There's been a lot of brouhaha this past week over the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams. People are outraged and convinced that the supposedly liberal media establishment is out to get conservatives. The ne'er-do-well, one-time vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is demanding NPR's head on a platter in the form of no more federal funding and several (Republican) members of Congress are adding their voices to her chorus.1
In the midst of all this kerfluffle, we seem to have forgotten that other notables have recently had their voices clipped for expressing bigoted or personal/non-partial opinions. Cases in point: Helen Thomas (Hearst), Rick Sanchez (CNN), Don Imus (MSNBC), Doug McKelway (D.C.'s ABC 7), and Octavia Nasr (CNN).
Should they all have been fired?
On the one hand, I think yes.
While bigotry, racism, homophobia, and hate in general may ignorantly play out in the day-to-day lives of private citizens in our country, this same vitriol has no place in the public square.
At the beginning of the last presidential race, one of the candidates characterized another candidate as "clean... and articulate." The implication was, people of color are not intelligent, are unclean, and can't string a proper sentence. Joe Biden's remarks were correctly deemed racist and he paid dearly for it. Sure, eventually the candidate he disparaged, Barack Obama, chose him as his vice president, which hardly seems like a punishing outcome, but still Biden's comment was inappropriate, bigoted, and racist and he deserved to fall out of the race as a frontrunner.
People who are in the public sphere--politicians, journalists, professors, religious leaders, actors, and the like--are rightfully held to a higher standard and should measure their words with care and correctness. They are a source of information for millions of Americans and influence public opinion, policy, and elections. Bigoted commentary should be kept to oneself.
1. What Palin fails to understand is, NPR receives only 2% of its funding from the government, which includes the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The remainder of their $154 million annual budgets comes, as they say, "from listeners and viewers like YOU."