Conservatives around America went off the hook today over the firing of Juan Williams by National Public Radio. Ranting about free speech and the First Amendment and how his rights were violated and it’s the end of America for sure.
Well, as one can expect for a firmly held conservative concept of late, it’s not based in fact or reality. The free speech protections of the Constitution do not extend to the workplace, at least not in the same fashion. Of course, there are times when free speech can be violated at work.
Chastised for speaking a different language during lunch? Retaliated against for whistle blowing? Are employees of some religions or national origins allowed to speak about them around work, but not others? Just some kinds of free speech protected at work.
What is not, is opinion. At least in the context of a news reporter and/or commentator. Radio stations, television shows, newspapers, all have the right to dismiss a person not meeting their standards. Even if those standards aren’t in agreement with what some others might think.
When Alan Colmes had to leave Hannity and Colmes because even a lightweight liberal like Alan Colmes can make Hannity look like an idiot, it wasn’t a free speech issue. And neither is Juan Williams dismissal from NPR.
Conservobots are calling for funding to be pulled from NPR, predictably. They have always hated NPR. Educational and informative programming without a conservative agenda aren’t something they like to have on. Real information is the enemy of the willfully misinformed.
And Juan Williams also worked for Fox News. As that channel has been thoroughly exposed as a partisan infomercial, it’s hard for any organization wanting to retain credibility to employ someone also working for Fox.
Whenever Juan Williams offered opinion on NPR, he had to consider that he was on a network not nearly as conservative as Fox, and not as likely to allow him to give opinion better suited to Fox. Any pundit has to be aware of what they say in the context of where they are saying it.
If, for example, I say “every time I see a bunch of rednecks I hear banjo music in my head,” or “when I see Sarah Palin I have to fight the nausea to hold down my lunch,” I am fairly certain I won’t get fired. Juan Williams made the same calculation, and was wrong.