New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson
They played the First Amendment card and claimed that Williams had a right to utter his silly, bigoted crack about Muslims making him nervous. He did have that right—and NPR had the right to can him, not for the remark, but for saying it on another station while he was still a key fixture at NPR.
Whether intended or not, Williams’s crack carried the implicit endorsement of NPR, since he wore that hat as well. Williams’s longstanding play at talking out of both sides of his mouth on right-wing commercial Fox and cautious, middle-of-the-road public network NPR finally caught up with him. It should have long ago.
NPR, if it had an ounce of the integrity and fairness that it incessantly brags about, should have dumped Williams long ago for an equally great offense: his two-decade con job as a liberal civil rights expert and supporter.
Williams never missed a chance to boast about his two-decades-plus stint with the “liberal” Washington Post and tout his track record of authoring books on the civil rights movement. He sold himself as a man who backed, even championed, the civil rights struggles of the past, and whose sworn mission was to accurately and instructively chronicle those struggles. Here are a few of the titles that he used to sell this self-serving image of himself as Mr. Civil Rights: Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965.Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, This Far by Faith: Stories from the African-American Religious Experience, I'll Find a Way or Make One : A Tribute to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, My Soul Looks Back in Wonder: Voices of the Civil Rights Experience.
But Williams was a fraud. This was more than apparent in the clashes I had with him on Fox, when he instantly assumed the requisite attack-dog role and jumped on any criticism of the dumbest inanities from black conservatives.
That was a consistent pattern with Williams. He fronted himself as a Dr. Jekyll moderate— a thoughtful and balanced commentator who strived for fair and accurate analysis of issues on NPR. But he would quickly transform himself into a raving, take-no-prisoners, right-leaning Mr. Hyde on Fox— bashing Obama and civil rights leaders and shilling the GOP line on race.
Still, Williams couldn’t have gotten away with this con job without the wink-and-nod complicity—or disingenuousness—of NPR. NPR officials certainly were not clueless about their analyst’s two-faced con. Williams was there for all to see, shaking and nodding his head in agreement with every conservative flack who paraded across the stage on “The O’Reilly Show” and other conservative gabfests. His confrontational style on Fox fit in neatly with the tone, temper and rabid-right echo-chamber of the network.
No, NPR knew exactly what Williams represented and stood for—and it was not balance, moderation or liberalism. Williams, in fact served a purpose for NPR. The network has sweated—and at times has been scared stiff by—the conservative hitmen who for years have kept their hawk-like watch for any hint of a “liberal bias” on publicly funded radio and television.
Williams was their answer—and in some ways their protective cover. After all, how could NPR be accused of liberal bias when one of its most prominent commentators is a guy who routinely flashes across Fox?
The truth is, NPR needed Williams far more than he needed them—that is, until he became a liability. Yet Williams’s phony liberal front was, and should have been, a liability from the start. The pity is that it took an outrageous, bigoted crack by him for NPR to do what it should have done a long time ago— given him the boot.
Now the question is: given NPR’s past terror of losing even a nickel of government funding for being “too liberal,” will the network cave at the criticism by Palin and company and bring Williams back? Stay tuned.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles.