Cheers and Regards for the Week of October 25, 2010

If you ever get an e-mail from a journalist, there’s one portion of it you should pay attention to more than any other. No, it’s not the part where they’re asking you about how you said seeing Muslims made you eat your own arm off once; it’s the sign-off.

If it’s “Cheers,” you’re cool. You did OK. If it’s “Regards,” you pissed somebody off, and you better figure out how to fix things, quick.

We apply those same tenets here, every week. And this week was a humdinger.

REGARDS to Juan Williams, NPR and FOX News.

To Williams, not only for his initial comments about being afraid when he sees Muslims at the airport (though the full transcript reveals he was illustrating a bigger point about how it was wrong to feel that way), but even more so for his defiant response to NPR firing him over those comments. Certainly he has a right to be mad, but slinging mud at his former employer and putting words in the mouth of revered, now-deceased newsman Daneil Schorr only makes him look bitter. On top of that, saying the comments that got him fired weren’t bigoted? That’s all kinds of wrong.

To NPR for overreacting, making Williams a martyr, and looking suspiciously like they won’t stand for their commentators to have anything but the most politically correct opinions. Is it bad to say you’re scared of anyone you see dressed in Muslim garb? Absolutely. But it’s also a natural reaction, even for the most liberal, tolerant people out there. I don’t doubt Williams and lots of other people feel that way, at least until their brains kick in and tell them it’s preposterous. Williams even made that point. This firing simply confirms for many FOX News viewers a belief they already held: that NPR quashes real discourse just as much as NPR’s listeners think FOX does. Williams has said some things that should raise eyebrows and might even be worth taking him off the air, but it shouldn’t have been this.

To FOX News for seemingly rewarding bigotry. You’ll notice that FOX didn’t offer Williams a $2 million contract after making his original, measured point. Only after NPR cut him loose for generalizing about Muslims did FOX scoop him up with as much fanfare as they could muster. Was that act a rallying cry for honest discussion? Maybe so. But it sure looked like they wanted to get their hands on the guy NPR didn’t want because he said racist shit.

CHEERS to a whole bunch of commentators who wrote brilliantly about the whole fiasco.

To Slate’s William Saletan for rightly pointing out how similar this case is to the Shirley Sherrod debacle. It’s not a perfect comparison, but there are certainly some similarities, the key one being the fact that the speaker’s comments were taken out of context to make him/her look like his/her remarks were quite different from what was actually said.

To Gawker (I know, I was just as surprised as you) for articulately explaining the repercussions of Williams taking the FOX contract. A formerly respected civil rights writer has cemented his new reputation as “that guy who gets scared when he sees Muslims.” Worse yet, he’s become a trophy. And he’s letting FOX make him into those things.

And finally to NPR’s own ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, for admitting the firing wasn’t handled well. In addition to the earned self-flagellation, she gives good arguments for why Williams couldn’t continue to simultaneously be an NPR commentator and a FOX talking head. Too bad they couldn’t put the whole thing in that context, you know, before they fired him.

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