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Embraced by Fox, Juan Williams Blasts NPR

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Friday, October 22, 2010

Blacks, Muslims Wonder How Episode Will Affect Them

"30 Rock" Pokes Fun at NBC Diversity Efforts

Ex-Fox Technician Claims Racial Abuse in Control Room

Hollis Towns Leads AP Managing Editors Group

. . . . Gannett's Lovely, Church Win Diversity Awards

4 Ugandans Beaten After Paper Lists 100 "Top" Homosexuals

African Journalists Have Little to Celebrate, Group Says

Short Takes 

An angry Juan Williams tells George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday that "this current crew" in NPR's leadership "was really getting vicious."

Blacks, Muslims Wonder How Episode Will Affect Them

Juan Williams lashed back at NPR Thursday and Friday over his Wednesday night firing, as the network's CEO acknowledged it bungled Williams' dismissal and black NPR employees tied Williams' departure to their diversity concerns. The story was proving to be bigger than anyone imagined.

Some American Muslims, meanwhile, wondered whether the episode would make matters worse for them.

" 'The greater American public remains unsure about Islam and very often hostile about Islam,' said Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University, who examines the divide in his new film and book, 'Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam,' " Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times reported Friday for the Tribune Washington bureau.

"Ahmed said he was disappointed by Williams' comments. But he added that NPR's abrupt firing 'does not bring the temperature down against Muslims…. Now the debate is, are we being oversensitive to Muslims?' "

NPR fired Williams from his news analyst job after he told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous.

"Mr. Williams tempered his remarks, though, by reminding Mr. O’Reilly that all Muslims should not be branded as extremists," as Brian Stelter wrote in the New York Times. " 'We don’t want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy,' Mr. Williams said, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed."

Williams, a senior news analyst on NPR but a commentator on Fox News Channel, was told by NPR late Wednesday via telephone that it was terminating his contract. "His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," NPR said in a statement. The remarks also came in a week when NPR affiliates, which depend heavily on donations, were conducting a pledge drive.

In a FoxNews.com column and an appearance on O'Reilly on Thursday, and in an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday, Williams struck back.

"Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion," he wrote. "This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought."

On "Good Morning America," Williams said of NPR, "This current crew was really getting vicious. I’ve always thought the right wing were ones that were inflexible and intolerant And now I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR, if it's representing the left, it's just unbelievable that, you know — and especially I think for me as a black man to somehow, you know, say something that's out of the box, they find it very difficult.

"And I think that's right, George. I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me, that they were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity."

It was an unusual public denunciation of his former employers in an industry where burning bridges carries a risk: A boss at one network today might easily become a supervisor at your news organization tomorrow.

Vivian Schiller, the NPR CEO, framed Williams' firing as the last straw in a series of incidents, not simply over the comments on O'Reilly. Asked about firing Williams in a late-night phone call, she conceded in a staff meeting on Friday, "Was it a smart idea? No."

Black journalists who watched events play out declared Williams the winner after he emerged with a $2 million, three-year contract with Fox News Channel. But many did not buy Williams' arguments, although they did agree that there were racial implications to the developments.

"OK, so he worked for an organization whose leadership he supposedly found 'self-righteous, ideological, left-wing' and that treated him worse than 'Tricky Dick' treated his enemies," freelance writer Marjorie Valbrun wrote for Slate.com. "Yet he stayed with them for 10 years. I wonder when exactly he began to notice he was the only black male on air at NPR and why he did not publicly complain about this lack of diversity before?

"Now that Williams is feeling victimized, maybe he can imagine how Muslims must feel about his comments."

Williams was NPR's sole on-air black male voice for most of his career at NPR. The National Association of Black Journalists questioned NPR's commitment to diversity a year ago after Greg Peppers, one of two black men in NPR's newsroom management, was fired less than 24 hours after the network hosted NABJ at its Washington headquarters.

Schiller responded that "we are examining our overall diversity status critically," released NPR's own set of figures about the staff makeup and in December hired Keith Woods, one of the foremost trainers and educators in journalism diversity and then the No. 2 administrator at the Poynter Institute, the school for professional journalists, for the new position of vice president of diversity in news and operations. In August, NPR hired another black journalist, Wall Street Journal reporter Corey Dade, as a Washington-based digital news correspondent.

