The firing of Juan Williams by NPR is an example of political correctness run amok. The insensitivity in the way NPR handled the firing and subsequent apology by NPR President Vivian Schiller underscores that NPR doesn’t get it. The ethical issue is not whether NPR should have fired Williams. That can be better determined by reviewing his contract with NPR and making a legal determination whether the station had the right under the contract to do so. The ethical issue is the way Williams was treated. The Golden Rule obligates us to treat others the way we want (and expect) to be treated. NPR’s action lacks caring and compassion especially in light of the firing of an employee of ten years. How would you like to be fired after ten years of employment with the same company and not be granted the opportunity to discuss the issues in a meeting with top management?
In case you have been asleep this past week, here is a brief summary of the event leading up to the firing. In response to a provocative question from Billy O'Reilly about Muslims, Williams said: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.” Later in that segment, Williams did challenge O'Reilly's apparent contention that every Muslim on the planet is an extremist bent on attacking America. NPR reacted immediately to fire Williams over the provocative comments that were, according to Schiller, “the latest in a series of deeply troubling incidents over several years,” and that Williams had been warned to “avoid expressing personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings…after this latest incident, we felt compelled to act.”
No one disputes NPR’s right to fire Williams over these comments and he may have crossed the line between objectively expressing one’s view as an analyst and providing a personal opinion. The fact that other NPR analyst’s may have done the same thing over the years without enduring similar consequences is irrelevant. Two wrongs don’t make a right -- assuming you view NPR’s firing of Williams as wrong. It’s the offensive, insensitive comments by Schiller that cause me great concern. She alluded to the fact that the personal motivation for making such comments was between Williams and his therapist and publicist. This disrespectful comment further illustrates the failure to act ethically in the firing of Williams. To make matters worse, Schiller apologized for the hasty response by linking not meeting with Williams personally to her failure to “take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode.” So, it is the fact that NPR’s own interests may have been harmed with respect to its handling of the firing that motivated the apology and not any real concern about how it may have been hurtful to Williams, a respected member of the media.