Saturday, October 23, 2010

Juan Less NPR Personality

With a twenty-four hour news cycle almost expired it is time to revisit the strange case of Juan Williams. Mr Williams, now  solely employed by Fox “News,” used to moonlight at NPR. Or was the other way around? Granted Mr. Williams was with NPR for far longer than he was he was for Fox, but Juan seemed much happier playing liberal punching bag and fig leaf for Roger Ailes and company.

NPR was getting very annoyed with some of Juan’s less enlightened commentary on GOP propaganda central. Williams had stepped into deep Kimchee more than once. With his comments about sharing cramped coach seating with Muslims, it became “here’s your hat, what’s the hurry” for Juan with NPR.

NPR then decided to pour about a kilogram of salt in the open wound by offering up some rather nasty parting shots. It was like watching a recently separated wife torch the brand-new Porsche the husband bought just before the break-up. It was strangely compelling, but also difficult to watch.

Not that Juan was too terribly hurt. Fox stepped into the breach and offered a whole bunch of kisses to sooth Mr. Williams bruised feelings, two million of them to be precise. The rest of the 9.2% of the unemployed work force should be so quickly rehired, and with such a big increase in salary.

Of course this dust-up brought about no end of navel-gazing by the corporate media. (Which needs only the slightest excuse to talk about its favorite subject, itself.) To listen to the media retelling of the incident, one would think that vicious goons from NPR had brutally assaulted Juan with baseball bats, and then killed his dog just for kicks. Not really, not even close. The man was sacked for the simple reason that NPR was just tiered of his antics on Fox. The use of the morals clause was just a convenient pretext.

Like it or not media personalities, even media institutions, can and do get tossed on the flimsiest of pretexts. Helen Thomas was let go for being nothing more than a grumpy grandma to some weasel reporter. The only difference with Juan Williams was that the blow-back came from bashing a less obvious, or should we say, less sacrosanct group. If Juan had made his idiotic remarks about Israelis, he would not only be shot out a cannon by NPR, he would not be finding any kind of follow-on employment, ever.

Could have NPR done the sacking a little more cleanly or at least more honestly? Of course they could have. It would also be nice if NPR were consistent about what it expects of its on-air talent. It would be best for NPR if they laid down the law, that they made clear that no one can work for both NPR and Fox. There would be hell to pay from the wing-nut cohort, but that is the price you pay for consistency. The wing-nuts already think that NPR is a bunch of far-left loonies and communists, so what is exactly the point of even bothering being nice to Palinistas? It is not like the elephants are not going to come after NPR’s government funding with a chain-saw once they gain power. The elephants hate every thing that has the world “public” in it, and nothing NPR can do will change that.

As a matter of fact, the whole bashing and piling-on that NPR has received is rather suspicious. It looks like the corporate / commercial media has joined hands with the free market fanatics of the right to deliver shiv to a common thorn in their sides. Both would benefit from a further dumbing-down of NPR. Both would be very happy if the very idea of non-commercial media would die an ugly death.

At the end of the day, it seems rather hard to cry over Juan Williams’ sacking. He still has a voice on Fox, he is still getting a very nice paycheck. He seems to have actually benefitted from his toxic and Islamophobic musings. The more one looks into the empirical data, the less of a martyr for the First Amendment Juan Williams appears. Exactly where is the harm  here?  Other than a possible case study for how not to handle HR issues in the public realm, is there any real “teachable moment” here? Nothing really jumps to our attention. It has been about as edifying as a 10 car pile-up at a NASCAR event.

Seeing as there really is nothing much to be gained from discussing the case of Juan Williams, can we please move on? It is  just another pointless food fight that we have for some reason decided is important. It is just another trivial distraction in the culture wars. Democracy is not in any way going to be imperiled, civilization will somehow survive.  Mr Williams is just another media hack who has figured a way to materially gain by feeding the right-wing noise machine. Let him slowly sink into the cesspool that is Fox News, he deserves the fate. Mark 8:36 Mr. Juan Williams, that is all that needs to be said.
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