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ATWG Answers: Is Juan Williams a Bigot?

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Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Question:
Curious: Had Juan said something to the effect that he’s aware that some people cross the street when they see a group of Black people walking along, I don’t think he would have been fired. In this case, he’s speaking of a stereotype that sadly resonates in 2010.

On the other hand, was Williams simply being honest? Does it make him a bigot instantly for his feelings on being on a plane with Muslims?

Answer:
For those of you who don’t know, Juan Williams was fired from NPR for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show on FOX News. O’Reilly had been under fire for making comments about 9/11 on ABC’s “The View” and Williams tried to help his coworker (Williams is also paid by FOX) by saying, “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil-rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

He was subsequently fired from NPR, and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller gave her reason—this quote is from an article on NPR’s website: “As a reporter, as a host, as a news analyst, you do not comment on stories.”


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Schiller said such restraint was a vital part of NPR’s code of ethics, which states that news staffers cannot say things in other public forums that they could not say on NPR’s airwaves as well. “Certainly you have opinions—all human beings have their personal opinions,” Schiller said. “But it is the ideal of journalism that we strive for objectivity so we can best present the positions of people around all parts of the debate to our public so the public can make their own decisions about these issues.”

I think Vivian Schiller has a real problem: In the eyes of the public, the press has moved on from this concept of “objectivity” in the mainstream press. No human being can be objective, and in the overwhelming majority of content created, “journalism” has only had the veneer of objectivism, not the substance of it. In addition, the line between “news” and “entertainment” is gone in the minds of almost all consumers. Indeed, the majority of NPR’s content isn’t objective. What’s objective about Michel Martin’s show? Or Diane Rehm? I think both women are very fair, but they’re not objective—and I wouldn’t listen to almost every one of their shows if they were (love those podcasts). Further, what’s completely objective about The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal? Not much, but I read both. I even subscribe to the website of the bloated provocateur-propagandist, Rush Limbaugh.

The process of diversity management is to stop “objectifying” people and start viewing them as individuals. I don’t think Juan Williams should have been fired. Perhaps he is a bigot (don’t know him well enough to decide), but what he said is certainly bigoted and ignorant. I think he certainly needs to get to know some of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslim people.

But here’s the thing: NPR knew Williams was a rising star at FOX News—and you go to FOX for what? Enlightened dialogue? Reasonable discourse? Intelligent conversation? Please. Feeding fearful people more stuff to scare them and whipping up xenophobia is their trade. Williams’ comments about Muslims fit right in.

If NPR’s CEO said “Juan Williams has persistent problems, he’s alienating our core audience, he doesn’t reflect our values and we just don’t have a place for him anymore,” she would have been on more solid ground.

Given her comments, I don’t think he should have been fired. Is he a bigot? Time will tell.

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45 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Just goes to show ya, Juan hung around Fox media way to often, it softened his objectivity. The same things happens from watching. Note I did not say Fox News, they do not deserve the title.

  • Anonymous

    I really would not have a problem with anyone on a plane. We all go through the same security checks so, for me no problem at all.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know Juan Williams but strictly based on the comment that he stated that he gets nervous or frightened when people dressed in Muslim Garb get on the plane do not constitute bigotry but a sense of fear developed out of the 9/11 attacks and the three wars that are currently going on to which the US is involved. There have been many people who fear black men dressed a certain way and will avoid them out of fear. There are people who would avoid a group of white men dressed a certain way and will avoid them. When they are asked why did they avoid these people, I’m sure they will speak from a position of fear more so than racism or bigotry. I don’t think that if their answers are televised, their employer should fire them. If the President reads, this let him know this too is a form of bullying to which I was a victim as well in a wrongful termination. Just my thought.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. I think if a newsman said get on a plane with black people made him very nervous, he would very definately be considered a biggot.

    Aslo this was also in the context of Bill O’Reilly referring to Muslims as trying to kill Americans on 9/11. He was reinforcing the stereotype.

  • Anonymous

    If Education Is Key to Ending Bias , what does this say about Juan Williams’ education?

