Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists

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Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists
By Ray Hanania — Should Juan Williams have been fired for expressing an opinion tinged with racism? I don’t think so. Not that I support racist views. But I do believe strongly in freedom of speech and the tolerance of even the most ugly of comments. 

Juan Williams, a conservative commentator who had the distinction of working for the liberal NPR Radio and the conservative FOX Network, said that he would feel uncomfortable if he were to board an airplane and see other passengers were dressed like Muslims or Arabs.

The comment reminds me of the racism that was common during most of the last century in America, when Whites would express fears of Blacks on buses, in their neighborhoods and in their stores.

It is racism. But how do you respond to racism?

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Williams is not a journalist so the issue of violating journalist ethics does not apply. He is a commentator, someone who is paid specifically for expressing his opinion.

Although his opinion reflected an ugliness that is common against Muslims and Arabs that was once commonplace bigotry against African Americans, I don’t believe he should have been fired. Just as I don’t believe Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez should have been fired, either.

Thomas was more of a journalist than a commentator, but her comments were made off-the-cuff after she was ambushed by a virulently anti-Arab Rabbi who then twisted her words from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. She was fired by her newspaper chain, the Hearts Publications.

Octavia Nasr was a popular anchor and reporter at CNN. Her Middle Eastern background added a knowledge that was not available from others at CNN or elsewhere, since there are so very few American Arabs working in the mainstream American news media.

She expressed empathy on the death of Sheikh Sayyed Mohammad Fadlallah, a man who was considered the founder of Hezbollah, even though he had distanced himself from Hezbollah which has changed dramatically from a grassroots resistance movement to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to a powerful militant organization and political group that is believed to be behind much of the Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Rick Sanchez seemed to have been making a joke made by others, saying that the idea that Jews are an oppressed minority is ridiculous, responding to comments made by television commentator and entertainer Jon Stewart, who is Jewish.

There is a difference between journalism and commentary. I’m a columnist, not a journalist any more, though I was a journalist winning many awards for more than two decades.

But there is also a difference between responsible commentary and opinion, and irresponsible racism and bigotry.

Should a columnist be fired for expressing an unpopular view that many might consider racist? If he should be, then where do we draw a line so that it applies equally to everyone.

Because Juan Williams isn’t the only commentator or journalist to express anti-Muslim and anti-Arab views in the mainstream American news media. If we fired all those that crossed this line, we might not have many commentators left.

Of course, that circumstance might make this a better world. But then, that is just my opinion.

(Ray Hanania’s columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com or at www.Creators.com.)

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