22 October 2010

Didn’t We Pass This Point Nine Years Ago?

The news media has begun a foofaraw about broadcaster Juan Williams’s departure from NPR for what he called a “gulag” which will merely pay him millions of dollars. But I haven’t seen anyone note that the point Williams was apparently trying to make had already been explored incisively nine years ago in the comic strip Doonesbury.

Williams told Bill (“Muslims killed us on 9/11”) O’Reilly:

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.
In a strip published on 9 Oct 2001, less than a month after kamikaze hijackers attacked New York and Washington, cartoonist Garry Trudeau showed his central character Mike Doonesbury on a plane next to an Arabic man. After portraying Mike’s reluctant nervousness, Trudeau revealed that the man was a PDA salesman. A later series of strips showed the same man detained and interrogated by US agents.

Williams was trying to get to the point that the overwhelming majority of Muslims on American plans are neither zealots nor murderers, and deserve legal rights. But along the way he said he agreed with O’Reilly, and expressed some clumsy bigotry about Muslims. Williams never pointed out how misguided his feelings were, and how they amounted to ignorant bigotry. (And in follow-up comments he reaffirmed his initial remarks.)

The atmosphere on Fox News undoubtedly encouraged Williams to make such statements. It’s the only “news” channel run by a longtime presidential campaign aide, serving to feed Republican propaganda into the public discourse. It employs people who say things like, “All terrorists are Muslim.” By Fox News standards, Williams’s remark was unexceptional.

NPR, on the other hand, likes its news analysts to actually analyze the news for readers, to dig past first impressions and lizard-brain reactions. A true news analyst might point out, for example, that not one of the Islamist terrorists who have attacked planes and other transportation was dressed in “Muslim garb.” So getting worried about people who are supposedly “identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims” is stupid even for a paranoid on Fox News.

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