  • Anonymous

    I believe he should be fired, I also donl;t believe it is right to give him the position at FOx that he has been offered. He is at fault for making that statement weather it is his belief or not. If any other reporter had made this same statement but referenced the african american community they would have been fired on the spot and would not be a hot topic. There is no way you can make a statement of this type in today’s world. I would hope that the majority of Americans are able to judge by individual rather than by clothing or any other association. Maybe Juan wanted to be fired, he came out aith a pretty sweet deal, and now he will probably sue NPR and collect more, but these dollars will come from us who fund the NPR!

  • Anonymous

    It is unfortunate that we live in times when specific groups of people are scapegoated with the few deviants among them. Not all Muslims are terrorists, just as all blacks are not militant, though many are convinced otherwise. And Mr. William’s comments are indicative of that same prevailing sentiment; we all respond to fear and memory, but enlightenment tempers reaction to such sentiments…At worst, Mr. Williams’ sentiments were poorly stated!

  • Anonymous

    I thought that the objective of diversity programs was to be honest about feelings, then discuss how one will deal with others. People can’t control their feelings but they can control their behavior. If that’s correct, then Williams’ statement that he experiences fear – whether it’s rational or not – in the context of 9/11 – is NOT “bigoted” – he’s just expressing his feelings. He spent the rest of the time on the Fox show challenging O’Reilly to be open-minded. Williams is not only NOT a bigot, his commentary is an example of what diversity SHOULD be – open, honest, and unafraid to speak.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Williams comments could not come at a better time .being a African American he should know better then again Clarance Thomas dissapointed many African Americans. ITS ELECTION TIME and the same for Bill O’Reilly . the conservative right wing need to look in the mirror and check themselves when they want to govern by fear. the people do not want to be lead that way. Racism, sexism and disablism rule in the United States and that is a shame because we have so many talented leaders that do not want to enter the realm of politics because of the non sense of the conservative right wing. its o.k. to express your views, its o.k. to disagree but to scare people to death is unacceptable and to use a certain race or religion to further your agenda is a complete disgrace. this is what America has come too and I’m ashame to be an African American-Native American Indian

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you in this way: Vivian Schiller’s comment, as you have written it, is ridiculous. An opinion is entirely different from an objective newcast. But other forums, including the Washington Post, as report that Schiller realized the error of her ways in making this statement and has apologized for it. The reasons as reported earlier than Diversity’s report and afterards, for Williams’ firing indicate that NPR and Williams had a long-standing issue of disagreement. I have seen Williams on Fox and have been surprised at some of the positions he took and the statements he made in comparison to those he made on NPR broadcasts. I had a hard time resolving what I thought seemed to look like conflicts in his thinking or reasoning. Unfortunately, I cannot recall any specific instances that I can repeat here, but I just remember the feeling that I got while listening to him on Fox (my husband watches Fox, I am not a fan, but I listen because it’s on).
    I agree with your characterization of Diane Rehm’s and Michel Martin’s NPR shows as commentary, rather than objective news, but they make no bones about that. They are talk shows that involve guest appearances and questions, by themselves and callers. They don’t reflect an objective telling of news events in large part.
    However, Fox bills itself as a cable news venue and there is little, if any objective news conveyed at any time on that network. It’s a mouthpiece for the extreme right and works to disseminate propaganda that is calculated to support conservative candidates and causes. That is not to say that every commentator who appears on any Fox show is in line with that agenda, but I am at a loss to name anyone (since Combs departure from the Hannity insanity) who was on regularly and expressed a different point of view.
    I found myself disagreeing with Juan Williams on a regular basis on NPR, but I appreciated that he brought something else to the table.

  • Anonymous

    Luke,

    Kudos to you for pointing out how Vivian Schiller’s rationale for firing Mr. Williams doesn’t hold any water. I listen to NPR daily (I have since college) and am also a frequent FOX News viewer and have enjoyed Mr. Williams on both stations for many years. While I disagree with Juan on many issues (I am a libertarian/conservative) I have always respected both his deeply held convictions and his civility toward those who do not share his beliefs. If more people on both the right and the left exhibited Juan’s willingness to have a respectful and productive dialogue with those on the other side rather than resorting to partisan demagoguery, we would probably be able to accomplish much more as a nation.

    Nor do I think Juan Williams is a bigot. He was expressing what he recognized as his own prejudices. Very similar to Jesse Jackson saying that it is painful for him to “walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved”. Without a frank, open, and honest discussion of these types of prejudices and what causes them they fester.

    Nine years after 9/11 amid escalating tensions surrounding Islam in America (the mosque near ground zero, the FL pastor who threatened to burn the Qur’an, etc.) we are overdue to have this dialogue as a nation. Ignoring something does not make it go away.

  • Anonymous

    First, a brief lesson in some fine points of the English language. Objectifying is not the same as being objective. Please consult your local dictionary. Objectifying (bad) means making an object of someone, to remove humanness and depersonalize them. Being objective (good) means taking a position that considers all the facts. In that sense, the media does have a responsibility to maintain objectivity. When human nature or politics takes individual reporters away from that standard, it is to our collective disadvantage. The further the media removes itself from objectivity, the more disadvantaged we become as a society. We lose our ability to make informed judgements and instead swing from hyperbole to hysteria at the whim of whatever network we watch. When one watches idealogues like Limbaugh or even John Stewart, we must expect that objectivity is sacrificed at the expense of ratings and entertainment, but it is to our shame that we don’t demand more objectivity from our mainstream press.
    Williams comment was a reflection of his feelings. And, his feelings show his prejudice. Why should anyone be upset simply because someone choses to honor a religious custom in thier dress? What if he’d said he gets nervous if someone is wearing a yalmeka, or bindi? His remark is only seen as tolerable because it plays into the mass hysteria and orcastrated distrust of Muslims. To tolerate it is condone the measage that Muslim dress alone is sufficient cause to distrust an individual, and that prejudice is acceptable – as long as it’s the way you feel.

  • Anonymous

    One would think that Mr. Williams would have used a bit of logic or common sense before making the comment. There was a time, and maybe still is, when a white person was afraid or nervous to be in an elevator alone with a Black man just because of his color. If a muslim is out to do you harm he/she is certainly not going to dress in “Muslim garb” because of the attention it would draw. Also, all that wear headdress are not Muslim and all Muslim don’t were headdress. People of the Shiek religion are not Muslim but they do wear headress, as do some native African people who are not Muslim. The kkk are christian terrorist and the only ones I know that have commited terrorist acts wearing the headdress. I think the influence of arrogant ignorance on Mr. Williams by the fox media propaganda machine (everything right out of Joseph Goebbel’s play book) has affected his ability to be objective.

  • Anonymous

    Williams may not, in fact, be a bigot himself; however, his words were a license for bigotry and hate. Insert “in Latino garb,” or “who are Gay” or “who have HIV,” and the comments are just as condoning of inequality and stripped of the post-9/11 bogosity. Schiller fumbled the attempt to explain the decision to dismiss Williams, but NPR did not commit a foul in the dismissal itself. Faux News accrues viewers through spectacles of intolerance like O’Reilly, and that does fly with NPR’s listeners.

  • Anonymous

    He is a bigot. I can’t believe a person of color would talk that way. Clearly its all about the money. Hate seems to be the cool thing now. No bullying policies that we as a society want should apply to all its citizens..
    Any news network who supports a particular candiate or speaks hate speech on air should be given a montary fine. I applaud for NPR having standards which very few news agency have.
    All civil society should be on the same page….no bullying..no hate speech…it has to stop…it is destroy the core of our American Values.
    thank you

  • Anonymous

    It was a racist remark. You can sugar coat it all you want, it was a racist remark. He was condeming an entire race for the actions of a few. Just like it is done against Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. We’re in the 21st century technology wise, but many people minds are still stuck and concreted in the racist days of the the 17th-20th century. Sad, because as long as this continues, America will continue to be a backwards nation. It’s too bad that all the technology that we have, we still can’t get rid of racisim and bigotry

  • Anonymous

    I never watch Fox and it surprised me to see Juan Williams in there. I understand where Williams was coming from. Flying back from Europe I saw a very large group traveling to Mecca for the Haj and I mentally was relieved they weren’t on my flight. I made the automatic association of muslim garb and suicide bombers.

