The Last Acceptable Prejudice

December 2010

National Public Radio’s Juan Williams recently became the latest casualty of political correctness in the media this October. On Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News program, the senior news analyst told the talking head that he worries when he gets on an airplane and sees people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims. Even though he clarified his comment by emphasizing the danger of lumping all Muslims with Islamic extremists, Williams was accused of fanning the flames of American Islamophobia. The result: National Public Radio (NPR) immediately terminated his contract.

Not only was he fired, he was publicly blasted by his former employer. Explaining the controversial dismissal later in the week at the Atlanta Press Club, Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, said that Williams’s beliefs “should stay between him and his psychiatrist” — hinting that Williams is mentally unstable — and emphasized that the net­work’s reporters and news analysts should not express personal opinions. Curiously, Williams was fired not for voicing an “opinion” or a “belief,” but rather for making an honest comment about his visceral reactions to the 9/11 terrorist tragedies, one that presumably many Americans share — not because they’re bigots but because the fears caused by the 9/11 terrorist attacks have become part of the national consciousness.

Nevertheless, Williams was dealt a blow for allegedly being an anti-Muslim bigot. Diane Winston, a professor of media and religion at the University of Southern California, told USA Today (Oct. 22) that Williams went beyond his NPR journalist’s role by voicing his own opinions: “It seemed as if he was making a racist comment,” she said.

Racist comment? A man says he feels uncomfortable around Muslims on planes — and that makes him a racist? (After all, only racists make racist comments.)

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New Oxford Notes: December 2010

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