,

    I watched that full clip twice before writing anything.

    It’s pretty clear to me that Williams was talking about an irrational fear he experiences based on the events of September 11th. He emphasizes the importance of protecting the rights of all Americans including Muslims, as well as the political and other consequences of treating all Muslims as “the enemey”

    When O’Reilly asserted that Muslims attacked America, Williams responded:

    Hold on, because if you said Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals—very obnoxious—you don’t say first and foremost, “We got a problem with Christians.” That’s crazy.

    That’s what I heard, not the 46 seconds that Think Progress wants us to listen to.

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  33. PD Shaw says:

    I can only assume that some people hate Juan Williams with such white-hot intensity that they can’t be neutral about him.

    I’m rather ambivalent about him.

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  34. The funny thing is that Juan Williams just doesn’t strike me as the kind of person that would arouse such passion.

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  35. mantis says:

    The funny thing is that Juan Williams just doesn’t strike me as the kind of person that would arouse such passion.

    He wouldn’t if he didn’t work at NPR. Some of us like NPR because they produce high quality journalism, are willing to dig deeper into stories, and avoid pointless shoutfests that dominate cable and other radio news. Basically, we like them because they are the exact opposite of Fox News. We have no desire to see the Williams’s and Liasson’s of the world turn NPR into yet another piece of shit “news” outlet like all the rest of them. Williams will surely do fine, and make more money, continuing to jabber away with the rest of the idiots on Fox News.

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  36. I do get that mantis, which is why I’m typically listening to the BBC or POTUS on XM/Sirius. Cable news is worthless to me.

    But it’s worth noting that Williams had a career before joining NPR. I used to be with the Post, Inside Washington and CNN.

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  37. mantis says:

    But it’s worth noting that Williams had a career before joining NPR. I used to be with the Post, Inside Washington and CNN.

    I realize that. He works at Fox now. Good for him.

    FWIW, I find CNN and MSNBC to be as worthless as Fox.

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  38. TG Chicago says:

    So, Mr. Mataconis, you apparently agree that Williams never expressed remorse or suggested that it was inappropriate to feel fear when he sees Muslims. He didn’t on the O’Reilly show, and he hasn’t in any subsequent interviews I’ve heard about today.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates said it better than I:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/10/juan-williams-tossed-from-npr/64953/#comment-88869019

    ——
    The whole point of Shirley Sherrod’s speech was to show that her racial prejudice was, in fact, quite wrong–no matter her family history. Williams isn’t offering that point to say he’s wrong–he’s endorsing it. Had he followed the comment by saying, “But you know, I have to check my own feelings and realize that this is America, and people can dress however they wish, and a terrorist isn’t likely to dress in Muslim garb,” that would be different. That’s what happened with Sherrord. That Williams later disputed O’Reilly on a separate, but somewhat related point, doesn’t really change anything.

    It would be as if I said, “I’m not a bigot, but I admit when I buy something from a Jew I’m really suspicious, and I get to wondering if he’s cheating me.” And then a few minutes later I objected to you saying “All Jews are cheats.” All that means is I’m slightly less prejudiced than you. It doesn’t clean my previous claim.
    ——

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  39. PD Shaw says:

    I think the Left’s beef against Williams is that he’s identified as a liberal, when he’s not. I would agree that Williams is moderate or centrist, who merely looks liberal next to the people he appears with on Fox.

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  40. Drew says:

    Thanks, Doug, for a rational and complete presentation of the situation.

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  41. mantis says:

    Not surprisingly, Williams’s “When I see a Muslim, I see a terrorist” brand of commentary is highly valued at Fox:

    In wake of NPR controversy, Fox News gives Juan Williams an expanded role:

    The cable news network signs the analyst to a new three-year contract for nearly $2 million. Meanwhile, conservative figures blast the public radio network for its response to Williams’ comments about Muslims.

    Poor Juan. However will he survive?

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  42. [...] his credibility as a news analyst was undermined a long time ago. And I wouldn’t go so far as some in saying that Williams is the new Shirley [...]

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  43. An Interested Party says:

    “Ask the victim of any violent crime and they will tell you that it stays with you, in some form or fashion, for the rest of your life.”

    I’m sorry that happened to you many years ago and sympathize with why you feel the way you do, but was Williams personally victimized by 9/11? Is it rational to be nervous if you see someone who “looks” like a Muslim on an airplane? Would Williams be sympathetic to a white person who felt “nervous” if someone who looked like Williams approached him/her on the street…

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  44. [...] his credibility as a news analyst was undermined a long time ago. And I wouldn’t go so far as some in saying that Williams is the new Shirley [...]

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  45. TG Chicago says:

    To follow up on An Interested Party’s comment: I’m sure Williams was traumatized by 9/11. All Americans were. And that includes Muslim Americans who wear “Muslim garb” in airports.

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