Thursday, October 21, 2010

NPR Fires Juan Williams

Hmm...  I find the firing of Juan Williams an overreaction.

I statements are what people are supposed to use in counseling and in heated discussions, and an I statement is indeed what Juan Williams used.  He says,
"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."
This seems like the second firing for "bigoted" statements that strikes me as terribly unjust this year.

What worries me more is that this helps stifle real discussion about racial tensions in America.  If we can't honestly express how we feel when confronted with certain minorities, then we can make no progress in solving the problem, only progress in pretending that the problem doesn't exist.


  1. Can't you argue that this is actually a business decision for NPR? As a donor funded station, NPR has to keep in mind that the public outrage for not firing Williams may hurt their ability to solicit funds. A couple of years ago, my debate team and I were lucky enough to get an inside tour of NPR and met Juan Williams while he was walking across the hallway. Our team consisted of various races and religions and he took the time to talk to all of us and shook all of our hands. He seemed very warm and cordial and in no way do I believe he is a bigot. I have to agree with you that having an open conversation on the table is the best way to solve race issues but do you believe that it is too late to actually do this? I am not sure you agree with me, but it seems like as soon as someone touches a hot button issue in our country, someone cries out that the comments that person made was politically incorrect. So now in order to err on the side caution, no one talks about any hot button issues(except for gadflies but they are a different story.)

  2. Business decisions can have moral dimension to them too. If a business decision is unpopular, it may hurt their bottom line, but if its the right thing to do....

    BP could have spent billions of dollars fighting the blame game. They didn't. They took full responsibility. But consequently are going to have to pay billions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines. Compare that to Exxon's handling of the Valdez oil spill.

    I think you're right that people are far too ready to shout discrimination sometimes. I think this was an exact case of it.

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  4. Well I think in the case of BP it would have hurt their bottom line to try and play the blame game. The pipe was clearly theirs and the American public knew BP messed up so BP had no other option but to try and clean up the mess. I have another question for you though. All publicly traded companies have a contractual obligation to their shareholders to do anything possible to ensure a profit. Let us say that in order to keep a profit, they have to fire a controversial worker who did nothing wrong(lets say his only offense was that his breath smelled.) In this case, who does the company have a moral obligation to? The worker who did nothing wrong or the shareholders to whom the company is sworn to produce a profit for.

  5. Thats a pretty good question. Personally, I think that the company has a greater responsibility to the worker, than shareholders. I think the relationship with shareholders (the average shareholder not someone who owns say half the company) is at best an abstract impersonal one. Sure they vote, etc, but that using that same logic, I have an intimate relationship with Obama. I don't. But I think the company does have a much more intimate relationship with their worker. (In this case Williams). So if it was a choice between not making their targets this quarter and firing a worker, you keep the worker. I think I'd make a lousy CEO though.

  6. Well if a company does not follow the profits, they may face a lawsuit coming from the shareholders. Also when they skip out of profits, they are not only going against one shareholder but all of the company's shareholders. In this case, while the company may not have a personal connection, they have an obligation. Also I would argue that the company does not have more of a relationship with it's employees. With the corporate structure like how it is today, most of the official firings and such come from the corporate offices which may not even know the worker. So in this case, are they compelled to sit behind their worker?

  7. I'm making a moral argument about the William's firing... So despite what the law says, or whether or not shareholders sue a corporation or not, its the wrong thing to fire him. Even if it was perfectly legal to fire him. Even if it was incredibly unpopular.

    William's is a case where the corporation knows the employee. But even if they didn't he's still more intimate than a shareholder. Shareholders don't do much besides put up capital. Employees do stuff with that capital to make a profit.