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Print view: Many years later, NPR unloads one of its hacks
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WHO IS JUAN WILLIAMS! Many years later, NPR unloads one of its hacks: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2010

Who is Juan Williams: Juan Williams is a worthless pundit—a hackneyed, predictable reader of scripts. That said, we haven’t seen anyone fully explain the recent O’Reilly appearance which got him canned by NPR.

What happened that night was Vintage Williams. In the main, Williams challenged O’Reilly’s blustery, gong-show appearance on a recent episode of The View. But remember, this was Vintage Williams: Before he could say that O’Reilly was wrong, he had to say that O’Reilly was right! This produced the part of the show which has been widely quoted:

O'REILLY (10/18/10): Continuing now with our lead story, danger from the Muslim world. Joining us from Washington, Fox analysts Mary Katharine Ham and Juan Williams.

[…]

So where am I going wrong there, Juan?

WILLIAMS: Well, actually, I hate to say this to you because I don't want to get your ego going. But I think you're right. I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality.

I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.

From that point on, Williams basically scolded O’Reilly for being too blunderbuss in his comments about the “danger from the Muslim world.” But it’s the law when Williams appears on the Factor: Before he can challenge his host’s point of view, he must defer to him first.

Williams doesn’t always challenge O’Reilly’s viewpoint during his weekly Factor appearances—but when he does, this pattern often obtains. On September 13, for example, Williams warned O’Reilly that he shouldn’t make too much of the fact that an associate of Imam Rauf (of the “Ground Zero mosque”) had turned out to be a truther. Before long, Williams was fighting the good liberal fight, loftily warning Mr. O about guilt by association:

WILLIAMS (9/13/10): But remember what I warned you about, guilt by association. We don't want to be guilty of that. Because look, it's not that he's the only truther out there. There are a bunch of nuts in America.

O'REILLY: It doesn't matter.

WILLIAMS: There are a bunch of nuts.

O'REILLY: It's on him to explain Khan [his truther associate] and he won't. He won't explain it.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Right. And he's been hiding Khan. I heard you clearly. But let's not make a mistake and say that he's the only truther. Believe me, there are Americans—

O'REILLY: It doesn't have anything to do with anybody else.

WILLIAMS: There are Christians and there are Buddhists who are truthers.

O'REILLY: It's all about Rauf, because Rauf is the driver behind this community center. It's only about him. And a lot of Americans simply don't trust the man. And now, he's got this.

WILLIAMS: Well, I agree. But it's not fair—it's not fair to say that he is the guy, that, you know, that everybody associated with me or Mary Katharine or you, Bill, that we're responsible for everything that they say or believe.

Juan was fighting the good liberal fight! But before he let himself say such things, he had first said this:

O'REILLY: Continuing with our lead story, the man behind Ground Zero mosque, Imam Rauf, and his association with a man who holds radical views on the 9/11 attack. Joining us from Washington with reaction, Fox News analysts Mary Katharine Ham and Juan Williams.

You know, Imam Rauf wants to, or says he wants to bring everybody together, give peace a chance. He's a great conciliator, all of that…However, we asked him point-blank, what about this guy Khan, you know? And he's running. He's running and hiding, Juan. That—I mean, that's crazy, is it not?

WILLIAMS: Well, it is crazy. And you know, your previous guest said, you know, it invites questions. I think it goes beyond that. I think it invites suspicion. I think it invites, “Wait a second”—

O'REILLY: Oh, there's no doubt about it.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, you know, the U.S. State Department sends the guy overseas supposedly as an agent of peace and reconciliation. But this is the same guy then who doesn't understand that it is a provocative act, Bill, to put the mosque in that location. I think, you know—let me just state clearly, it's a first amendment issue. I think that's true. I think he still has the right to do it, but this raises the bar.

Williams went on, in these opening remarks, to batter Rauf on a wide array of points, before he turned and bravely warned about guilt by association.

Williams has always been a horrible pundit—scripted, hackneyed, deferential to power. Last week, NPR made fools of themselves for the way they fired Williams. But long before that, they made fools of themselves for keeping him on their payroll so long. By the way, Williams isn’t just hackneyed and scripted—he’s also strikingly inarticulate. On last week’s program, he made remarks in both the “good cop” and “bad cop” parts of his appearance which were rather hard to parse. You got the drift of what he meant, but the specific point of his remarks was quite hard to decipher.

Williams is a lousy pundit—hackneyed, deferential, not real clear. He also isn’t especially honest. In the wake of his firing by NPR, he tried to walk away from the ridiculous comment he made on O’Reilly’s program in January 2009—the comment in which he described Michelle Obama as “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.” (For Simon Maloy’s treatment at Media Matters, just click here.) But then, Williams has always earned points at Fox by trashing Democratic first ladies. Just recall his remarks about Hillary Clinton on Special Report with Brit Hume.

