Responsible for his own utterances
You've probably heard by now about the latest outrage against free speech committed by the supposedly Radical Left-Wing Main-stream Media. Juan Williams, Fox News' house black liber-al, was fired from his day job at National Public Radio be-cause he told Bill O'Reilly, Fox's Prince of Fairness and Balance, that he got nervous when a Muslim-looking per-son got on a plane with him.
NPR immediately termin-ated Williams, about as clum-sily as possible, saying it did-n't want to employ someone who "seems to believe that all airline passen-gers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats."
Upon which Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman (who has come a long way since he was shilling for Richard Nixon) gave Williams a three-year contract worth $2 million. He called Williams "an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis."
And Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, chimed in with: "why [is] Congress spending taxpayers' money to support a left-wing radio station?"
Leading me to say:
Oh come on. Can we get real here?
In the first place, as a card-carrying left-wing radical liberal (it's a library card) I object to calling Williams a liberal. Yes, he's done some nice work on the history of the civil rights movement, but I've always thought of him as a conservative trapped in a liberal's body.
This episode might then be thought of as his "coming out," leaving him free to be the person he always wanted to be -- the black Rush Limbaugh. Is that unfair? Perhaps, but it's my honest opinion and that's the beauty of free speech, right?
That's essentially Williams' defense: he was expressing an honest attitude toward seeing Muslims on a plane and what's wrong with that?
Where to begin?
Were he to get pulled over by a cop who made him get out of his car and submit to a full body-search, would he say "That's OK officer. I know you're just expressing your honest feeling that most black people driving nice cars are criminals"?
Were he a Jew, would he be as accommodating if a public figure said that it was his honest opinion -- his feeling -- that Jews will cheat you if they can?
One can have "feelings" based on ethnic, racial or religious stereotypes -- and sadly most of us do -- but if you're a public figure, it's best to keep them to yourself. To do otherwise is to feed the bonfire of unreasoning hatred and prejudice that's burning out of control in our society right now, particularly with regard to Muslims.
Every time I issue a call for religious tolerance -- remember when that was non-controversial? -- I get hate mail from people taking me to task for being tolerant of a "false religion" (Islam).
And when I point out the moral outrages committed in the name of Christianity, like the Crusades and the Inquisition, I get letters from people who say things like: "There were instances where the Crusaders went beyond the military requirements of the mission, and these are of course regrettable. But these were relatively rare."
The Inquisition? It was "set up to give 'defendants' a fair hearing."
And the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre was a soccer riot that got out of hand.
Williams had a constitutional right to say what he did; that doesn't mean he's not responsible for his words and shouldn't suffer consequences for them. Two million isn't a bad consolation prize. I'm sure he'll rest happy in the bosom of Rupert Murdoch, his kind of guy.
If I were him, however, I wouldn't say anything nice about Barack Obama. At Fox, that's a firing offense.
One more thing. Someone should tell House Minority Leader John Boehner that NPR isn't a "radio station," nor is it "left-wing." It's a national radio network serving a loose confederation of local stations that pro-vide a touch of sanity and a sometimes mod-erately liberal tenor that disrupts the wall-to-wall craziness that is Right-Wing radio.
OtherWords and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.