At staff meetings on Thursday and Friday, African American employees questioned whether blacks were being singled out for dismissal and wondered whether a white employee would have been fired in the manner Williams was.

Spokeswoman Anna Christopher did not respond to a message asking whether NPR planned to replace Williams, who had become a contract worker.

In the Williams-connected conversations about NPR's diversity, little was said about the on-air homogeneity of Fox News, which attracts the fewest black viewers of the cable news networks.

Joe Strupp noted additionally for Media Matters for America, "Whether or not Juan Williams deserved to be fired from NPR, it's clear that Fox News regularly airs far worse anti-Muslim commentary."

Williams maintained on "Good Morning America" that one reason he was so angry about his dismissal was that his remarks were taken out of context. After all, he said, he had a track record as a historian on civil rights issues.

Even so, Williams' statement that he felt nervous around Muslims dressed in "Muslim garb" on planes became a lightning rod, despite his additional comment that Muslims should not be stereotyped.

Sunni Khalid"I’ve been a Muslim for 32 years. I’ve been all over the world, especially the Middle East," Sunni Khalid, senior reporter at WYPR-FM in Baltimore, told Journal-isms.

"What the hell is 'Muslim garb?' I bet Juan and Bill O’Reilly couldn’t distinguish Sikh or Hindu traditional garb from Saudi or Kuwaiti clothing. What about people from Indonesia, who wear the black, oval-shaped songbok on their heads? I wear it when I travel. Should people from those countries, where the bulk of extremist attacks occur, be 'nervous,' too? What about Obama, when he hosts Karzai or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? I remember there was a time, not too long ago, when white women crossed the street when I was walking IN A SUIT! And, of course, it’s still tough to catch a cab in DC if you’re a black man," said Khalid, a former NPR foreign correspondent who settled a discrimination lawsuit against the network in 2003.

"Again, it should be pointed out that the 9-11 skyjackers were not dressed in so-called 'Muslim garb,' but Western clothes, in order to fit in. In fact, I’d be more comfortable to see someone dressed in traditional garb, because I could be assured that they had already passed through the same security measures that I had."

However, Asra Nomani, a scholar in the practice of journalism at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies, said Friday on NPR's "Tell Me More," "What Juan Williams expressed, I believe, is the sentiment of many people and including Muslims. Muslims profile each other all the time. When you walk into a mosque and you see other Muslims, you say, oh, look, he looks like a Jihadi. Or, that's a niqab, a woman who wears a full-face veil. It doesn't mean, you know, that we need to go to the point of civil liberties, you know, offensive or anything like that. . . . I believe, unfortunately, that NPR short-circuited a conversation that we really need to be having."

NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard reported that "NPR’s initial story garnered more than 6,800 comments, many supporting Williams and others asking why it took so long to fire him. At noon, the deluge of email crashed NPR’s 'Contact Us' form on the web site."

According to one national survey of 1,017 Americans Thursday evening, 46 percent of those polled said NPR was wrong to fire Williams, 19 percent said NPR was right to fire him and 35 percent said they had no opinion on the issue, according to Ted Iliff of the organization Poll Position.

The controversy went far beyond the journalism realm when former governors Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also are paid Fox News contributors, jumped to Williams' defense and called for a "defunding" of NPR by the federal government.

But as Andrew Phelps of public station WBUR in Boston noted, "NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government for operations," although individual stations benefit from grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"NPR does receive grants from CPB for special projects, but that funding is not included as part of the network’s operations budget," he wrote.

"So while federal dollars do flow to NPR, the connection is indirect. It may be a fine point, but it’s an important distinction. The federal government can’t 'defund' NPR. What Congress can do is cut CPB funding — which has diminished over the years and has, at times, been threatened."

The Williams affair at heart was a debate over the proper role of journalists, however.

"After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism," Stelter wrote in the New York Times. "By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics.

"Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, called the Williams case an 'object lesson in how different news organizations have different values.' She said the ethics guidelines at many news organizations matched those at NPR.

" 'If you make some outlandish statement on your Facebook page or at a public event somewhere, you are still representing your newsroom,' she said. 'So there are consequences to that.' "

This columnist was pleased to have participated Friday in a smart, hour-long discussion of the case with Mark Jurkowitz of the Pew Research Center, host Kerri Miller and listeners of Minnesota Public Radio, among other conversations.

