Emotional reactions shouldn’t be swept away

Published 8:47 am Friday, November 5, 2010

The messy firing of former National Public Radio news analyst Juan Williams, after he made comments some considered intolerant of Islam, has sparked a national debate over the public roles and responsibilities of journalists and their bosses and opened the nonprofit radio corporation to criticism.

The carping is justified in at least one respect: NPR, which receives about 10 percent of its income from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting, should give the public a better explanation for the firing.

In a discussion with Fox personality Bill O’Reilly about the role Muslims play in anti-U.S. terrorism, Williams said that, when he’s flying and sees people “in Muslim garb” on the plane, he gets “nervous” and “worried.”

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Put non-Muslim Americans on truth serum and a substantial portion would sympathize. An honest description of a fear-based emotional reaction, however irrational, isn’t proof of bigotry.

A more meaningful discussion would focus not only on whether Williams was out of line as a journalist but, in general, on the sentiments he expressed. …

Fears like those expressed by Williams should be dissected and explored, not censured and shoved under the rug.

The Columbus Dispatch