Behind the Curtain at TMM

Here Today, Juan Tomorrow?

Juan Williams

News Analyst Juan Williams was recently ousted from NPR following comments he made about Muslims on the Fox News Channel. Richard Drew/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Drew/AP

I don't think that Juan Williams' color was the reason he got fired from NPR, but I don't think it helped.

For an organization that gives a lot of lip service to diversity, NPR does not have a lot of diversity to spare and this fact alone should have given management pause. Whether real or imagined, there is a sense among some people of color in media – me included – that we are the last in the door and first out the door, easily fired for cause or no reason at all.

Firebrand radio host Don Imus had been a thorn in the side of CBS for years, but still it took two days before he was suspended and seven days before the decision was made to fire him after he referred to the Rutgers women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed ‘ho’s.”

That kind of pause would have benefited the suits at NPR.

The smart money would have let Williams' contract run out while grooming a suitable replacement. Not re-upping his contract would have sent the proper message. While employing a diverse staff of qualified professionals, NPR does not produce programming that reflects their commitment to diversity and firing Williams did them no favors.

Juan Williams was brave to admit his ignorance and irrational fears.  He used that as the starting point for a broader conversation. NPR was quick to pull the trigger in a situation where a little deliberation would have been more prudent. Good news analysis (to my way of thinking) is intuitive and personal in a way that reporting the news does not have to be.

As one of the few regular black male voices on NPR, I'd be lying if I said this incident didn't make me feel vulnerable. In my work as an op-ed writer, blogger, commentator and pundit, I don’t pull any punches. If NPR were to ever expand my role, how would I be restricted?  Executives at the member station where I live just “discovered” me a year or so back, and they have been talking about developing some kind of show for me — not that I’m holding my breath.

But suppose they did?

Once the show became successful, and either CNN, Fox News or any of the other places where I’ve given an opinion asked me to return, could I be here today and Juan tomorrow?

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist for TheRoot.com, an author and a regular contributor to Tell Me More.

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