Alex Baldwin and Queen Latifah in character on "30 Rock." (Watch the episode)

"30 Rock" Pokes Fun at NBC Diversity Efforts

The NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which pokes fun at the network, turned its sights toward the network's diversity efforts in its Oct. 7 broadcast, "Let's Stay Together."

The peg was the pending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, and their efforts to secure government approval by responding to diversity concerns voiced by such members of Congress as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. In the episode, Queen Latifah plays a Waters-like legislator.

Ex-Fox Technician Claims Racial Abuse in Control Room

"A black former Fox News technician is suing the network, saying he was fired when he complained that colleagues were pummeling him with racial abuse," Scott Shifrel reported Wednesday in the New York Daily News.

" 'This is what happens when you mess with white people's health care,' he recalled one colleague said while watching footage of a Tea Party rally protesting national health care reforms.

"Harmeen Jones insists he was subjected to a steady stream of 'racist, sexist, and extremely offensive comments,' against blacks, Muslims, Jews, women and Hispanics on a daily basis.

"The atmosphere in the control room at Fox's Manhattan headquarters caused him 'embarrassment, fear and humiliation and made him feel like he is somehow less than fully human.'

"The Manhattan federal court suit names Fox News Network and seven of Jones' colleagues and seeks $5 million in damages.

"In a statement, the network responded: 'Fox News has not received a complaint and therefore cannot comment.' "

Hollis Towns Leads AP Managing Editors Group

Hollis Towns

"Hollis R. Towns, executive editor of the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J., was elected Thursday president of the Associated Press Managing Editors at the group’s annual conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.," the association reported.

" 'I’m thrilled to be elected president of an organization with such a rich history and bright future,' said Towns, 46. 'I plan to build on the successes of the past year by growing the membership, extending our reach and launching an important national reporting project with The Associated Press.'

"Towns began his career at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter. He became executive editor at the Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer before being named editor at the Asbury newspaper, which is owned by the Gannett Co. . . .

"Brad Dennison, vice president of News & Interactive for GateHouse Media, and Debra Adams Simmons, newly named editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, were selected for the leadership ladder of APME.

"APME, an association of editors at AP's 1,500 member newspapers in the U.S. and newspapers served by The Canadian Press in Canada, works closely with the news company to strive for journalism excellence. APME also supports training and development of editors in a changing media landscape, as well as initiatives in online credibility and diversity.

"Otis Sanford, editor for opinion and editorials for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn., completed his term as association president and will become president of the APME Foundation." Like Towns and Adams Simmons, Sanford is a black journalist, as is Milton Coleman, president of the American Society of News Editors.

. . . . Gannett's Lovely, Church Win Diversity Awards

Randy Lovely, editor and vice president of the Arizona Bill Church, left, and Randy Lovely Republic, and Bill Church, executive editor of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., both Gannett news executives, are winners of the Associated Press Managing Editors' 2010 Robert G. McGruder Awards for Diversity Leadership.

"The awards are given annually to individuals, newsrooms or teams of journalists who embody the spirit of McGruder, a former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, former managing editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, a graduate of Kent State University and relentless diversity champion. McGruder died of cancer in April 2002," the APME said in its news release.

"This year, the ninth annual awards are being sponsored by the Free Press, The Plain Dealer, Kent State and the Freedom Forum."

The winners were officially recognized at the annual APME conference, which ended Friday at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lovely, who won in the large-paper category, accepted in a video. Church, the small-paper winner was present.

Each honoree was to receive $2,500 and a leadership trophy.

At least four men have been beaten after Rolling Stone, a Ugandan publication, printed names, pictures and addresses of 100 'top' homosexuals in the country. (Credit: Daily Mail)

4 Ugandans Beaten After Paper Lists 100 "Top" Homosexuals

"At least four gay men have been attacked in Uganda after a newspaper ran a front-page story listing 100 'top' homosexuals with a banner reading 'Hang Them,' " Britain's Daily Mail reported on Thursday.

"The paper also printed the men's photos and addresses alongside their names. Since the article was published the four men have had stones thrown at their houses, beaten, and many others have gone into hiding for their own safety.

"The article, published on October 9 in a Ugandan newspaper called Rolling Stone — not the American magazine — also claimed that an unknown but deadly disease was attacking homosexuals in Uganda. In addition, the piece said that homosexuals will recruit one million children in the next two years by raiding schools — a common smear used in Uganda.

"Members of the gay community named in the article have faced harassment from friends and neighbours.

