The great institutions of the political left — government, academia, and the arts — are realms of fantasy and self-delusion. They exist to provide a refuge from — or a tool with which to reshape — reality. They are massive, expanding universes of make-believe. This week, NPR news analyst Juan Williams — a man who spent his entire career dealing in facts — found himself a victim of the creeping ether of fantasy generated by these institutions.
On Monday, Williams said publicly, “When I get on a plane, I gotta tell ya, if I see people in Muslim garb, and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims. I get worried. I get nervous.”
For that, NPR summarily canceled his contract. Williams said he was told he had made “bigoted statements.”
That’s curious phrasing because no one believes Juan Williams is a bigot. A Washington reporter respected on both the left and the right for his honesty, integrity and professionalism, Williams has built a national reputation as a thoughtful, considerate journalist. He has written eloquently on race relations in America (he’s for them), and he is known for presenting opposing views fairly and accurately. Bigotry? Utterly unbelievable.
NPR doesn’t even claim Williams was fired for being a bigot. The term Williams used when relaying the conversation with his superior was “a bigoted statement.” Welcome to Fantasy Island.
Either Williams is a bigot or he isn’t. If NPR thinks he is, it could easily say so and terminate his contract. The trouble is, he isn’t. And that’s demonstrable. In addition to his entire body of work, Williams is exonerated by words he uttered on the same national television program on which he spoke his offending (to NPR) statement. On the same show, he said that Americans shouldn’t stereotype Muslims. Obviously, the comments for which he was fired were not intended to advocate or justify stereotyping Muslims.
So why fire a non-bigot for making a non-bigoted statement? Perception and spin.
Council on American-Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad released a statement: “NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats.”
But of course that isn’t what Williams said. He simply stated that he feels worried when he sees self-identified Muslims on board airplanes. He wasn’t saying people should feel that way. He didn’t say he was proud of feeling that way. He just said it was a reality that he has that reaction.
At NPR, there is tolerance for a cornucopia of viewpoints and perspectives. But reality? There is no tolerance for that.
CAIR pretended that the comment expressed support for treating all Muslims as terrorists. NPR, in turn, pretended to agree, even though Williams categorically and convincingly disavowed such a view on the very same program and afterward. In the world of make-believe, the actual thoughts expressed by one’s words are meaningless; their meaning is determined by the thoughts, feelings and perceptions others form — or pretend to form — in response.
To NPR, the actual human being named Juan Williams, with whom the executives and staff have worked for years, is unimportant. With that one statement, Juan Williams transformed himself from man to symbol. To NPR, he was no longer Juan Williams, colleague, but Juan Williams, symbol of intolerance and bigotry.
What really sealed Williams’ fate was that he made his comment not on NPR, but on FOX News, and worse, on The O’Reilly Factor. NPR took Williams’ comment out of the context of the conversation in which it was said, but in the context of the company in which he said it.
Since Williams became a FOX News contributor in 1997, he has become, in the words of an NPR executive, a “lightning rod.” Many NPR listeners view Williams as a collaborator with the enemy. It doesn’t matter that he expresses a generally liberal viewpoint on that network. What matters is that he gives it legitimacy by merely appearing on it. Williams pained many NPR listeners by shattering their delusion that FOX News was purely a right-wing hate factory. Others feared that his presence would give non-liberals the perception that FOX News is a credible news network. They, without even watching it, knew that it wasn’t.
For NPR, Williams comment was the pretext for which it had been waiting. It canceled his contract without even giving him the chance to explain himself — to the brass or the listeners. There would be no “teachable moment,” as the president likes to say. Williams had to go back on FOX News — that symbol of hatred and bigotry — to air his defense.
As he explained, “It’s not a bigoted statement. In fact, in the course of this conversation with Bill O’Reilly, I said we have an obligation as Americans to be careful to protect the constitutional rights of everyone in our country and to make sure that we don’t have any outbreak of bigotry, but that there’s a reality. You cannot ignore what happened on 9/11 and you cannot ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism, and you can’t ignore the fact of what has even recently been said in court with regard to this is the first drop of blood in a Muslim war in America.”
Williams, rather pathetically, was reduced to defending himself with facts, never realizing that the ordeal that ended his NPR career was never about facts. To NPR listeners, people whose views have been shaped by the fantasy-creating institutions of the left, he had long ago become a symbol, by his affiliation with FOX News, of bigotry and intolerance. Monday’s statement merely gave them and NPR’s management the cover with which to hide their preconceived biases while acting on them.
NPR and so many of its listeners continue to present themselves as champions of freedom, tolerance, and truth — and FOX News by contrast as the primary force for intolerance, spin, and deception. Yet FOX News reacted to Williams’ firing by immediately hiring him. NPR, operating in the fantasy world of symbolism and perception, lost an honest, accurate, and fair journalist. FOX News, operating in the real world, gained one.