Freedom of Speech 101

Posted by on Oct 21st, 2010 and filed under Legal, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site

When I began traversing the blog world in 2004 it was commonly argued that the Internet was the last bastion of free speech.  If this argument regarding mainstream media “bias” holds true, then it makes sense that the blogosphere plays home to the last vestiges of communication liberty.  After all, it isn’t like most of us bloggers are actually pulling in a salary and benefits for typing about what we believe, so we don’t have to worry about what our bosses will think when they read our blogs or listen to our podcasts.  Oh, if only freedom paid the bills, then we could all say what we really thought without fear.

Isn’t that right, Juan Williams?

When I read in the news this morning that NPR fired one of their Senior News Analysts, Juan Williams I didn’t need to eat breakfast; I was too busy scraping my jaw off the floor.  I’ve listened to this guy for years; he’s calm and collected, incredibly professional and well informed.  He is not Rick Sanchez.  What the hell could Juan Williams have done to get fired from NPR?

Oh, that’s simple:  He admitted to being nervous around traditionally-garbed Muslims in airports.  According to the NPR story on Williams’s demise, his exact words were, “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.”

The official NPR stance is that Williams’ “…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.”  The “editorial standards and practices” NPR is talking about refer to their policy that News Analysts like Williams are not permitted to express opinions on the stories they cover.  

To be clear, an “Analyst”, according to the Free Dictionary, “examine[s] methodically by separating into parts and studying their interrelations”. You could say that Juan Williams, as a “News Analyst” observed that religious Muslims committed the atrocities of 9-11 via airports and, therefore, analyzed that one should think twice about their safety when encountering a heavily garbbed and, therefore, religiously observant Muslim in an airport setting, but that’s splitting hairs.

Okay, so NPR doesn’t want their “Analysts” expressing their opinions on air.  Williams must have known this when he was hired and accepted that unwavering objectivity was part of the job.  Nina Totenberg must have as well when she wished AIDS upon Jesse Helms on the air in 1995 and proceeded to be– oh, wait, Nina Totenberg was never fired for proclaiming that if there was “‘retributive justice’ in the world… Jesse Helms would ‘get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.'” Over a decade later, in fact, Nina Totenberg is NPR’s Correspondent for Legal Affairs in DC.

Maybe she can refer Williams to a good First Amendement lawyer.

It is one thing to claim Fox News leans right and MSNBC leans left.  It is quite another for a national radio network that operates on taxpayer dollars to fire one of their employees for expressing an opinion they obviously didn’t like.  But it was about more than just one slip of the tongue for Juan Williams.  Apparently, NPR has been building a case against their former employee since he signed on as a contributor to Fox News in 1997.  The NPR story on Williams’ firing states blatantly that, “Williams’ presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.”

NPR seems to be developing a track record for taking aim at employees who do business with Fox News.  Back in December, Politico reported that NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson was asked “…to reconsider her regular appearances on Fox News because of what they perceived as the network’s political bias.”  According to the report, “NPR’s focus on Liasson’s work as a commentator on Fox’s Special Report and Fox News Sunday came at about the same time as a White House campaign launched in September to delegitimize the network by painting it as an extension of the Republican Party.”

Isn’t the idea of the White House “controlling” the media supposed to be the stuff of fiction?  Didn’t the days of yellow journalism die with William Randolph Hearst?

Last week I was concerned because Joy Behar just up and walked away from Bill O’Reilly because they disagreed.  Now we have a publicly funded news network firing employees who dare to “talk to the other side”.  Bernard Goldberg is right, media bias is rampant.  Perhaps the blogosphere is the last, true bastion of free speech after all.

Speaking of which, Fox News reportedly offered Juan Williams  “…a new and more lucrative contract” that “…would be worth “nearly $2 million, a considerable bump up from his previous salary.”

Maybe it still does pay to speak your mind in the mainstream media after all.

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