October 23, 2010
Fox's Rash Juan Williams OverreactionBy C. Edmund Wright
[See also: The Exciting Journey of Juan Williams]
Could it be that the people at Fox News were more concerned with their own elevator relationships than with their viewers' opinions when they immediately decided to enhance Juan Williams' contract mere hours after his firing by NPR? I say yes. What they failed to calculate was how dramatically different their viewers feel about Williams compared to how Williams' Fox cohorts feel.
I submit that Fox viewers don't really care that Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly -- who know Williams personally -- think he's a fine, stand-up guy. Whoop-dee-doo. For all we know, he may be. It is likely that we will never share the coffee machine or the elevator with him as they do to find out.
He talks about folks like us -- who make up the majority of Fox News' audience -- as racist and bigoted and homophobic and greedy. His declarations on the Tea Party and on small business owners simply follow doctrinaire liberal talking points that bear no relationship to reality. In fact, these opinions are routinely insulting.
To us, Williams is an irritant to be tolerated and not a martyr to be celebrated. We sure as heck do not need to see twice as much of him.
And as for a two-million-dollar contract -- this might as well be welfare for Williams. Based on his public pronouncements, he has not a clue how the private sector generates two million dollars with which to pay him, and he routinely speaks about business and economics with an ignorance that is nothing short of breathtaking. And to further irritate us, he does so with a prepubescent, nasal whine that is actually appropriate for his lack of understanding.
Williams repeatedly sloughs off the desire to extend the Bush tax cuts as simple greed and assures his viewers that these tax cuts have zero impact on job creation. He does. Check the tape. He says it with a straight face.
And these folks aren't going to like the double portion of Juan. There is always NFL football or ESPN SportsCenter on opposite "Fox News Sunday" and "Special Report," you know.
This was pure and simply a heartfelt but, I submit, bad decision on the part of Fox executives, and I predict that the relationship among Williams, the Fox audience, and probably others on the Fox News team will grow strained over the next months.
And I say this because there is almost more Juan Williams than a Fox viewing conservative can stand now. Certainly I am not alone in muting the sound when he starts off on one of his nasal rants on "Special Report" or "Fox News Sunday" -- only to turn the volume back up in time to hear Brit Hume or Bill Kristol make fun of the drivel that Williams has just spilt.
So what will happen now? Will Williams be suddenly treated with kid gloves by Hume, Krauthammer, Kristol, and the like? Will Steve Hayes quit contradicting his every syllable?
If so, will the panel discussions even be worth watching anymore?
And how about Williams himself? Will this exposé of who these wonderful liberals are whom he has been defending all these years change him? Certainly it should, but if it does, what value does he bring to the Fox panels? If he simply becomes a photo negative of David Brooks or Joe Scarborough -- a fake, low-calorie version of the mindset he is supposed to represent -- then he loses value as a foil to the conservatives.
And by the way, how much are they paying Brit Hume in his semi-retirement? I ask only because it was Hume's credibility that more or less launched Fox News as a legitimate news operation in the first place. If this knee-jerk, touchy-feely upgrade puts Williams ahead of Hume on the pay scale, how will Brit take it? How should Brit take it? Is Williams anywhere near his stature? Of course not.
It already seems at times like Hume's irritation with Williams is genuine to begin with. We'll have to see where this new development takes us on that front.
All of which adds up to problems for Fox going forward based on this very rapid overreaction on their part. Look, I think it's hilariously ironic that the private sector swooped in to clean up a mess made by one of the public sector's most pusillanimous arms, NPR. Further, I think it's funny that NPR is getting more publicity than ever for an event where the hated Fox News comes out looking far superior to them by any sober account.
But I still don't think it was a good move by Fox to upgrade Williams' contract the way they did. They may feel good about it, but their customers will not. And down the road, I don't think Fox will, either -- which is ironic indeed for a network built on being a news organization that actually gives the customer what he/she wants.