Juan Williams' 'Muzzled'
Juan Williams is still mad at National Public Radio.
That's one lesson from his new book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate (Crown Publishers), which leads with Williams' recounting of his 2010 firing by NPR after he had acknowledged (to Fox News' Bill O'Reilly) his "fears" of Muslim passengers on airplanes. Williams went on to say that people should not let reflexive fears "color our judgment or lead to the violation of another person's constitutional rights." It was an unremarkable opinion – mostly an attempt to counter O'Reilly's own bombast – but the NPR bosses were already nervous about other Williams remarks, indeed about the presence of an NPR "news analyst" on Fox at all, and he was fired (over the phone, followed by NPR cheap shots). Williams landed on his professional feet – Fox gave him a big contract, and this book itself is a spinoff from the controversy – but it's clear he's still steamed.
"I am a bigot," opens Chapter One ("I Said What I Meant"), reflecting Williams' sense that the firing outrageously painted him as a racist and translated his emotional frankness into a considered judgment, when it was exactly the opposite. He also argues NPR's pretense of pure objectivity is undeserved; in a brief phone interview, he told me that the network ties itself into rhetorical knots while adhering to "liberal shibboleths" for "forward-looking liberal people." By the book's close, he argues for ending NPR's federal funding, best accomplished by the network itself. Unless NPR wishes to continue functioning as a "ping-pong ball" between Democrats and Republicans, Williams said, "All they need to do is remove themselves from what, by their own description, is a 1- or 2-percent contribution from the federal treasury, and they can be their own entity and do whatever honest and real work they feel is appropriate for their journalism."
The strongest sections of the book address NPR or Williams' firing, but most concern what he sees as the "politically correct" polarization of American debate and politics. "The firing from NPR is just ... the hook for this very important discussion that is 90 percent of the book," he said, "... about how difficult it is to have an honest debate in this society today, and the roots of this political correctness, and how it's used by the both the left and the right, and how we find ourselves as Americans having even our debates and discussions governed by the politically correct extremes."
The bulk of Muzzled is rather breathless: a roughly chronological potted history of the last decade's major issues, from terrorism to health care to entitlements, delivering swatches of "conservative" opinion juxtaposed by similar chunks of "liberal" opinion and purporting to demonstrate that the GOP pot and the Democratic kettle are mutually at fault for our current political gridlock. Whether you find that portrait persuasive may well depend on your own favorite utensil – or instead, if you believe that there's an entire universe of public input banned from the kitchen altogether.
Saturday, Oct. 22, 10-10:45am, C-SPAN/Book TV Tent