Daily Archives: October 27, 2010

Juan Williams Wednesday

Sorry; I could resist neither the topic nor the lovely alliteration.  My feed reader has been practically ablaze with commentary on the whole Juan Williams/NPR/Fox thing, and even though I said I was going to stay out of the news for a while, I’m wading back in to make my case.

Here’s my thinking on this: is Juan Williams entitled to his opinions?  Of course he is; even when I disagree with someone, I will never discount their right to feel something and to express that feeling.  That being said, though, he wasn’t expressing his opinion as Juan Williams, Joe Citizen; he was expressing his opinions as a professional news analyst, and one associated with a particular news organization (and yes, he’s associated with a news organization with a pretty clear agenda, but I think that’s inconsequential).  If he were in plain clothes at a bar with some friends, or at his dining room table, or even at a party, this would be a non-issue.  He wasn’t; he was acting in the capacity of his job, and the sentiments he expressed in that capacity led his employers to question his ability to do his job because they believed his comments caused him to lose credibility with his employers’ target audience.

This is really no different than the firestorm that accompanied Imus’s ill-considered remarks after the Rutgers women’s basketball game, or Tilghman’s gaff about how to beat Tiger Woods (or the firing of the editor of Golf Week who saw fit to release the issue immediately following that incident with a noose on the cover).  The First Amendment entitles us to freedom from State prosecution for speech (though, practically, there are limits to that, as rightly there should be – one can’t lie under oath, one can’t directly threaten another’s life, and let’s not forget “fire! in a crowded theatre”).  The First does not entitle us to a paid position and an open microphone with which to disseminate that speech.

Honestly, I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  We all agree, whether tacitly or overtly, to behave in certain ways in the execution of our professional duties.  When we don’t do that, our employer has every right to let us go.  We then have the option of finding someone else to work for who may be more accommodating to our particular qualities.  That’s exactly what happened to Mr. Williams; NPR felt that he no longer represented their interests; Fox decided that he does, so they offered him a raise to compensate for the salary he lost at NPR (he was already in Fox’s employ).  Let us not forget that a NUMBER of workplaces stipulate that their employees cannot work second jobs in the same field as their first; that Mr. Williams was able to work in both (vastly different) environments for so long is not insignificant.

This is not a First Amendment issue.  It’s not a Big Brother issue, either, and I don’t think that it hearkens the advent of Orwellian thought control.  It is simply a case of an employee no longer serving the requirements of his employer; it happens all the time, just not always so loudly.

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