Juan Williams Tossed From NPR

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A few considered thoughts from Juan Williams on Muslims:


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. 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.

NPR promptly terminated their contract with Williams. Jeff worries that this means we're heading into a chilling age of anti-free speech:

I think what I'm reacting to so strongly here is the Inquisition-like state of journalism today, in which speech deemed offensive to Jews and Muslims in particular is considered immediate grounds for firing. Juan Williams's statements on Islam and terrorism could have provoked an interesting debate about profiling, about the place of Muslims in society, about finding a middle ground in the battle against Islamist terror. Instead, they have led to a conversation about his firing, and they have provided the extreme right, which I believe has a very destructive and simplistic understanding of the threat posed by Islamist terrorists, with another free speech martyr.

I don't really believe that the extreme right needs Juan Williams to justify anything. In fact, I think that gets it exactly backwards. The simplistic understanding comes first, and then anything that looks like evidence is marshaled forth. Pam Gellar really doesn't need any proof to endorse the notion that Barack Obama is the love-child of Malcolm X. Proof is beside the point.

Moreover, I think we often overstate the difficulty of not uttering foolish thoughts. Every one of us has, at one time or another, thought something truly abominable. But we've generally learned not to speak those thoughts, not simply out of politeness, but because we know that most of those thoughts are demonstrably wrong. We are, in other words, not just concerned with hurting people feelings, we're concerned with sounding like idiots. Among people who talk for a living, one would hope that the sense would be better developed--not less. I'm a writer. The bar for me clearly and intelligently expressing myself should be higher, not lower, than someone penning a letter to their Congressman.

I recognize that, in point of fact, media often doesn't actually work that way, and often operates on another set of values, including, but not limited to, volume and outrage. I'm not clear on why NPR has to associate itself with those values. Frankly, I feel the same way about CNN and Sanchez. This is not about free speech. Sanchez and Williams are free to say whatever they want--just as their employers are free to dissociate themselves from their remarks in any legal manner they choose.

I'm all for free speech. But I would not expect my current employer to allow me to use this space to vent, as fact, all the prejudiced thoughts that fly through my head. I guess I understand how you come to believe that someone in Muslim dress is less American, or that Michelle Obama is actually "Stokely Carmichael in a dress." But I'm not clear on why, in this era of blogs and social media, NPR then owes you their association. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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