FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Juan Williams Affair

by ALAN FARAGO

The problem with the Juan Williams affair is not his comment to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly; that Muslims in full dress on airplanes make him nervous– but Fox News itself. Over the course of many years, as the nation became more and more deeply immersed in its cloud, NPR bent over backwards to ensure its reports were free from taint of opinion irrespective of ideological origin. NPR performs a crucial service to the public despite a constant barrage of attacks from the right.

Juan Williams wandered off the NPR reservation when he signed up to be a commentator for Fox News. The reaction by NPR brass– to fire him, for his comment to O’Reilly– was wrong. He could have remained a pundit on NPR, like the late Daniel Schorr, so long as he never reported news again. The problem is that Williams is identified by NPR audiences as a journalist.

Fox is the most popular cable “news” outlet on television. It uses poorly trained journalists with bones to grind and grievances that deliberately stir fact and fiction and base emotions of fear and flight. When I listen to Fox News and its deliberate confusion of opinion and journalism and its effect on audiences, I think of feedlot cattle circling into narrowing chutes.

Juan Williams is smart. I don’t fault smart journalists for embracing the Fox platform (and paycheck) to expose mass markets to intelligence different from the dim wits who comprise so much of the Fox “News” lineup. But this deliberate confusion of journalism with opinion on Fox and its provocative results have substantially damaged our national interests. NPR brass may have done the wrong thing in making Juan Williams a symbol of their difference with Roger Ailes, but I understand how they got there.

As to the substance of Williams’ view, I too have reservations when I see Muslim dress on an airplane. But my reaction is substantially different from what I feel when I see Muslim women in burkas. It is an important distinction, and ties back to the Williams affair. The headscarf and burka are both symbols of cultural identity, but the burka imposes cultural difference between the observed and the observer on a matter central to Western civilization: individual identity. So I may feel uneasy on an airplane with passengers in Muslim dress. The burka, on the other hand, is antithetical to my belief system and government that protects all our freedoms.

This point was driven home in Miami recently at a hot yoga class where profuse sweating is part of the practice. At the University of Miami, a fair number of foreign students are from Muslim nations. I recognized the name of a young man next to me as one, from Saudi Arabia. A lot of thoughts crossed my mind, but one that never crossed my mind was to feel uneasy in his presence. (Everyone in class wears some version of a bathing suit. I have also taken yoga classes with Muslim women who wore head scarfs.) I wondered, for instance, what this young man’s life would be like in the future if he returned to the Mideast, whether he would be able in his own country later in life to take a yoga class with people of other colors and cultures or social and economic standing or whether it would just be a strange memory of a time when he experienced America as an outsider.

I thought how economic desperation tears at the fabric of civil society and how poorly equipped we are to understand each other as people, in no small part because corporations have more power than individuals. Like the News Corporation. Parsing our differences requires tolerance, empathy and understanding. These are such fragile accomplishments compared to the brute force of bigots, idiots, arrogance and self-righteousness. I did not think of Juan Williams at all.

ALAN FARAGO is a board member of Friends of the Everglades, and he can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

 

 

Alan Farago is president of Friends of the Everglades and can be reached at afarago@bellsouth.net

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 16, 2017
Paul Street
How Pure is Your Hate?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Did the Elites Have Martin Luther King Jr. Killed?
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Clobbers Ocean Life
Patrick Cockburn
The Terrifying Parallels Between Trump and Erdogan
Kenneth Surin
The Neoliberal Stranglehold on the American Public University
Lawrence Davidson
Is There a Future for the Democratic Party?
Douglas Valentine
Who Killed MLK Jr?
Robert Fisk
The Foreign Correspondent in the Age of Twitter and Trump
Dale Bryan
“Where Do We Go from Here?”
David Swanson
The Deep State Wants to Deep Six Us
Dan Bacher
Obama Administration Orders Speedy Completion of Delta Tunnels Plan
Mark Weisbrot
Obama Should Make Sure that Haitian Victims of UN-Caused Cholera are Compensated
Winslow Myers
The Light of the World
Bruce Mastron
My Latest Reason to Boycott the NFL: Guns
Weekend Edition
January 13, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Gregory Elich
Did the Russians Really Hack the DNC?
Jeffrey St. Clair
The President Who Wasn’t There: Barack Obama’s Legacy of Impotence
Anthony DiMaggio
Ethics Fiasco: Trump, Divestment and the Perversion of Executive Politics
Joshua Frank
Farewell Obummer, Hello Golden Showers
Paul Street
Hit the Road, Barack: Some Farewell Reflections
Vijay Prashad
After Aleppo: the State of Syria
John Wight
Russia Must be Destroyed: John McCain and the Case of the Dodgy Dossier
Rob Urie
Meet the Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
The Russian Dossier Reminds Me of the Row Over Saddam’s WMDs
Eric Sommer
U.S.-China War: a Danger Hidden from the American People
Andrew Levine
Are Democrats Still the Lesser Evil?
Linda Pentz Gunter
What’s Really Behind the Indian Point Nuclear Deal?
Robert Fantina
Trucks, ‘Terror’ and Israel
Richard Moser
Universal Values are Revolutionary Values
Russell Mokhiber
Build the Bagdikian Wall: “Sponsored News” at the Washington Post
Yoav Litvin
Establishment Narcissism – The Democrats’ Game of Thrones
David Rosen
Return of the Repressed: Trump & the Revival of the Culture Wars
Robert Koehler
War Consciousness and the F-35
Rev. William Alberts
The New Smell of McCarthyism Demands Faith Leaders Speak Truth to Power
John Laforge
Federal Regulator Halts Move to Toughen Radiation Exposure Limits
Norman Pollack
Farewell Address: Nazification of Hope
David Swanson
Imagine the Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Peace
CJ Hopkins
Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works
Ron Jacobs
Striking in Reagan Time
Missy Comley Beattie
The Streep
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: The Potential Impacts of Collective Inaction
Uri Avnery
Confessions of a Megalomaniac
Kenneth Worles
Black Without a Home: King’s Dream Still Deferred
Geoff Dutton
The Russian Patsy
Jill Richardson
The Coming War on Regulations
Jeremy Brecher
Resisting the Trump Agenda is Social Self-Defense
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail