Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR Fires Juan Williams. An explanation from someone that doesn't really care.

The Washington Post's Debbi Wilgoren and Paul Farhi reported Thursday:

Veteran journalist Juan Williams was fired from his job as senior news analyst for National Public Radio late Wednesday because of comments he made about Muslims and terrorism on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel.

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country," he said. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

I’ve known lots of people that have been fired from their jobs, only on a very few occasions has there been one and only one reason/incident to cause it. We can only know about this firing what we are being told, so conjecture is natural, but also virtually pointless.

As far as what he said, yes, it does sound a bit racist, a bit as if he’s looking at people who merely look a certain way and reacting in fear because some people that looked like this did something for him to fear.

Anthropologically speaking though it’s quite natural. Our ancestors who may or may not have evolved from ape-like creatures lived in constant peril. They had to be vigilant. The appearance of a known threat, lions, tigers, bears, marsupials, or even other humanoids sparked a fear reaction, a flight or fight response. Not being as fast or as agile as many predators, observation, even paranoid fear, gave our knuckle dragging ancestors an advantage. Thus it seems natural too that even something that merely looked a little like a predator would spark that same reaction, the fleeing could begin before the predator even came into full view.

This trait is not restricted to humanoids or the space aliens from which they evolved. Many lower animals, the ones god sent to us to kill and eat, also use this ‘paranoia’ this ‘don’t wait till it’s close enough to harm us’ fear-reaction to take flight. Thus plastic owls can successfully scare off creatures that use sight as a primary sense and are subject to being murdered by owls.

As humanoids we certainly have evolved from our original ancestor, a lump of clay, with sight being our primary sense. Thus when our Founding Fathers saw something that even looked a little like a threat, the flight/fight sense tingled, the successful ones flew/fled/flit. Those guys eventually produced offspring (after getting married, of course) in higher numbers than those that just stood there and said “Hey cool, what’s that heading this way? Is that a . . .AAAARGGGGGGGH!”

So, it’s probably a successful and natural reaction to feel fear when seeing something that even just vaguely reminds you of a threat.

But Mr. Williams’ sin was not that he reacted quite naturally, it was that he admitted it on national television for his bosses to see.

You see we’re not supposed to always admit publically what we really feel, especially if it flies in the face of popular popularism. We’re not supposed to tell the lady in our office that she’s really, really hot. We’re not supposed to tell anyone if we are gay. We’re not supposed to tell anyone that we enjoy wearing gender-inappropriate underpants. The truth is simply not always appropriate. Discretion is certainly the better part of maintaining employment.

I frankly have no problem with his admission of being afraid when he saw someone in an airport being overtly Muslim. (even though the 9/11 terrorists were reportedly wearing khakis and polo shirts). It is, like it or not, and perhaps unfortunately, natural and in this case there were no actual actions taken (beatings, lynchings, name calling, oppression, poll taxes) resulting from his fears. But he seriously screwed up, he went on TV and spoke the unspeakable.

Was NPR right to fire him? I dunno, I don’t know that I have all the facts.

Was he right to say what he said? Hmm, that’s more complicated. I mean if I went on local or national TV and admitted that I fantasized about this or that perversion (mind you, not admitting to actually doing anything like that) my wife/boss/livestock might get worried that someday I might act on those feelings…Would It be right to divorce me? Fire me? Pine for the mercy of the butcher’s axe?

Perhaps NPR was afraid that his inability to quash his fears was going to interfere with his ‘so-called’ objectivity. Maybe they thought it already had. Maybe they merely thought the public reaction (and by public I mean the estimated 200-300 people who actually listen to NPR) would be anger and rebellion amongst the Marxist, ultra-liberal tree-hugging, latte-sipping, wine and brie crowd that I stereotypically pretend NPR listeners are.

Jobs in radio are tenuous at best, you are completely at the mercy of what your fickle listeners think.


NPR may have simply acted out of primal fear towards the mere possibility of a threat to their livelihood without actually looking the situation over all that closely.

Which of course they should never admit to.