Me and Juan Williams

by David Safier

You've probably heard Juan Williams was canned from NPR for a comment he made on FOX. It reminded me of the very brief email and phone history I had with Williams.

Sometime in, I believe, 2002, I was furious about something Williams said on FOX and wrote him an email. Unfortunately, I can't find the actual email, but I remember wanting to get his attention, so I accused him of something like "whoring for the money" on FOX.

I got his attention. He emailed me, gave me his phone number and suggested I give him a call. I did. I told him I respected his past work and his talent, but I thought he was allowing himself to be used by FOX as an easily manipulated, mild mannered liberal who they allowed to finish a sentence when he didn't say anything too contrary to their point of view but shouted down the moment he became too assertive. He said he didn't think that was true and he said, though the opinion parts of the network's shows were conservative, the news portions were reasonably balanced. I disagreed.

In 2006, I wrote Juan Williams another email, about his statement on O'Reilly's show that CNN was in the tank for Democrats based on its program, "Broken Government," and commented on his use of "us" to refer to FOX, showing his increasing identification with and allegiance to the network. I wrote in part,

Juan, you need to get out more. You've begun to identify too strongly with FOX and its conservative milieu. A few years ago, we had a phone conversation where you justified your role as a FOX commentator (which I challenged) by saying you were a useful counter to the conservatives. Now, it sounds like you've gotten so cozy there, you have folded yourself into the FOX ambiance. Some people lose their souls in one quick action, and others lose it in the course of gradual attrition. You seem to be an example of the latter.

Williams' reply proved to me how much FOX koolaid he had imbibed over the years. He wrote in part,

But on "Broken Government" I had to say that it looked to me like counter-programming to Fox and its perceived right-wing bias. In my experience Fox is more contrarian than right-wing. The goal is to bring a different view to the news and challenge the mainstream media's approach. And Fox is clear about its patriotism to America and willing to promote America as a land of freedom and opportunity. That extends to giving the benefit of the doubt to the president. In any case, CNN seems to me, based on my viewing, to want to position itself as an alternative to their vision of Fox as a network dominated by a Republican point of view. So, CNN is offering a special, like "Broken Government" that is strongly critical of the Bush Administration. Whether you think the current administration is able and competent or not, I don't think it is valid to claim that the U.S. government is broken.

It would be interesting to see if Williams now says our government is broken or nods his head in agreement when others on FOX say it.

For anyone who thinks concerns about Juan Williams' drift toward the FOX point of view — I think of it as kind of a Stockholm Syndrome working on someone who is not combative by nature — are new, my comments and others like them show the NPR firing didn't come out of the blue.

You can read my complete email and Juan Williams' reply after the jump.

 

From: David Safier
Sent: Wednesday, November 01, 2006 10:41 AM
To: Juan Williams
Subject: Political Insider: comment

I just saw a Media Matters clip of you on O'Reilly's show where you
agreed that CNN is in the tank for Democrats. And you referred to "us"
at FOX.

Juan, you need to get out more. You've begun to identify too strongly
with FOX and its conservative milieu. A few years ago, we had a phone
conversation where you justified your role as a FOX commentator (which I
challenged) by saying you were a useful counter to the conservatives.
Now, it sounds like you've gotten so cozy there, you have folded yourself
into the FOX ambiance. Some people lose their souls in one quick action,
and others lose it in the course of gradual attrition. You seem to be an
example of the latter.

If you are going to operate in the FOX environment, you have to
constantly remind yourself who you are. You are the progressive
opposition, not a back-slapping buddy of the OReilly's of the world. At
least, that is what you are supposed to be, according to what you said
to me in our phone conversation. Otherwise, you are an enemy to what you
claim are your ideals, not a friend.

David Safier

From:     Juan Williams

Subject:     RE: Political Insider: comment
Date:     November 22, 2006 1:19:43 PM GMT-07:00
To:     David Safier

Dear David – Thanks for the note. Here is my reply.

You should expect me to be responsible to you. My credibility and your
trust in what I report are essential. My analysis of ideas, events and
people is based on that reporting and I do want your trust.

My assertion that CNN is leaning to the left was based on the Lynn
Cheney-Wolf Blitzer conversation that focused on two items. The first
item was CNN's decision to broadcast a tape of terrorists killing an
American solider. The second item was a program titled "Broken
Government" that portrayed the federal government under the Bush
Administration as well, broken.

I defended the decision to show the tape. I said it was news and
properly labeled as to its source and the context. But on "Broken
Government" I had to say that it looked to me like counter-programming
to Fox and its perceived right-wing bias. In my experience Fox is more
contrarian than right-wing. The goal is to bring a different view to the
news and challenge the mainstream media's approach. And Fox is clear
about its patriotism to America and willing to promote America as a land
of freedom and opportunity. That extends to giving the benefit of the
doubt to the president. In any case, CNN seems to me, based on my
viewing, to want to position itself as an alternative to their vision of
Fox as a network dominated by a Republican point of view. So, CNN is
offering a special, like "Broken Government" that is strongly critical
of the Bush Administration. Whether you think the current administration
is able and competent or not, I don't think it is valid to claim that
the U.S. government is broken.

As for O'Reilly, I listen and respond to his arguments. That does not
make me a clone. —

 

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