  • Anonymous

    Folks on NPR have said much worse things and haven’t gotten fired. Juan was just doing what he always does…being honest. Millions of Americans feel the same way. What he said is neither bigoted nor irrational. Since 1972 3,098 have been killed by Muslims in America in 67 terror attacks. The last terrorist attack against America was by an Islamist (Much to mayor Bloomberg’s angst). The next major terrorist attack will be by an Islamist. It will likely be on an airline or mass transit system. Some Americans have figured out that you can silence most people instantly by labeling them. Millions of Americans have been beaten into submission (figuratively), scared to death of being labeled a racist, or a bigot, or a homophobe. I will give you the best example. I voted for President Obama. I have found that I am diametrically opposed to many of his policies and I will not vote for him again. But, I have observed directly on numerous occasions that anyone who criticizes President Obama is immediately considered, quote… “a redneck racist”. It is very sad.

  • Anonymous

    Shame on Juan. I was not aware of the incident until I heard the discourse of Bill O’Reilly and Carl Rove.on O’Reilly’s show several nights ago. (I don’t know why I hesitated on O’Reilly’s show when channel surfing to find the Philly/Giants game.) Their motive was to slay Ms. Schiller of NPR and their funding with dialog typical of them outside of the instant debacle, instead of protecting Juan Williams. I was so embarrassed for Black people (I’m Black) as he sat their with a deer in head lights expression on his face while two so very unlikely people (Carl Rove!!!) disparaged “liberals” and Rev. Sharpton for not protecting Juan. The naivety displayed around this instant matter was most uncomfortable to me. Juan, even more embarrasing, made a comment to the Rev. Sharpton quip suggesting that he wasn’t in the Rev. Sharpton camp. (Rev. Sharpton gets a point on the score board.) Like the response to a compelling portion of a baptist sermon, O’Reily and Rove amened Juan with transparent conviction. (Did you feel this, Juan/) What a mess Juan go himself into. I always enjoyed his thoughts on various subjects as he shared a seat on mind expanding panels. But over identifying with the far right, on Fox, no less, just because Fox has courted you, Juan, might be construed as the covers coming off. Who is Juan Willaims, some would ask? I would, too. For the professional embarrassment you exprience, those who love and support you as a person, and all others of similar mindsets, I feel for you. For such comments that tarnish the entire Muslim population, because of your personal fears, and running to O’Reilly for comfort I’ll only miss the intellignet Juan, not the ignorant one.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting point but the best diversity programs, training, books, materials – focus on breaking through barriers and beliefs that keep us from having an open mind to new cultures, religions, beliefs that might be different from the ones we are most comfortable and familiar with. Breaking through those barriers allows individuals to basically get more done because they have gotten past a false impediment like sexual orientation, accent, country of origin, race, or religion. Diversity is not about changing either person in an encounter-it is about making those people stop and reflect on their actions before they act on them-and try to frame their behavior and remarks in a context free of any preconcieved beliefs. In any setting that is fostering diversity awareness this does not mean that “all is forgiven” or say “anything you like” because NOW everyone is just open and accepting. Juan’s fear based on how a person is dressed, is certainly his own feeling – but still an ignorant and bigoted feeling and I am sorry he epxressed it in a public forum, ie., anywhere outside of his home or car. I have read and reread all of his books over the course of my life; i know the dialogue from almost every episode of Eyes on the Prize. Perhaps he has gotten comfortable sharing his feelings with viewers while on the Fox network, but the feeling he shared was extremely bigoted. We would all be embarrassed if a child or family member made a remark like “I don’t want to sit next to so and so at school because they wear the same pair of shoes everyday”. Juan’s comment in terms of newsworthiness and value … had the same degree of value. The “garb” of any passenger in an airport is as relevant in terms of the purpose of the setting as the “garb” of a customer in a store or a student in a classroom – unless that garb prevents someone from learning, shopping or safely taking off and landing, the attire is really very personal. Thank you to everyone that commented on the various items of attire warn by muslims, moslems, and other residents of the globe. Thank you Luke for your outstanding response. Any thoughts on Mrs. Thomas’ request for an apology? Yes, it is a full moon this week. I am not more fearful because of it, but personnally… I have noticed that in general people do seem to behave a little differently when the moon is full! Have a good weekend, cliffi79

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