This roundtable took place on August 23, 1999. A few days earlier, President Clinton had described how he fell in love with his wife when they were students in law school. In response, Hume posted a photo of a 1970s-vintage Hillary Clinton—a photo he found unattractive. For the next several minutes, Hume’s all-male panel staged the kind of discussion that was increasingly common within the “press corps” in the wake of the Clinton impeachment. These remarks were offered on national TV, without complaint from the frightened “career liberal” leaders who were hiding in the woods at this historical juncture:

HUME (8/23/99): The picture he paints of Mrs. Clinton is of a sort of a femme fatale. Now [posting the picture] that’s about what she looked like then.

[LAUGHTER]

And one—one can’t help but wonder about this.

[LAUGHTER].

This was said on national TV. Apparently, the photo didn’t evoke Pamela Anderson in the early years of Baywatch. So Hume’s all-male panel treated themselves to a good solid laugh, and to several more minutes of mocking discussion. After speculating about how the Clintons were getting along in their marriage, they returned to that comical, decades-old photo. Williams traveled there first:

WILLIAMS: The problem, Tod [Lindberg], is that nobody can believe, one, that she was this beautiful woman in college—anyone who’s seen the pictures. And, two, who can believe that she didn’t know that this guy was a skirt-chaser all along?

JEFFREY BIRNBAUM: Well, I should point out, about the love-in-college part, that love is blind.

[LAUGHTER]

But that also—

HUME: Well, he never said she was beautiful. He said she was “compelling looking.” And that she may well have been.

[LAUGHTER]

Hume gained a final round of laughter from his all-male panel. Only Lindberg took a pass on mocking Mrs. Clinton’s appearance. But Lindberg is a serious, decent person. The other all-stars rushed to join the pleasing ritual laughter.

Williams, of course, was cast as the “liberal” on that evening’s program.

NPR has finally fired this dupe, making fools of themselves in the process and furthering “liberal media” narratives. (More on that tomorrow.) But the network’s real shame dates to that earlier era, when they—along with the cowering “career liberal” world—let this garbage go. The war against Gore was picking up steam as Williams laughed at that first lady’s appearance. But “liberals” would ignore that misconduct too. And yes, this is your actual history—the history of how George W. Bush actually got to the White House.

Eleven years later, NPR has finally unloaded one of its hacks.

The way of the age: Days before that Hume roundtable, Gennifer Flowers had appeared on two major cable programs to discuss the Clintons’ many murders, and to help the world understand that Hillary Clinton was the world’s most gigantic lesbo. On August 2, Flowers was granted a half-hour on Hardball, where she behaved like a total buffoon. Because her performance was so absurd, she was then granted a full hour on the August 18 Hannity & Colmes. (For a partial review of those appearances, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03.)

In years of research, we have never found evidence of any journalist complaining about this garbage-strewn conduct by Flowers and her cable hosts. Nor did anyone complain about the mocking performance by Hume and his all-boy panel. Soon, the war against Gore would reach a new crescendo, in the month-long gender-trashing dished to him and Naomi Wolf. Over the course of the next fifteen months, no one would say a word about that conduct either.

Your “liberal leaders” were off in the woods. Juan Williams was bringing the Stupid, earning points at Fox.

AIN’T LIFE IN THE TRUMAN SHOW GRAND (permalink): Alec MacGillis penned a fascinating analysis piece in yesterday’s “Outlook” section.

That said, the piece appeared one year too late—and it withheld the data the press corps withheld all during 2009.

In his piece, MacGillis discussed the remarkable cost of American health care, a topic the press corps tip-toed around all during last year’s “health care discussion.” By the norms of the developed world, we Americans pay through the nose for our health care. And good lord! As he started, MacGillis even took note of this basic fact! In this passage, he refers to the health care law passed earlier this year:

MACGILLIS (10/24/10): The overhaul left virtually untouched one big element of our health-care dilemma: the price problem. Simply put, Americans pay much more for each bit of care—tests, procedures, hospital stays, drugs, devices—than people in other rich nations.

Health-care providers in the United States have tremendous power to set prices. There is no government "single payer" on the other side of the table, and consolidation by hospitals and doctors has left insurers and employers in weak negotiating positions.

"We spend fewer per capita days in the hospital compared with other advanced countries, we see the doctor less frequently, and we swallow fewer pills," said Jon Kingsdale, who oversaw the implementation of Massachusetts's 2006 health-care law. "We just pay a lot more for each of those units than other countries."

The 2010 law does little to address this.

Put aside MacGillis’ claims about the effects of the new law. Instead, note the very limited way he discusses the gigantic cost of American health care—a topic the press corps tip-toed around all during 2009.