"Significantly, the publication came out five days before the one-year anniversary of a controversial legislation which would have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts and life in prison for others."

African Journalists Have Little to Celebrate, Group Says

"With many African countries marking the 50th anniversary of their independence, 2010 should have been a year of celebration but the continent’s journalists were not invited to the party," Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday. "The Horn of Africa continues to be the region with the least press freedom but there were disturbing reverses in the Great Lakes region and East Africa."

The press-freedom organization provided a country-by-country summary.

"Two more African countries have entered the ranks of the world’s top 50 nations in terms of respect for press freedom," the report continued. "They are Tanzania (41st), although certain stories such as albinism continue to be off-limits for the press, and Burkina Faso (49th), even if justice still has not been rendered in the case of Norbert Zongo, a journalist who was murdered 12 years ago."

Short Takes

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Comments

Juan Williams/"Blacks-Muslims Wonder"

Thank you for a fantastic post, Richard. It's the best synopsis of events I've read so far, and it's very illuminating. Sunni Khalid's perspective was enriching. I thought a little context regarding Sunni's own experience at NPR would've been helpful. Following his dismissal as an international correspondent, he filed a suit accusing the organization of discrimination, partly, because he is Muslim. Asra Nomani's observation that Williams' firing probably short-circuited a conversation Americans should be having was thoughtful, and her comment that Muslims sometimes profile each other is insightful, and would be a great story about an aspect of that culture. But we'll likely never see such a story because news staffs aren't diverse enough to go so deep into that culture.

The Cover of Black.....

One of the usual themes that often surfaces when prominent  figures in the Black community are under duress from OJ, Professor Gates, Juan Williams and now even President Obama with his meltdown in the polls Black becomes beautiful once again....

Negrophobia has always had a long shelf life in America yet this condition is also a feature in many venues of Black life from class tensions in urban and suburban zip codes to Black immigrants  who embrace Black stereotypes....

Negrophobia is toxic in all shapes, color and sizes.....

Juan Williams/"Blacks-Muslims Wonder"

Thanks, Darryl! I've taken your suggestion and added a little context on Sunni.

Juan Williams: Questions about NPR

Richard, as usual, you have provided the most insightful approach to a controversial national news story. Thank you.

I am troubled, however, by the tender manner in which Vivian Schiller is being portrayed. This statement gave me pause:

"The story was proving to be bigger than anyone imagined."

Actually, this story was an easily predictable outcome.

Had Vivian consulted with ANYONE outside of her emotion-driven sphere of inner circle advocates, who also need help seeing the obvious, she could've easily side-stepped this controversy, which has not only put NPR in a bad light during a time of critical fundraising, but also enboldened the Fox News Network, gifted a rallying cry for the GOP and helped to galvanize the Republican base on the eve of an important mid-term election that threatens the president's influence in Congress.

Vivian Schiller also opened NPR up to public scrutiny of long-time criticism of its lack of diversity, yet another obvious problem she appears to need help resolving.

Vivian admits her decision to fire Juan Williams in the manner she did was not a smart thing to do. She admits it was the straw that broke the camel's back. But questions remain regarding HOW she decided to make the phone call. Did she consult with anyone? Did she hear about Juan's statement and call him in a fit of rage? Did she have someone else call him? What were the steps, from the time she learned of Juan's statement to the time the call was made?

This was not only a predictable outcome, but it is one that ought to call into question the process in which Vivian Schiller makes important decisions that impact NPR and its affiliates.

I think she has turned the spotlight of public scrutiny squarely upon NPR ... and herself.

Schiller's Medical Advice

Super commentary about the incompetence and bigotry of Vivian Schiller ..I am also troubled why so many Black media figures are not upset with Schiller's advice to Juan Williams that he should consult a psychiatrist..

In America there is a long legacy of attacking Black men who dare to have an opinion as being "crazy" or having mental issues...Even the bigotry of Juan Williams did not warrant him being assaulted with this venom...

Black Men our mental condition

Mike,

As a Black activist I am often assualted and attacked with venom of being "crazy" or having some mental shortcomings....It would encouraging to observe Black media figures discussing how Vivian Schiller inserted this notion in her comments about Juan who despite his bigoted remarks did not warrant being alluded to as needing the services of a psychiatrist..

