Conservatives outraged at Juan Williams’ NPR firing didn’t care when CNN correspondent met the same fate

“I will no longer accept interview requests from NPR as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship,” said former Arkansas governor and Fox News talk show host Mike Huckabee today. He was responding to the announcement that Fox News analyst Juan Williams had been let go from a similar role at NPR. The firing was a result of comments made by Williams on Bill O’Reilly’s show, in which he said he gets “worried” and “nervous” whenever he gets on a plane with people wearing Muslim garb.

There have been hundreds of conservative bloggers and commentators who have attacked NPR in the wake of this firing, claiming political censorship and a liberal bias (the censorship issue stems from funding public radio receives from the government, though a large percentage of its revenue comes from private donors). Bill O’Reilly accused NPR of being a “left-wing outfit that wants one opinion.” Fox News contributor Bernie Goldberg told a Yahoo reporter, “So Juan Williams is fired for saying something the liberals at NPR find controversial? One more piece of evidence that liberals have forgotten how to be liberal.”

Reading over the commentary in many of the most popular conservative blogs, I wondered if these online pundits expressed similar outrage at CNN’s firing of Middle East editor Octavia Nasr for an offense that didn’t even occur on a major news outlet. CNN’s reason for terminating Nasr in July was for a now-deleted tweet that merely expressed sadness for the death of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a beloved Muslim leader in the Middle East whose death was mourned even by our own allies. Because Fadlallah had been reported to be a “spiritual leader”of Hezbollah by some sources, neo-conservatives accused Nasr of being a terrorist sympathizer despite the fact that her tweet didn’t include any support for Hezbollah actions or policies.

So how did conservative bloggers’ coverage of Nasr’s firing compare to Williams’? The conservative Hot Air said today that an “NPR opinion journalist had better not admit to having a normal human reaction about potential for terrorism nine years after 3,000 Americans got killed by radical Muslims on commercial air flights, or else.” This was, the blogger said, “an object lesson about the range of opinion tolerated by management.” But with the Nasr firing, this same blog asked whether “after having outed herself as a Hezbollah sympathizer,” CNN owed “its viewers and readers a complete accounting of their coverage in the Middle East and a complete explanation of Nasr’s role in it?”

The conservative media watchdog Newsbusters claimed today that “Juan Williams has done nothing wrong” and that “what he said echoes what the vast majority of Americans believe.” This is the complete opposite of the view it took on Nasr’s rather anodyne tweet. “CNN has finally taken a step in the right direction in removing a terrorist sympathizer from their ranks,” the blogger wrote several months ago. “It’s a shame it took this amount of publicity and attention from organizations like the MRC to get the job done, as Octavia Nasr should never have been granted the position of authority to begin with.”

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds included several links to stories criticizing NPR for the firing. “Is that all it takes to get someone fired at NPR?” the libertarian blogger asked rhetorically. I did a search on Reynold’s blog and didn’t find any posts matching the keywords “Octavia Nasr.” But Reynold’s fellow Pajamas Media bloggers had plenty to say about about both firings. “While awaiting the inevitable gig with Al-Jazeera, Nasr might want to console herself with a nice tasty dish of Helen Thomas’ Palestinian Chicken,” one blogger joked back on July 7. “It’s exploding with flavor!” This is the same guy who linked heavily to critics of the Williams firing.

Big Journalism, a conservative media watchdog owned by Andrew Breitbart (who got a black woman fired from a government position by posting a video maliciously edited to make her look like a racist), said back in July that it “would be tempted to commend CNN for firing Nasr and move on” but that it didn’t want to let “CNN off the hook too easily.” Today, this same site echoed the “censorship” argument. “A taxpaying-funded organization fired someone over their free speech? No! Shocker!”

Of course many of these bloggers would try to argue that CNN’s firing of Nasr was completely different. For instance, many are pointing out that NPR receives government funding and argue that this means it’s engaging in government censorship. But NPR is a nonprofit that receives a large percentage of its revenue from corporate and private donors. It’s not a government entity, merely one of thousands of nonprofits that receive government grants. Some of these bloggers would say that Nasr was a news correspondent, unlike Williams who was an analyst. But many of these same bloggers cheered on the firing of Helen Thomas after her YouTube remarks about Israel; Thomas had been an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers since 2000 and had only been an actual news correspondent when she worked for UPI before that.