As far as we know, MacGillis’ factual claims are accurate. According to MacGillis, Americans consume fewer units of health care than people in other developed countries, even as we pay “much more” for each unit of care. (We pay “much more” for each hospital stay. We pay “much more” for each pill.) But as he continued, MacGillis offered no specific examples of how much more we spend per unit. We got no real idea what he meant by the phrase “much more.” And we never saw the startling data which define the overall problem.

Overall, how much more do we spend on health care, despite the fact that we consume fewer units of care? All during last year’s pseudo-discussion, the national press corps seemed to avoid the startling data which form the basis for any intelligent discussion of our problem. No one ever disputes these data, which come from the OECD—but virtually everyone seems to avoid them (except Paul Krugman). Here they are, the data we posted all last year, in slightly updated form:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7285
Canada: $3867
Germany: $3619
France: $3593
Australia: $3353
United Kingdom: $2990
Japan: $2729
Italy: $2701
Spain: $2658

To examine these data, start here.

Those data help us understand what the phrase “much more” actually means in the context of health care spending. In fact, the United States spends two to three times as much as those other large, developed nations—nations whose health care outcomes are similar to ours, sometimes better. MacGillis adds an interesting fact to this mix; if his claims are correct, we spend two to three times as much as these nations even though we use fewer units of health care. (We swallow fewer pills. We spend fewer nights in the hospital.) And yet, at no point did he offer this larger perspective about our massive health care spending. He simply said we spend “much more” (or “a lot more”) per unit, forcing readers to imagine what such phrases actually mean.

How many Americans understand the extent of our massive health care spending? We’ll take a wild guess: very few. In large part, Americans have little idea how much we spend because the national press corps has agreed, again and again, to withhold such basic facts.

In effect, we live in a Truman show. We live in a world where our major news organs persistently withhold the most basic data about our most basic public affairs. We can’t tell you why this pattern obtained all through last year’s pseudo-discussion. But this pattern did obtain, and it continued in yesterday’s piece.

That said, health care spending is hardly our only Truman show. For a second such show, we’ll again cite the rising reading and math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the widely-praised “gold standard” of educational testing.

All across the “journalistic” landscape, major news orgs have been promoting the idea that educational reform has failed in our public schools. They do this in the face of the NAEP’s striking data, which show major gains by black and Hispanic students over the past dozen years.

We can’t explain why these data get withheld (though we’ll offer a speculation below). However, we can describe the general pattern driving our Truman shows. Last year, you simply weren’t allowed to see those stunning data about health care spending. This year, you aren’t allowed to hear about those rising test scores. You’re asked to form your policy views in the absence of the most basic data.

A few weeks ago, we issued a plea to a range of writers: Tell us about those test scores, we said. Report those test scores—and try to explain them. We had planned to wait a month before following up, but we can already guess at the outcome:

No will report those NAEP test scores; no one will attempt to explain them. Serious People have all agreed not to color outside the lines of this particular gong-show. How strange! In this particular Truman show, everyone praises the NAEP—and everyone agrees to ignore its data. Everyone except Diane Ravitch, who baldly misstates those data—and gets nominated for a prize by a “liberal” site like Salon.

(For a real piece of know-nothing nonsense, click here.)

Amazing, isn’t it? Even our biggest “professional liberals” won’t tell you that black kids are doing much better! You aren’t allowed to know such a fact. Instead, they canonize a dissembler like Ravitch.

Ain’t life in the Truman show grand?

Health care spending in Finland (permalink): As we’ve noted, every journalist flies to Finland to examine its high-scoring (middle-class) schools. This furthers a preferred press corps narrative: Our own public schools are a mess!

But please note: No one has ever flown to Finland to explore a second question: How do they provide health care at such a very low cost? Here are the OECD data for the U.S. and Finland:

Total spending on health care, per person, 2007:
United States: $7285
Finland: $2900

How weird! Why does no one fly to Finland to examine this major achievement?

Now, for that speculation about the press corps’ motive:

Finland’s test scores let a bunch of know-nothing journos push a preferred press corps narrative: Our public schools are a mess! (Maybe we need to privatize! It’s all the fault of the unions!) Finland faces none of the daunting educational challenges we face, of course. But so what! All pundits on deck!

By way of contrast, the press corps’ deference to corporate interests seems to make it shy from the topic of health care spending. Does Finland achieve good health care at a very low price? This topic can’t be discussed!

Here too, Finland doesn’t face some of the demographic challenges we face in the U.S. But the differential treatment is clear: One Finn achievement gets ballyhooed; the other gets deep-sixed.

You get to hear that the Finns have good schools. You aren’t told about their health care spending. One achievement is heralded, one disappears.

Ain’t life in the Truman show grand?