ATWG Answers: Is Juan Williams a Bigot?

A DiversityInc reader asks the White Guy if NPR's former news analyst's remark about Muslims makes him a bigot or if he was just being honest. Read the White Guy's answer here.


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."

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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Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 18 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

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