Friday, October 22, 2010

Two black Fox News commentators: one gets rich, one gets fired

Liberals (or alleged liberals) tend to fill, with a few exceptions like the occasional appearance of The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel, two roles on the Fox News Channel. One is the obvious foil, usually a milquetoast liberal like Alan Colmes who plays the foil to and is easily overcome by a heroic conservative. Sometimes the foil is someone they think will appear buffoonish to the audience, like a blustery Nation of Islam spokesman.

The other role is the validator, the liberal who lets conservatives feel that their ideas and claims are accurate and/or widely held across the political spectrum. In print that role is filled by a certain publication which has inspired the phrase "Even the liberal New Republic..." On television that role is played by "Fox News Liberals" like Kirsten Powers and Mara Liasson. The most notorious of these FNL liberals is the minority liberal who validates conservatives' worst impulses and unfounded paranoias about other races and religions, who tells them that their secret dark impulses are just good sense:
"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."
Juan Williams has been at this for a while. Before this, he was most notorious for his "Stokely Carmichael in a dress" comment about Michelle Obama that prompted NPR to forbid Williams from identifying himself as part of NPR while on Fox. After that, Fox had to be content with having a black liberal instead of a black liberal from liberal NPR validating conservative race paranoia. Such a service is quite valuable; for being the Fox News audience's black best friend he will now get a $2 million payday under his shiny new Fox contract.

Given the recent firings of Rick Sanchez, Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr, and Dave Wiegel - Glenn Greenwald adds to this list past incidents with Eason Jordan, Peter Arnett, Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield, Bill Maher, Ward Churchill, Chas Freeman, and Van Jones - this would obviously seem part of a trend of news organizations jettisoning personnel who cross certain lines with their public comments. Instead the right-wing has, in a display of hypocrisy that is stunning even for them, charged to defend the "free speech" rights of Williams, including many of the same pundits and organizations who called for the firings of the people listed above. In retrospect, should we really be surprised by this? It's long been a trend for the right to demand the scalps of outspoken liberals while arguing for consequence-free "free speech" for even the most noxious of conservative bile.

And thus the Fox audience gets to imagine themselves champions of free speech who accept viewpoints from all over the political spectrum, a fantasy worth the $2 million that Roger Ailes just dropped for Juan Williams' new contract. But to see how true that fantasy really is, look at the case of Marc Lamont Hill. Dr. Hill, an African American Columbia University professor, was a regular on The O’Reilly Factor, prompting outrage from the likes of Accuracy in Media, who called him "cop-killer apologist", and David Horowitz, who called him an "affirmative action baby". This is, of course, the same Accuracy of Media and Horowitz who are currently getting the vapors over Williams' firing and are virulently defending him. Hill was abruptly fired from Fox News almost a year ago to the date of Williams' new Fox contract. Hill wasn't even told and had to find out via a Google alert.

I guess Fox News will defend the "free speech" rights of their employees to defy orthodox thinking as long as they are only defying the liberal orthodoxy.

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