Re: Williams and NPR

There is documentation of NPR's uneasiness with Williams' straddling both networks and Schiller did discuss with Williams her concerns which led to the elimination of referring to him as a NPR analyst on Fox's airwaves.
With all the hoohah about whether he should or should not have been fired, there has been decreasing examination of what he said and what it actually means in the discourse of stereotyping, irrational fear and profiling a group which bear little connection to the infiltrators who continue to wreak havoc in the world.
I would imagine all of us carry a form of profiling when presented with a perceived uncomfortable situation which may arise from intuition or paranoia. Williams' vocalized perception came more from paranoia than his "spidey sense" going off when he sees someone in Arabic garb. It is okay to verbalize and validate paranoia on national airwaves when it's not warranted or necessary? The post-View conversation could have gone on without that particular exchange but it became a show-stopper (much as O'Reilly's comment did on ABC) and few people have examined the acrid atmosphere that would allow either comment to go unchallenged or evaluated.
I would have favored suspension rather than firing although what Williams said was monster-in-the-closet/under-my-bed stupid especially from someone whose mind is usually more discerning. But Schiller did what she did and I respect her for doing it instead of waiting for the roiling outrage/defense to blow past the moment. Her decision didn't spark the contempt some feel for NPR, PBS or any other entity not corporately, conglomerately controlled. Palin and the ilk already disliked NPR so this would have come up at the next congressional hearing after the Repubs regain the House.
Whether she consulted Woods before she made the call (and she did call him) might be elucidating for the purpose of conversation but it was her decision to make.
What I'm interesting in seeing is whether this whole incident changes Williams' discourse now that he's joined the Foxes in the henhouse.....

Juan Williams, Victim

It seems to me that context has been left out of this discussion.  For the better part of a decade, Fox News has engaged in a relentless effort to make dark-skinned people appear evil and malevolent.  It's not only a reflection of the ideological inclinations of the people who run the place and work there; it's a business model.  Success in cable television is usually found in narrowcasting; Fox saw that there's a slice of the American populace that is predominately white, male, elderly (the median age of Fox News viewers is an astonishing 65 years old), intellectually non-diverse, at least vaguely intolerant in matters of race and afflicted with a sense of being besieged by the multi-culturalism that is an inevitable by-product of an interconnected globe.  They understand that there is much money to be made by catering to the prejudices of this demographic; they are also quite conveniently unencumbered by the sort of ethical compass that might prevent them from exploiting this sort of ignorance and ugliness.

 

The danger for Juan Williams in appearing on Fox has been to avoid a role that's akin to being the one black friend of a white racist.  "How can you say Fox is racist?  We've got Juan Williams on our staff!"  Fox's version of Michael Steele, his presence is designed to give plausible deniability to a network whose depictions of black and brown people result in their nightly audience being  less then 2% African-American.  In this environment, the danger of being co-opted to serve the corporate interests of your employers has to be considerable, and Williams often seemed to be uncomfortably straddling the chasm between sober analysis and the memes Fox's audience wants to hear.  Thus, you would have a longtime chronicler of the civil rights struggle referring to Michelle Obama as "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress."

 

This is the context within which Williams appeared on O'Reilly's show.  O'Reilly has been relentless in his conflation of Muslims with terrorism; indeed, that bigoted, inflammatory conflation, and the controversy it engendered when he indulged in it on "The View," was what Williams and O'Reilly were discussing when Williams uttered the sentences that resulted in his firing from NPR.  The whole thing was actually pretty pathetic: white guy is accused of bigotry, so he grabs his black friend to get assurance that he's not a bigot, and black friend (with the economic incentive to do so) provides absolution.  Black friend says a few things later on to cover his own tracks.

 

As far as I'm concerned, Juan Williams is just another accomodationist/media whore in a world that's absolutely filled with them.  He has been playing both sides of this fence for a long time, and his act reached its expiration date.  He can now be the face of African-American opinion on a network that routinely depicts our nation's first African-American president in tendentious, bigoted terms.  The network where they have long debates about the President's middle name, where his American citizenship is questioned, where a fist bump is termed a "terrorist fist-jab," where he is deemed to have a "deep-seated hatred of white people," where he is "in tight with the New Black Panthers," where he is regularly called a socialist, and on and on and on.

 

We are truly living in a topsy-turvy world when an enabler of bigots can be seen as a victim, simply because one of his employers has decided they've had enough of his duplicity.

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