By Barry Rubin
The firing of Juan Williams by NPR is important for a dozen reasons–violation of free speech; a demonstration of NPR’s leftist bias; Political (In)Correctness run wild; an insanely ridiculous example of the inability to deal with Islamism; and so on.
But there’s one aspect that has not been addressed. The attack on Williams is the first big leftist attack designed to demonize, destroy, and silence a certified liberal. Well, perhaps not the first ever but the first really understood and highly publicized one.
Up until now, of course, conservatives have been often demonized and, given liberal suspicion toward that side of the political spectrum, many liberals have believed whatever they’ve been told by often highly partisan and dishonest sources, failing to insist on fair play. Ridicule Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party, or others, and moderate, traditional liberals will accept it without checking quotes, listening to responses, and demanding accuracy. If someone is being wrong, silly, or racist, say so. But first check it out to make sure that’s true.
Such caution and care is rare nowadays. Up until now, a lot of people have been happy to see those they didn’t like being bashed–fairly or otherwise–without asking too many questions. The same standards of accuracy and fairness should be applied to everyone. Then if you hear that someone said or did something outrageous you know that it’s true and not just a smear.
Yet these are precisely the qualities that have declined as all too much of academia and journalism have turned into partisan propaganda outlets rather than places where people struggle for objectivity and accuracy in the search for truth.
Western society depends on open discussion and reliable watchdog institutions to preserve democracy, come up with the best possible ideas, and maintain civility. But now due to ideology and arrogance, the left-pretending-to-be-liberals has gone too far. People who have swallowed all of the often-false claims about conservatives–their ideological and political rivals–start to ask questions. Up until now, the majority of moderate liberals have said, in effect, that it didn’t matter if “bad” people were treated unfairly.
An analogy here is the way that Republicans and conservatives were generally tolerant toward McCarthyism between 1950, when he went after the Truman Administration and liberals, until 1954 when the senator attacked the U.S. army, the respected General George Marshall, and even President Dwight Eisenhower himself, in a way that exposed his recklessness and the fact that anyone could be accused of treason.
The only thing worse than a witch hunt is a witch hunt being cynically manipulated to intimidate large social groups, open discussion, and courageous individuals. Today, one cannot help but once again hear the echoes of Martin Niemoller’s famous poem, which ends, “Then they came for me/and by that time no one was left to speak up.” Thus, moderate liberals may well laugh when they hear Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who has been smeared, whatever her very real shortcomings, say, “I’m you.” But for real liberals, Juan Williams does fit that description.
Here’s how the liberal media critic Howard Kurtz responds to the Williams’ case:
“This was a blunder of enormous proportions. Even many liberals–Donna Brazile, Joan Walsh, Whoopi Goldberg–are castigating National Public Radio for throwing Williams overboard….His firing has backfired…making Williams a symbol of liberal intolerance….”
But that’s not all! Kurtz criticized NPR for accepting Soros money and criticized the New York Times for–as it all too frequently does–twisting a story ideologically and leaving out key elements for partisan purpose:
“Yesterday was the day that NPR announced a new grant—$1.8 million from liberal philanthropist George Soros to hire 100 new reporters. No news organization should accept that kind of check from a committed ideologue of any stripe. Even if every journalist hired with the cash from Soros’ foundation is fair and balanced, to coin a phrase, the perception is terrible. (This New York Times story didn’t even mention Soros’ liberal views. The guy just gave a million bucks to [the left-wing site] Media Matters. Hello?)”
Incidentally, the problem isn’t just that Soros is an “ideologue” but also that he is a controversial person who shouldy be subject to journalistic investigation, as well as critical news coverage, himself. This should also raise the question of Soros buying uncritical or positive media coverage for himself. But back to Williams.
The closer one examines the Williams’ incident the more horrifying it is. For example, in an interview, Vivian Schiller, the NPR official who fired Williams cited, as one of his previous offenses that should have gotten him fired, that Williams made fun of Michelle Obama, suggesting it would hurt her husband if she went on behaving like, his term, Stokely Carmichael [a radical “Black Power” activist of the 1960s and 1970s) in a dress.
Schiller also suggested that Williams should not speak publicly about his views but confine them to conversations with his psychiatrist, thus simultaneously insulting Williams and exposing how NPR officials want to stifle free speech, even in other news media. In other remarks, NPR official statements said that Williams had violated the network’s political “line,” thus admitting that this tax-supported station is an ideological political organ.
On top of this, Williams is one of America’s most seasoned, respected, and articulate African-American journalists. So charges of racism are not going to stick here. He is also a powerful spokesman for reasonable, moderate, non-radical liberal viewpoints. If he has to go work for Fox to voice them, that’s a message in itself.
One can hear such points being made often in the Washington Post and suddenly there are more and more journalists who are fed up with having to act like partisan lap-dogs. But where are the moderate liberal, anti-radical blogs, outspoken intellectuals, and mass media saying that they don’t think either Barack Obama or Sarah Palin are the best choices for America? Or that patriotism and a strong foreign policy should not be the monopoly of the right? Or that the size of government, level of spending, and extent of taxes should be limited in order to get out of this recession but they have their own priorities and ideas for how to do this?
Make no mistake, the Williams case is a landmark in getting real liberals to realize the extent that their institutions have been taken over by the far left, which has used this power to trash professional ethics and transform entertainment, educational, and media institutions into organs of lies and indoctrination. Coupled with the coming Democratic defeats at the polls, it reminds real, moderate liberals that being pushed too far to the left is suicidal. None of them are safe, as intellectuals or as politicians from attack and unemployment, respectively.
This is not mainly a liberals versus conservatives battle, it is a struggle between the far left–sometimes allied but always soft regarding radical anti-American forces abroad–against both real liberals and non-extremist conservatives. If radical forces abroad are going to be countered and defeated, this battle is going to have to be fought, too. The Williams’ case defines the issues precisely.