When Juan Williams Said Something Worse

NPR should have fired Juan Williams not last Wednesday but nine years ago. The cause for dismissal should have been this radio commentary that I recall hearing him deliver as I was driving through Salina, Kansas on September 14, 2001:

He said in part,

“This week, Neil Livingston[e], an anti-terrorism expert, told me there is only one meaningful response to terrorism. That is to absolutely extinguish the terrorist. That means using nuclear weapons on terrorists in any country that harbors them . . . Despite my non-violent instincts, I found myself reluctantly agreeing with Neil.”

Williams noted that soon after he drew that radioactive conclusion, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, got him to reconsider it “for a little while.” But then, he said, “I went back to Livingston’s camp” because “these are unreasonable times.”

Unreasonable indeed. I imagine that today, Williams would plead that he’d just gotten caught up in the anguish of the moment. And by mentioning his vacillation over the wisdom of a nuclear attack, he may have felt he was leaving some room to argue that he had not really endorsed it.

But even at that time, three days after 9/11, no one but foamy-mouthed extremists (one of them Livingstone) was advocating nuclear first strikes. If Williams wasn’t sent packing for that kind of talk, there is no reason to have fired him for his recent comments.

After tipping his hand in that essay, Williams went back to playing his usual role as spokesperson for the Establishment. By dumping him in 2001 when he should have been dumped, NPR could have reduced somewhat its output of bland conventional wisdom—a variety of verbiage that sounds especially irritating when rolling off the tongue of a fanatic.

STAN COX’s most recent book is Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World.  He can be reached at: t.stan@cox.net

Stan Cox is the author of The Green New Deal and Beyond : Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (City Lights, May, 2020) and one of the editors of Green Social Thought, where this piece first ran.