Williams supported Imus Firing, Censoring of Rap Music

Given the protests mounted by Juan Williams over his firing from NPR because he said he gets nervous when he sees Muslims, I became interested in how he responded to the firing of shock jock Don Imus by CBS in April, 2007. Imus referred to African-American women basketball players as ‘nappy-headed ho’s.’

Interestingly,Williams did not defend Imus, did not say he shouldn’t have been fired, did not stand for Imus’s ‘free speech’ rights to generalize about a group of people. He did say he thought an African-American dj could have gotten away with the remark. He then demanded that the same standard be applied to hip-hop music.

That’s right, Williams the current crusader for absolute free speech rights wanted to use the Imus affair to close down even more speech, by hundreds of rappers, listened to by millions. Despite being given many opportunities to do so, Williams never in the transcripts I could find said “Imus should not have been fired.” Rather, on NPR he suggested that more minorities and women are in the upper echelons of CBS now, and that they mobilized over this issue.

If Williams’ firing was a form of censorship (it is not, because he can speak all he wants), then no greater proponent of censorship has ever existed than the 2007 Juan Williams.

Here is his reaction on NPR

National Public Radio (NPR)

April 13, 2007 Friday

SHOW: Morning Edition 10:00 AM EST

INSKEEP: I want to mention, Don Imus got in trouble for three offensive words and they’ve been repeated enough. We don’t need to repeat them here. But as many people have pointed out, you can go online and do a search for, for example, rap lyrics and find those same three words in any number of rap songs, popular songs, which raises the question of, when is it permissible to use that kind of offensive speech and when is it not?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think, obviously, we have a very fractured media market that’s a situation where, as you say, you can go online in any of these niches that cater to a specific audience and to people who want to hear that kind of thing and find it. And you know what? Sad to say, it’s not always, you know, people making fun of themselves.

For example, when you have black people using the N-word, I think that has flown under the radar for all time. And I don’t think that if it had been a black disc jockey in Imus’ shoes, I don’t think it would have caused a stir in some ways because I think there hasn’t been the kind of lead taken by civil rights leaders to say that rap music is offensive, demeaning, dehumanizing. I think there’s been a real absence there.

But when you get a white male like Imus doing it, and you have the weight of history, the weight of race in this country, I think there’s a different level of scrutiny. And as result, I think you have this ouster that we’ve seen this week. In addition, you know, the president of CBS, Les Moonves, and the president of NBC, Steve Capus, both said they were talking to people at their corporations. And there you have more women, more minorities saying they don’t want to be associated with this kind of language at this time. I don’t think that would have happened a generation ago.

INSKEEP: Explain that a little more, if you would, one point that you’ve made there. Why do you think it is that if it were a black radio host and he said the exact same thing, which is what you’re suggesting, right? That that would have not caused such controversy?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that – you know, obviously, the relationship between, let’s say, white men, Don Imus, and black women, the Rutgers female basketball team, is heavily weighted in our society. And therefore, I think white men are not allowed to say things like that, in public anyway, without exposing themselves to some, you know, to some people saying that this is wrong and therefore having some consequence to it.

Here is the Fox transcript:

Fox News Network

April 13, 2007 Friday

SHOW: THE BIG STORY WITH JOHN GIBSON 5:00 PM EST …

GIBSON: Meantime, today it was Mrs. Imus in the morning on the radio, on the very program her husband lost. Deirdre Imus took the Mike to finish up the radiothon for the charity her husband had founded. With me now, FOX NEWS political analyst and NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

So Juan, this controversy has turned a lot of attention onto the hip-hop industry from whence these words that Imus spoke have come. Do you sense that there is kind of some pressure that will be meaningful, that will cause people in the entertainment business to start looking at the words they use?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Thank god, John, it’s about time. I think it’s long overdue. And this is the kind of thing that, you know, people are now saying there was a double standard. What happens when, you know, Michael Richards, the Cramer guy who went off on that hate- filled rant with the “N” word, what happens when Imus comes out with his nappy-headed comment, why are they held to one standard while the rappers and a lot of the black comedians you can flip on cable every night are using the “N” word, saying awful things about black women. Let’s not — I mean, they’re talking about black women. Why are they getting away with it?

And for the first time I think people like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are being put on the rug here and saying hey, you get all these cameras and microphones in front of you, why have you never mounted a concerted crusade against the hip-hop industry? Why do you always fall for the cheap claim that you’re just censoring and out of touch with young people when you can see the damage, not only the damage being done to young white people by having these stereotypes put in their minds about, you know, young black people as overly violent, overly sexual, glorifying the drug trade. But the damage being done to young black people, John, who are told the only way you can make it in America is to dress like a criminal, act like you have a lot of attitude and talk about women as if they’re dogs.

GIBSON: One, you know, both Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have spoken out against this trend, well-established trend, in the music industry. They have not held those people up to public pillory like they did Don Imus. But what we’re now hearing from the music industry, from these very African-American artists is hey, that’s our language.

WILLIAMS: Oh, come one.

GIBSON: You can’t take that away from us. We want a double standard.

WILLIAMS: You talk about a sellout, John. These people are doing anything for the almighty buck, including selling their own people down the river. It is just horrible. You know, their language? Forget about it. What they are talking about is language that was used historically to debase black people when they were trying — you know, during, you know, the whole period following slavery when we’re talking about black people trying to fight for their rights. We’re talking about steps that were taken to create negative images of black people so no one would want to associate with them, think the worst of them, of their intellect, their intelligence, and the “N” word was all over it.

