I’ve been away from my computer for a few days and was mightily amused when I returned today and learned (via the St. Louis Activist Hub) that when news of NPR’s firing of Juan Williams broke last week, Tea Partier Dana Loesch immediately joined the swelling right-wing chorus and tweeted her opinion that this is a First Amendment issue:
Sorry, but when you’re a force-funded station and you routinely smear conservatives and fire people for speech … #DefundNPR
In firing Williams, NPR had simply, if somewhat belatedly, invoked their long-standing policy of requiring their news analysts to maintain a neutral public stance on issues that they might have to cover. Adherence to this policy is a contractual obligation, and since Williams had already been warned about past violations, his firing shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The NPR policy is also non-partisan – NPR employees have been, for example, prohibited from attending Jon Stewart’s Sanity Rally in their personal capacity. The requirement that news personnel maintain a neutral public persona is a subtle but important distinction and, since it involves an effort to eliminate a perception of bias, one that could be expected to go over the heads of those who consider Fox News “fair and balanced.”
Loesch’s invocation of free speech does, however, suggest additional considerations. Remember when the trad media (egged on by many right wingers) piled on Helen Thomas after she called for Israelis to “get the hell out of Palestine”? An offensive remark, perhaps, but so were William’s ramblings, and, just to be clear, unlike Williams, Thomas was an opinion columnist who was not only permitted but paid to opine. I don’t remember that Loesch, or any other conservative for that matter, sprang to the defense of Thomas’ free speech rights. I may be mistaken about this – I can’t say that I actually follow Loesch’s utterances – but if I’m wrong about this specific issue, there are plenty of other examples of the right-wing’s skewed concern over speech issues – the firing of Octavia Nasr by CNN also comes to mind and there are plenty of similar cases.
All of which leads one to an uncomfortable conclusion. If right-wing defenders of the First Amendment like la Loesch can’t be bothered to defend the actual free speech rights of people like Thomas, but get get royally bent out of shape when Juan Williams reaps the quite foreseeable consequences of violating his contractual obligations, it suggests that it is actually the specific target of the featured bigot du jour that determines whether or not our right-wing brethren and sistren will bring their impressive capacity for manufactured outrage into play.
I’m guessing that I’m coming in somewhat after the fact here, and that this brouhaha may have already been shouted to death in and out of fringeland while I was out of contact. I still, however, think that it will be important to remember just who in our vicinity has attempted to dress the sanctioned bigotry of the day in the constitution if or when some of the more volatile Tea Partiers get out of hand in regard to those scary Muslims who so frighten poor Juan Williams. Recollect, if you will, that we have already seen acts of anti-Muslim vandalism in St. Louis.
Update. Glenn Greenwald sees the wingers blathering about free speech the same way – but says it better.
Update 2. Yesterday I warned about legitimizing the fantasies of the crazies – and today NPR has received a bomb threat that “timing suggests” may be liked to firing of Muslim-bashing Williams.