Perhaps the most ironic attacks on NPR came from Fox News contributor and right wing blogger Michelle Malkin, who said today that “government-funded NPR has apparently caved into left-wing attack dogs on the Internet.” Malkin is claiming censorship now, but back in 2006 Malkin used her blog and its large audience to promote anonymous quotes from military officials who had arrested a Pulitzer-winning AP photographer named Bilal Hussein. Hussein had been detained by US forces without any formal charges, and for months Malkin and other conservative bloggers accused the photographer of aiding terrorists. Hussein was eventually released by the US government almost two years after it arrested him without charges. Many human rights activists and lawyers claimed that the photographer’s arrest was a form of censorship, given that his photography painted a gruesome picture of an unpopular American war.

Malkin has yet to show any remorse for the role she played in attacking Hussein during his detention, even after his release. So what’s the difference between Juan Williams and Bilal Hussein? Well, Williams made statements about how it’s understandable to be afraid of Muslims, whereas Hussein actually was a Muslim. For Malkin, this may be the only distinction that matters.

10 Comments

  1. Rattus Says:

    NPR is not a “quasi-gov’t” organization any more than Fox is at this point. After all, look at how much of the government Fox has bought!! Maybe that’s their beef?

  2. LauraNo Says:

    I’ve come to believe that most conservatives are just very bad people. I used to consider myself half liberal and half conservative (!) but they have disgraced themselves so thoroughly a person can not take them seriously.

  3. Paul Says:

    Your article was informative and enlightening, something much needed in a time of heightened senses. It seems that more than anything, it is a rush to capitalize. Conservative media smells blood, are regardless of angle or reason, they are going to be first to the kill, agenda in hand.

  4. ESM Says:

    This is a poorly reasoned argument. Let me make a few distinctions, in no particular order:

    1) Nasr was supposed to be an objective news correspondent, and she revealed potential bias that significantly undermined her credibility (for the record, I don’t think she “deserved” to have been fired, but it was a reasonable business decision on CNN’s part);

    2) Helen Thomas was widely known to be an anti-semitic whack job for decades. The crazy comments she made this year in public only let those outside the beltway know the truth. Although she had been working as a commentator/columnist for over 10 years at the time of her forced retirement, she was not treated that way by the White House correspondents pool (the press pool is supposed to be for objective journalists). She had the most prominent seat (middle, front row) at all White House press briefings and almost always got to ask a question when the President himself was present. It was simply unacceptable that a raging anti-semite (and a kook on top of that) should be able to hold on to such a prestigious post. We do not even know if she was fired from her job. We only know that it was likely that she would have been kicked out of the White House press pool if she hadn’t retired.

    3) Juan Williams arguably made a bigoted comment, but only because it was inartfully phrased. His main point was that there is a clear nexus between Islam and violent extremists who are targeting Americans, and to deny that being a Muslim is a risk factor in being an anti-American extremist, and that such risk factor increases with the degree to which one is strictly observant, is to deny reality.

    4) It is odd that we as a society are so concerned with anti-religious bigotry, and particularly odd that liberals (who generally seem scornful of religiosity) should be so concerned. Religion is not something you’re born with, like race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It is an association freely chosen based on belief and ideology. In the case of Islam, this is particularly true, since not only is Islam a far-reaching political ideology that fully describes a way of living and a system of law and government, but one can become a Muslim in 10 seconds by reciting a simple verse.

    5) Just to preempt rebuttals to the effect that Judaism is a religion too, and so my reasoning in (4) would mean that anti-semitism is not as bad as racism, I’ll make the obvious point that anti-semites have generally not made an exception for non-religious people with Jewish heritage or Jewish sounding last names.

    6) I think Rick Sanchez should not have been fired for his “anti-semitic” remarks. As with Juan Williams, I have seen little evidence that Rick Sanchez is a bigot.

  5. Adrian Says:

    All this post shows is that, as usual, liberals simply have no idea as to how conservatives think and what we believe.

