National Public Radio's heavily-publicized firing of Juan Williams last October reaches its inevitable climax this month with the release of Williams's anti-PC diatribe Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate. In the book, the Fox News commentator rehashes the day NPR canned him for saying "I get worried, I get nervous" when encountering people in Muslim garb on an airplane. Reviews also describe him elaborating on left-right tactics for silencing free speech. The book has gotten some interesting advance readings from political heavyweights, including President Obama's adviser David Axelrod and President Bush's former adviser Karl Rove, who both approve of Williams's book. But first, an excerpt published today by Politico in which Williams recounts being approached by Fox News, the day after he was fired:
Just after 8:00 a.m., I got a call from Bill Shine [Fox News executive vice president of programming]. He told me that Fox CEO Roger Ailes wanted to see me in his office at 10:00 a.m. Since I had talked with Hannity the night before, anxiety and pent-up anger and depression had all pulled at my emotions. I had not slept. At times I had cried over what had happened and over the potential destruction of my career – all because I had spoken my mind.
When I walked into Roger Ailes's office, accompanied by Shine and Michael Clemente, the senior vice president for news, Ailes greeted me with a smile and said, ‘Well, we can’t have you working here.’ As my jaw dropped, he broke into a laugh. He waved his hand and said he was offering me a new three-year contract with an increased role at the network. Ailes asked me how much I made at NPR and said he’d make up every dime so I wouldn’t have to go home and tell my wife and family we’d lost money because of NPR’s actions. He also said he wanted to see how America’s left-wing media and politicians reacted to a serious journalist being silenced this way.
Lavishing praise on the book, Axelrod, in the book's blurb, says "For any American who fears the coarsening of our political debate has become an impediment to our progress as a people--and, more importantly, is wondering how to fix it--Juan Williams has written a book well worth reading." Rove piles on the praise, calling Williams "both dangerous and highly constructive."
"He is both of these because, although he is a liberal, he is also a well-informed independent thinker," writes Rove, a fellow Fox News talking head. "Driven by conviction and evidence, he is not afraid to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. He’s a liberal with whom conservatives can have an honest debate and sometimes find common ground. And while I don’t necessarily agree with every observation or opinion in this book, it is Juan’s candid appraisal of the condition of political debate in America. It ain’t a pretty sight.”
The book review magazine Kirkus Review, however, panned the book, calling it a self-serving polemic about the "big bad PC police of the Far Left""
True enough, we live in a time when the gravest offense often seems to be to give offense in the first place, even though there are plenty of people—and plenty of them on Fox—who make good livings doing just that. Williams is not especially convincing in that generalization; to read this account, it seems he may just have had a toxic relationship with his boss, herself recently gone after a political misstep of a different kind. To be fair, he concurs that some Fox types, particularly the soon-to-be-gone Glenn Beck, are guilty of stifling and shouting and incivility, though this admission comes in a rather roundabout way: "So while my friends at Fox frequently and courageously expose the use of this tactic of political correctness by the Left, it's important to remember that the Right plays this game too." Most of the book is unobjectionable—sure, it'd be nice if we could all play nice and Al Franken wouldn't roll his eyes at Mitch McConnell. Even so, much of the narrative is a long exercise in complaint about his bad treatment at the hands of NPR management, in which Williamsoverlooks, it seems, the Ailesian right-to-work credo, which holds that all employees serve at the pleasure of their bosses and there's no such thing as tenure or appeal. Who lives by the sword, after all...
In the end, about the last thing the civil-discourse cause needs, namely more self-interested preaching to the choir.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.