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Juan Williams and illiberal liberalism

National Public Radio's firing of its reporter and pundit Juan Williams is disturbing for advocates of free expression and debate.

NPR is, of course, free to hire and fire whoever they want; Williams did not have a job for life. And, in my opinion, he's not a particularly insightful commentator. But the circumstances of his firing are problematic. Williams remarked on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox that seeing people in Muslim attire on planes made him nervous. He then admitted that this response wasn't rational, and he came across as relaying an honest feeling that he wasn't proud of.  But according to NPR, the remarks were "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." Yet, what is the point of being a pundit if you can't give your honest opinion?

The backstory is that NPR has long hated the fact that Williams appeared regularly on Fox. The liberal NPR sees Fox as the enemy. Michael Tomasky in the Guardian says Williams "had this coming" because of his Fox connection:

But if you're any kind of liberal at all, even in the softest and most non-political possible sense, it's basically an indefensible thing to do. Fox News wants liberalism to perish from the face of the earth. Going on their air on a regular basis and lending your name and reputation to their ideological razzle-dazzle is like agreeing to be the regular kulak guest columnist at Pravda in 1929. For "balance".

So, Williams - who up to now at least was considered a liberal - not only had to consistently toe the liberal line, he had to do so in approved forums only? This is mind-numbing conformism and intolerance.

Yes, I know that the conservatives who are chirping over this are hypocrites, as they have on many occasions called for the sacking of pundits. But that fact does not mean that Williams' firing should not be called out for what it is. By defending NPR, liberals make Fox and the right appear to be the guardians of reason and tolerance (even "fair and balanced"), which is of course not true.

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