    This entire incident begins and ends with the fact that NPR receives taxpayer funds, and a lot more of it than they like to claim. (NPR says it’s only 2% of their funding, but once you dig deeper and count the income they get from affiliates, which themselves receive much larger taxpayer subsidies, it’s more like 15 to 20%, depending on how you count it.) Once you accept public money, you have an obligation to make some semblance of an effort to reflect all major points of view in your programming. NPR’s management has now proven beyond and doubt that they literally have no interest in doing that, or even having on staff anyone who could be construed as wishing to do that. Thus, the calls from the right to finally end this charade and let NPR operate without taxpayer funding, where they will be free to operate however they wish, in as slanted a fashion as they wish.

    By the way, the canning of Williams was handled in a fashion that blatantly violates NPR’s own charter, which is indicative of a rot in NPR’s management. I seriously doubt this is the last we’re going to hear of ideological turmoil in that organization, regardless of whether they end up being defunded by Congress.

  6. Bob Says:

    The difference was not that Hussein “actually was a Muslim”, it was that he was suspected of giving aid and comfort – and useful intel – to our adversaries. Although NPR receives a small portion of its funding from the government, the VALUE of that portion is large – if it were not for the government support, NPR would have the same ability to attract corporate funding as any other public access channel. It is pendantic to simply state the small percentage of direct taxpayer funding as an indicator of how beholden NPR is to the government (and thus to government standards).

  7. Bob Says:

    LauraNo .. um, substitute the word “conservative” with the word “Muslim” in your first sentence and read it again.

  8. Alex Says:

    “For instance, many are pointing out that NPR receives government funding and argue that this means it’s engaging in government censorship. But NPR is a nonprofit that receives a large percentage of its revenue from corporate and private donors. It’s not a government entity, merely one of thousands of nonprofits that receive government grants.”

    Actually, the conservatives attack of NPR is worse than this. Imagine if NPR was like they say it is. Imagine if it was something like the BBC in my country the UK. The only way you can have a publicly funded broadcaster like the BBC, is if it retains its independence from the government of the day. And if NPR was the BBC, a Congress that defunded it over something like this firing would be actually the ones engaging in government censorship. They are essentially saying “NPR can only receive tax money so long as it editorializes towards conservatism”.

  9. Anti-Muslim Bigotry & Double Standards | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen Says:

    [...] to hold (and one I share).  I’m referring to those who rail against NPR’s actions by invoking free expression principles they plainly do not support and which they eagerly violate whenever the viewpoint in question is one they dislike.  For [...]

  10. Glen Says:

    NPR has admitted it handled the situation badly, but…Juan had been repeatedly admonished for his remarks and warned not to do it again. Simple litmus test. Replace the word Muslim with the words African American and I’m pretty sure no one would argue a firing. And you can tell me “it’s not the same a religon versus a race.” or “the terrorist were muslims, race is not the same.”
    Really? 12% of black males age 20-34 are in prison. In some cases 25% of the prison population is african american. It was clearly a bigoted statement and said on a public forum. Nasir was fired for expressing a condolences publicly, but as an idividual via twitter. It was not CNN’s twitter page, it was hers. Juan was on Bill O’Reily’s show with his name and NPR chryoned under his face. He was there as a rep of NPR. If anything this has exposed the biased of Fox News more than ever. Rather than distance themselves from it – they offer him a 2 million dollar contract because they want to hear more of it.

    There is no doubt that the terrorist who commited 9/11 where muslim and saudi. That act killed approx 3000 americans, including muslims. The war in Iraq, which resulted from that, has killed 63,185 civilians all of whom were muslim(US figures, Iraq argues that is 15000 below thier estimates). All at the hands of a mostly Christian USA. The only other large scale terrorist attack on US soil was the Oklahoma city bombing resulting in 168 deaths, commited by God fearing Christian US citizens. In the United States, the catholic chruch has paid out mroe than 2 billion dollars in compenstation for victims of child molestation at the hands of priests. In the US alone the John Jay report has counted more than 4392 priests and deacons in the U.S. against whom allegations of sexual abuse have been made. So are all catholics molestors, all christians killers? By Juan’s logic he should be nervous around blacks, christians, catholics, and the US government and speaking about it on Bill O’Reily.

    Lumping all people of a faith into a negative connotation is bigotry. NPR went about it the wrong way but they were right in doing it.


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