Double Standard: Juan Williams

Imagine for just one moment if someone uttered the following words on national television:

“I got to tell you, if I see people who are Black, I get worried.  I get nervous.”

Or what about, “If I see people who are in Hasidic garb, I think they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Jews, I get worried.  I get nervous.”

If we heard these words spoken, many of us would be offended and rightly so.  But imagine if the person who spoke these words, rather than being repentent, stated that he was merely telling the truth, that he was just expressing his feelings.  How would we, as a society, react?  Would we find this an acceptable explanation?

Our answer can be found in the example of Juan Williams.

Speaking about Muslims on the October 21, 2010 episode of The O’Reilly Factor, FOX’s Juan Williams said the equivalent of these remarks and yet there was little to no outcry from the public.  Yes, Williams was fired from NPR.  But NPR was swiftly attacked for it, from the right, from FOX News and from members of Congress.

There were no loud voices of outrage in the media.  There were no headlines claiming that Williams had said or implied that Muslims were responsible for “all terrorism.”  No one called Juan Williams a bigot.   The mainstream media didn’t call him “anti-Muslim” or claim that he had a “meltdown.”

Instead, Juan Williams was rewarded.  His comments proved to be one of the biggest boosts to his career in years.

Just one day after these comments, Williams got a raise from FOX News, which signed him to a new $2 million per year three-year contract.  FOX News Chief Roger Ailes even praised Williams: “Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at FOX News in 1997.  He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by FOX News on a daily basis.” [emphasis added]

And just a few weeks after his raise at FOX News, Williams got signed to a two-book deal by Crown.  His publisher said that Williams first book would, “focus on free speech and the growing difficulty in America of speaking out on sensitive topics.”

Juan Williams’ comments are offensive to Muslim-Americans and even Muslims worldwide.  He says he was fired “for telling the truth.”  If sweeping generalizations and fearmongering are so easily defended, then we’ve reached a new low in our political discourse.

Somehow, in spite of his comments, Williams became the posterchild for free speech, a symbol and hero for the right that this country has gone too far in political correctness and stifling discussion and debate.

No one begrudges Juan Williams his success, his new multi-million dollar a year contract at FOX News or his book deal with Crown.  However, what we do ask is that an honest, intelligent and legitimate debate in this country take place about why it is acceptable to make statements about some ethnic or religious groups that we would dare not make about others.

It seems only fair that everyone in the media should be judged by the same standard.