And so now here we come and the rappers think they can tillate somebody by saying a naughty word and they’re just doing it, they’re not even funny, they’re not even musical, but they do it and they think it’s cool and edgy and they get a lot of young white people, the big buyers of hip-hop to think that, oh, you know what, the black people are saying it so it’s OK.

Well, so this week we saw the double standard exposed and the damage it does expose. And I hope that those who are able to mount these major crusades, you know, get the attention like the Jackson’s and Sharpton’s understand it’s not that they have to make a comment once or twice. They have to do it in such a way as to put pressure on the rappers, put pressure on the record companies, and I might add, on the BET’s of the world that show the horrible videos.

GIBSON: Juan Williams. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You’re welcome, John.

13 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting this. Bill O’Reilly (who one could argue is really leading the “freedom of speech” crusade) also reacted to that event; here’s the transcript:

    link to foxnews.com

    Here’s the best part:

    “But there is a freedom of speech component here, Michelle. And, you know, that —- in America, we are a land and a people that embrace controversial speech. We don’t like censorship at all. And that’s what held him up so long. But, once that basketball coach got out there and explained in vivid detail how painful this was, it was over for Mr. Imus.”

    It seems that for Mr. O’Reilly, “freedom of speech” does not mean you can’t get fired from your job for making hateful, racist remarks — unless one is making them about Muslims, of course. Another disturbing element to much of the defense of Williams is the fact that the old “he’s just saying what we’re all thinking” line is being heavily used. As someone who’s not thinking that, it’s almost kind of offensive.

  2. By Williams’ logic, all of the Fox News personalities should get the same treatment he got.
    In this whole fiasco the thing about his statement that is most egregious has been glossed over. I heard many non-racist people shortly after 9/11 say that Muslims, or even Arab-looking persons, on airplanes scared them. But this is 10 years later. But here’s the worst part of his statement: Juan appears to think that anyone who wears clothing we associate with Muslims is identifying “first and foremost” as a Muslim. This is an elementary error. Juan cannot have had any accurate sense of where the scary people he referred to originated. People simply wear the garb of the society in which they are embedded. They go along to get along. Hence, people in other countries can spot Americans easily because of our recognizable dress code. Thus, the claim that everyone expresses a religious (or nationalist) identification as the primary reason for adopting local dress codes is ludicrous. And this type of false pigeonholing is bigoted.

  3. When a commenter gets fired because of pressure from the right, it is in Juan Cole’s words “privatized McCarthyism, a phenomenon increasingly corrosive of American civil liberties” (link to juancole.com), but when a commenter gets fired because of pressure from the left, it has nothing to do with censorship.

    Nice double standard.

    • The Octavia Nasr comment wasn’t racist, so it’s not as simple as “pressure from the left, pressure from the right” in the case you cited.

    • I’ll buy that the day that the corporate media covers giant anti-war and pro-healthcare rallies with the same cheerleading enthusiasm they reserve for the Tea Parties.

  4. But that’s different; Don Imus was bad, Juan Williams is good. Translation: Imus’ speech offended Juan, so it was ‘bad’ and should be stopped (along with rap music); whereas what Juan said was just ‘common sense’ and ‘good’ and should be permitted. Nat Hentoff’s “Free Speech for Me; but not for Thee” comes to mind…

  5. Another reason I’ve been reading JuanCole.com daily for many years now. Thanks for the info.

  6. Prof. Cole;
    In re. the firing of Juan Cole, you and many others here seem determined to drive a wedge between civil liberties and the rights of Arabs and Muslims. First, I don’t see this as a very wise or ethical (the term you keep using) strategy; do you think it is fun to saw off the all-too-fragile branch that supports you and Mr. Williams? You may say ‘good riddance’ when Williams falls. But what happens if yoo too fall. Say Univ. of Michigan nervously decides they want to end their association with you based on something you’ve said in this splendidly provacative blog of yours? Could happen; Do the names Norman Finkelstein and Ward Churchill ring any bells? Many of us progressives came to their defense, but according to your and others’ reasonings here, since they weren’t specifically fired by the government, they had no free speech rights worth defending — an argument that red-baiters would find very appealing.
    Thank goodness the ACLU doesn’t buy into this specious reasoning as it continues fighting for free speech and opposes the Patriot Act and other anti-Arab and Muslim measures.

  7. It would be so much easier if the great speaker-outers on race relations would just tell us which groups it is okay to hate and which it is not.

  8. No one has commented about the firing of Helen Thomas from the AP after her unfortunate remarks about Jews/Israelis in what she believed was a private conversation. Thomas, unlike the light weight Williams, is a remarkable journalist who for decades, asked the hard questions of presidents and such, that her more timid colleagues shunned. Her shameful treatment by the AP and most of the corporate media, with nary a mention or comparison with the Williams firing is distressful.

    If she had made the same remarks in a public forum, I would not be sympathetic.

  9. NPR finally fired Juan Williams for breach of contract, drawing the righteous anger of noted contract-experts Sarah Palin [professional] and Newt Gingrich [marital]! ‘Nuff said!

  10. Why is this NPR firing of someone for bigotry and engendering hate and mistrust considered to be pressure from the left? Where are the right wing harbingers of open minded acceptance, fair play and brotherly love?……..oh.

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