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The management of Juan Williams

PH2010102101582.jpgWhether NPR should or should not have fired Juan Williams, they shouldn't have done it so quickly. Media organizations -- in fact, all organizations -- need to wait out these firestorms before they make these decisions. This was true for the Department of Agriculture and Shirley Sherrod, of course, but it was also true for CNN and Rick Sanchez. Responding to Internet frenzies at Internet speed is just a disaster. Waiting for the story to die down and then making a decision when it's easier to think clearly and would be preferable, and will, I think, come to be seen as an important management skill in the Internet age.

And speaking of management skills, the consensus seems to be that NPR wanted to fire Williams for some time, but hadn't been able to bring itself to do it. The crisis gave them the excuse they thought they needed. In reality, it did NPR much more damage than if they'd quietly declined to renew the guy's contract because they thought he wasn't adding enough to their airwaves any longer. You see this a lot, where institutions decline to make difficult management decisions when they're strong, and then have to make them when they're weak, like amid a PR problem or a recession. On a human level, it's understandable. No one likes firing employees. But it often does everyone more damage, as either it increases perceptions of the organization's weakness or releases employees at a moment when it's maximally difficult for them to find a new job.

But if NPR's decision was hasty and ill-timed, Fox's decision was, for a media company, basically inexplicable. Williams had just lost his bargaining power. He'd lost his second income. He'd become less employable. And so he got a ... giant raise? That's not how markets work. And it's not how the news business works.

It only makes sense if you don't look at Fox News as a news business, and you don't pretend they offered Williams $2 million for his irreplaceable political commentary. For a conservative lifestyle channel, this is good PR, and it lets you further the sense of persecution that keeps your audience coming back. For Roger Ailes, the chance to call Williams "an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis" must be worth at least $500,000. And grabbing Williams is also an important precedent to set for other commentators who want to swing further right than their employers will allow: Making yourself a martyr against the politically correct, mainstream media can actually be quite lucrative.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Juan Williams.

By Ezra Klein  | October 22, 2010; 9:56 AM ET
 
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Comments

The overreaction of NPR to Juan's ill-considered, but otherwise non-existential comment, shows more about the gutless, complicit, collapsing, and occasionally stupid Liberal Class than about Juan or NPR in particular.

As Christopher Hedges' latest and incomparable book, "Death of the Liberal Class" compellingly documents, the gutless and self-delusional liberal class of later 20th century America (most particularly the Democratic Party and the media) has been entirely co-opted, captured, corrupted, and is complicit with the ruling-elite proto-fascist corporate/
­financial/­militarist EMPIRE, which hides behind the facade of its TWO-Party Vichy sham of democratic government.

Hedges makes the even more important and unique contribution that broad swaths of this intellectually dishonest and financially 'kept' courtier class now recognize the deceit of their treasonous turning away from working-class concerns, honest / empathetic critical analysis of the American corporate Empire's crimes, and acceptance of the Empire's monetary rewards for their support that they (the publicly recognized Liberal Class) now recognize that their own service to the ruling-class is irreversible, obvious the the working and former middle-classes, and will not end well for anyone.

Hedges notes particularly that specifically because of the deceit of this publicly visible, captured, and 'used' Liberal Class in assisting the corporatist Empire in taking over our government that the phrase "Consent of the governed" is now meaningless, and that we have been reduced to nothing but a disguised form of "participatory fascism".


Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine

Posted by: alanmd | October 22, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Ezra should know that Juan Williams salary increase at Fox News had nothing to do with Labor Economics and the bargaining position of Mr. Williams, but rather the economics motivating Fox News to get out on the story right away and be the good guys. That is well worth the money for Fox News.

Posted by: lancediverson | October 22, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

George Soros just contributed over $1 MILLION dollars to NPR, who Fired Juan Williams. Where is the NAACP, or isn't
Juan "liberal enough" for the NAACP?
So, in other words, NAACP only "protects"
blacks who are far-left?
Democrats and NAACP = Hypocrits

Posted by: ohioan | October 22, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

"Making yourself a martyr against the politically correct, mainstream media can actually be quite lucrative."

Not to mention that the illiberalism and authoritarianism of PC has been laid bare. All in all, a great day for anti-PC.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

"George Soros just contributed over $1 MILLION dollars to NPR,"

Somehow, that little fact has been overlooked in Ezra's fretting over corporate political donations and gatherings of CEOs to discuss libertarian principles.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

News channels can still be news channels and not make all of their decisions based strictly on delivering the news most efficiently.

Why did CBS hire Katie Couric? Because she was the cheapest person who could read the news? Was her being a woman merely a happy coincidence?

All major corporations must maintain a corporate image because people are more willing to buy from producers they like/trust. That is all Fox is doing here.

Posted by: FroggyJ4 | October 22, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

For a long time, NPR, which truly does try to be "fair and balanced" has thought that Fox News was exploiting Juan Williams' association with NPR for Fox News' faux "fair and balanced." I dont think it was the specific comments he made, as the context in which he made them, that was the last straw for NPR. He basically made them in the context of helping defend Bill O'Reilly for his earlier comments on The View, which was exactly the exploitation that NPR didnt like, and which give Juan Williams' comments a slightly different meaning than they might otherwise have had.

Posted by: gregspolitics | October 22, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Cholera outbreak in Haiti, war in Afghanistan, record government deficits…and we are supposed to be concerned about which news organization is paying some reporter $2 million? Why is this “news”? Who cares?

Posted by: bmeyer2 | October 22, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Why do you people in the news business think that it is somehow too hard and difficult to gather and ditribute news in competition with Fox? When they call Fox a lifestyle channel it is just a way of rationalising failure. If Fox is not a news orgaization, then what does explain why they have so much power in American life?

As to the main point: It is nuts to analyse a situation where two parties exchange money and information (Fox and Williams) and use it to conclude that the job was not at work.

People often think they know how markets work without knowning how markets actually work.

Posted by: amr1776 | October 22, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the consensus that NPR was looking for an excuse to fire him for his general suckitude and this was the event they chose to base it on.

Everyone seems to be bending over backwards to talk about how this wasn't really *that bad* compared to the things that get said on cable news these days. The important part in that last sentence should be "compared to...". Just because Hannity or O'Reilly may say crazy terrible things doesn't mean that everything short of them is acceptable or just "not that bad". Williams' comments were not nearly the worst thing that I've heard on a cable news channel, but they're also clearly inappropriate for an employee of a news organization that is still attempting to present neutral, unbiased reporting.

NPR has drawn a line in the sand for what is appropriate for their employees which is far behind what everyone else has come to accept. Though I agree that there were ways to do this that would have resulted in less hysteria from the Right, choosing to fire Williams is a clear and public statement that NPR will not concede to the growing norm of injecting sensational personal opinion into the news, and won't accept it from their employees. Good for them, I say.

Posted by: MosBen | October 22, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

--*That's not how markets work.*--

How would you know, Klein?

Posted by: msoja | October 22, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

i am sick and tired of the disgusting prejudice in this country, against muslim people.
i live in an area where there are many muslim people, and they practice their religion and where their special garments.
personally, i think it is a disgrace that a man who lived through the generation of civil rights in the united states, and saw african americans singled out and "making people nervous," has the gall to go on taxpayer funded television, and make that statement against other americans.
it spreads the PARANOIA and PERNICIOUS HATRED that is infecting our country.
i cant even imagine how young women wearing their headdresses and my muslim neighbors who pray in a mosque, feel any longer in this culture.
juan williams was spreading fear and paranoia, saying things that make us afraid of our neighbors.
he deserved to be fired.
he is not a good citizen...and his views are anti-american.
or at least everything good that i believe america stands for.

that comment of juan williams bespeaks the worst and ugliest code sentiments in american culture today.
he did not use his power wisely.
he deserved to be fired immediately.
and it is no wonder that he found a home at fox, where his feelings are right at home.
despicable.

Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

sorry....i mean "npr", and "wear"....i am very upset by what juan williams said, and submitted, before checking.


his statement was not directed at a single person in a political discussion, it was directed at a whole group of americans, painting them with a pernicious, menacing brush.
he didnt need to be "managed," he needed to be fired, and he was.
there should be no room for this kind of malicious prejudice and innuendos of fear against a whole group of americans.

Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

"George Soros just contributed over $1 MILLION dollars to NPR,"

Somehow, that little fact has been overlooked in Ezra's fretting over corporate political donations and gatherings of CEOs to discuss libertarian principles.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

yes and AFSCME is certainly spending a lot. Aren't they an international union? Why no cries of foreigners poisoning our democracy from Mr. Yglesias. Oh yeah because when they do it its GOOD.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303339504575566481761790288.html?mod=WSJ_hp_LEFTTopStories

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 22, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"Cholera outbreak in Haiti, war in Afghanistan, record government deficits…and we are supposed to be concerned about which news organization is paying some reporter $2 million? Why is this “news”? Who cares?"

i care.
and so should you.
it is this kind of prejudice, these kinds of xenophobic fears and the increasing brashness of people saying them without any response from their neighbors, that is ruining our country from the inside, out.
there is evidence of it everywhere, now. and good people with conscience, have to speak out against it.
this is unacceptable in america. or should be unnacceptable.
people shouldnt be employed with taxpayer money, to make us afraid of our neighbors, to single out other citizens in a way that creates fear and hate.
in my opinion, these kinds of comments are the real hate crimes.

Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

You always ascribe the motive of greed to others, while never mentioning the phenomenal wealth acquired by democrats in the senate and the house. The leveraging of high political office is the big scandal of our time -- why are Clinton and Gore among the wealthiest men in the world? How did Harry Reid get so rich while in the senate?

Posted by: truck1 | October 22, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

truck1, I don't see the connection here to Juan Williams.

Posted by: MosBen | October 22, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

C'mon Ezra, you know better than this. The publicity value to Fox was worth way more than 2 million. Do you think when they hired Liz Cheney they outbid someone else for her services? LOL

Posted by: 54465446 | October 22, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

MosBen,

i'm guessing NPR wasn't paying Juan Williams $2 million dollars to work there. maybe that's where that thought was going with truck1.

And I agree with him. When conservatives gain wealth its seemingly "on the backs of the poor" but when liberals gain wealth its just good investment or maybe Green investment. I still can't past the hypocrisy of Soros in that his currency manipulation that made him a billionaire probably destroyed the pensions of hundreds of thousands of British citizens. I'm guessing that's OK though.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 22, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

"The leveraging of high political office is the big scandal of our time -- why are Clinton and Gore among the wealthiest men in the world? How did Harry Reid get so rich while in the senate?"


you are certainly right about that.
hilllary clinton asking her supporters to help retire her campaign debt, and then turns around and throws a multi-million dollar wedding for their daughter.
what could they be thinking?
meg whitman trying to buy the california election with what will be over 140 million dollars....
and is there anyone in congress, who is not a millionaire?
the only person who appears to have given back to society in a more humble manner, (whether you agree with his views or not) is jimmy carter.
of course, he isa great deal older now, but at least years ago, his appeared to be a social conscience with a heart and quiet purposefulness, a kind of personal mission....and not looped into glitterati and high profiled flamboyance and tax shelters and the like.
i couldnt agree with you more.

Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, I'm honestly not following. I didn't think Ezra was criticizing Williams for taking the $2 million. I think the argument is that giving Williams $2 million may not have been a great deal for Fox in terms of Williams' actual worth at that time, however, as a PR tool for Fox it is very worthwhile. It also signals to other conservatives in media that moving over to Fox can be lucrative, especially if it allows Fox to run with a story about the Liberal Media.

I don't think this is a class issue about people making money.

As for Soros, I honestly think the degree to which conservatives believe liberals like him far outstrips reality. Most liberals, me included, don't know much about him. He seems to give money to liberal causes, and that's good, but I don't know or have an opinion on how he made his fortunes. If it turns out that the way he made his fortune had a negative effect on millions of people, I don't think there's anything hypocritical about thinking that earning money in that way is bad but that his support of liberals/liberal causes it good. I don't think it's bad if Limbaugh gives to a worthy charity, but I can still think he does a lot of bad stuff. I can also like Huckabee or Ron Paul's public persona (I don't fool myself into thinking I really know any politician) while thinking that they support a lot of horrible things and wish that they get nowhere near positions of power.

In short, the world is more complex than "People on my side are heroes and people on the other side are villains."

Posted by: MosBen | October 22, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Jkaren as well about Carter. While I did not like him as a president, and I find his anti-Israel bias maddening, I have to admit he has set an example, in his personal life, of how to be a retired public servant. There is an openness about wealth and high living among politicians, and particularly those of the democratic party, that is new, and it is astonishing. The Clintons have set the tone in this, as in so much else, but many are following.

Posted by: truck1 | October 22, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

jkaren wrote:

"The leveraging of high political office is the big scandal of our time -- why are Clinton and Gore among the wealthiest men in the world? How did Harry Reid get so rich while in the senate?"

HUH? The wealthiest men in the world OWN these guys. They make them show up at their functions like the Mafia used to make Frank Sinatra sing on cue at theirs.

I believe you misunderstand the nature of the relationship.

Posted by: 54465446 | October 22, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Picking Williams up allows Fox to mock NPR for its now all-white on-air staff.

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 22, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

tomtildrum, are they actually all white, or are you guessing? I'm not trying to be snotty there, I just want to know.

Posted by: MosBen | October 22, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank God, Juan did not comment against Jews, Christians or even Blacks religious outfit; otherwise not only he but his fore fathers would have been deported to his native African State. Now days it is a customary to ridicule Muslims, their religion, their prophet and their dress codes in public media and books because as such they are second class human beings all over the civilized and non-civilized world. Now, I am not surprise to know, why 75% Muslims hate US.

Posted by: citysoilverizonnet | October 22, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

"George Soros just contributed over $1 MILLION dollars to NPR"

That is a typical Republican lie. You people have no shame. You tried to put the big boogie man into this story about Juan Williams.

The truth is that George Soros gave $1 million to Media Matter. Why? Because the truth matters.

No story about Juan is complete with this 1991 story in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2010/10/21/ST2010102102028.html

Posted by: shotput8 | October 22, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Two observations:

- FOX comes out of this as the defender of free speech and welcoming all perspectives. Who'da thunk?

- Featherweight NPR just stuck out its latte-stained, double chin to the muscular heavyweight champ FOX two weeks for national elections and turned it's rapid descent to the mat a spectacle for all to enjoy.

Posted by: NVaSkeptic | October 22, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The good Muslim should clean house and condemn and get rid of the bad Muslim. Until and unless that happens, people will fear them, as Juan correctly stated. There is no point of denying and apologizing that fact. The bad Muslim is giving the whole Muslim the bad name. Don't blame anyone else. I don't think people have any problem with any good Muslim, or any other good people. It is certainly not Juan's intention to attack Muslim as a whole. But that kind of language, no matter what the intention is, was just too much for NPR's liberal agenda. Juan was fired because he is just not liberal enough for NPR. I heard NPR reporter publicly said Bush a torturer. So much for the "fair and balance". They don't deserve public funding.

Posted by: indi2 | October 22, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

"The truth is that George Soros gave $1 million to Media Matter. Why? Because the truth matters."

I don't know or care to whom or what George Soros gives his money. I just note that Ezra's concerns over the giving of big money is selective.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

A google search suggests that George Soros indeed did not give $1 million to NPR. He gave $1.8 million to NPR.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

I still don't understand the Soros connection. If this were a post about the Chamber funding elections or something, sure, I'd get that. I wouldn't necessarily agree, but I'd get it. Fox isn't "funding" anything. They hired a guy full time that had worked there a bit in the past and who was just fired from his other employer, NPR.

The only money aspect about the post is whether Fox got a good deal. If you think about it in strictly labor terms, they probably didn't. If you think about the broader context of their PR, the politics that they engage in, etc., then the amount makes a lot more sense.

Posted by: MosBen | October 22, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

"Williams up allows Fox to mock NPR for its now all-white on-air staff." tomtildrum

I have listened to NPR for about 20 years and had no idea Juan Williams is black. A quick check of the NPR web site shows tomtildrum was making it up.

From Michele Norris' biographical sketch:
"She was named one of Essence Magazine's 25 Most Influential Black Americans in 2009"

Nice try...

Posted by: elbaggins | October 22, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

"The good Muslim should clean house and condemn and get rid of the bad Muslim. Until and unless that happens, people will fear them,"
" It is certainly not Juan's intention to attack Muslim as a whole."

YES,IT WAS!
he did attack muslims as a whole. any muslim person has the right to wear the garments of their faith.
it was his intention to attack muslims as a whole, despicable as it seems, and that is why he was fired.
and he deserved to be fired. attacking any large group of americans, for wearing the garments of their faith, is just a kind of a hate crime.
it was more than irresponsible.
and addressing your first comment,
the vatican should clean house.
the congress should clean house.
every religion should clean house.
our political system should clean house.
why do you single out the muslims to clean house?
at least npr, did some housecleaning, and i am personally glad of it.
and it should not have anything to do with the money of soros.
it was the RIGHT THING to do.

Posted by: jkaren | October 22, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Fox News entertains its viewers by generating controversy. Juan WIlliams just generated a mother-lode of controversy. Not only that, this controversy allows Fox to target a legitimate news organization that is the nemesis of the big misinformation campaign of their advertising base. It's a twofer.

Fox News has nothing to do with news and everything to do with building a loyal fan base by emotional manipulation. WIlliams hit a home run with the current controversy.

Posted by: bakho | October 22, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Is the NPR CEO OK with constraining free speech? According to the American Journalism Review and though she has bachelor's and master's degrees in all things Russian, she was a major player in producing an apologia for the 'evil empire.'

http://www.ajr.org/article_printable.asp?id=4688

Didn't her academic curriculum at fairly reputable schools or movie production locations include anything about the lethal excesses of the Soviet Union documented so well by WP's Ann Applebaum's Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Gulag"?

http://www.anneapplebaum.com/gulag-a-history/

Posted by: NVaSkeptic | October 22, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Juan Williams wrote a pretty good biography of Thurgood Marshall but imho he has never been much as a commentator. The thing that all those who object to NPR's decision need to ask themselves is would it be okay for him to express being nervous if someone Jewish got on the plane, or a or a young black man,etc. or fill in the blank. If its not okay to express his uncomfortableness about other racial/ethnic groups, it can't be appropriate to do so about Muslims. He either is free to engage in racial/ethnic profiling or he isn't. And whether he is saying what a majority believe is irrelevant.

Posted by: aj1111 | October 22, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

ROTFLMAO Juan Williams is hosting O'Reilly tonight and just unloaded on NPR.

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 22, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

I watched Williams sub for Bill O'Reilly tonight on Fox, and his performance completely vindicated NPR's decision. He went after NPR in consistent over-the-top shrill, strident diatribes on almost every segment of the show. He displayed a stunning lack of class and proved that he truly belongs on Fox, not on NPR. Maybe NPR didn't handle this appropriately, but management clearly made the right decision.

Posted by: kathrynsnyder | October 23, 2010 12:06 AM | Report abuse

The firing of Juan Williams was anything but quick, given his track record of repeated violations of journalistic integrity. He was given various chances to keep his job, including moving him from the position of reporter to that of a news analyst, an effort to prevent his punditry from compromising his reporting. This was merely the straw that broke the camel's back. They should have canned his ass long ago.

Posted by: Riggsveda | October 23, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

If Ezra knows how the news markets work, he must be holding out on CNN and MSNBC.

Posted by: pcannady | October 24, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm...if Ezra knows the news market, he must be holding out on CNN and MSNBC.

Posted by: pcannady | October 24, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

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