Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams, Anonymity, Jackie Robinson, and Men on Elevators

Juan Williams. I'm sure everything under the sun has been said about the firing of Juan Williams, the long time NPR news analyst fired recently for making comments on Fox's The O'Reilly factor admitting nervousness when people who identify themselves as Muslim through their dress board an airplane.

Here's what I find ridiculous. He was expressing his own personal feelings, he was not making a comment about Muslims being terrorist, but that there is a personal bias that comes into play by the way someones dressed and how it makes him feel. Obviously, one can assume, that Juan Williams adjusts this bias as he's there, but that this is a knee jerk reaction.

We all have knee jerk reactions and biases. Not all the same, but whether it's pregnant teens, certain racial or ethnic groups, certain styles of dress, age, or anything inbetween. Do identifying these biases further the conversation? Maybe, maybe not. But we should be able to expose our biases.

Here's what I can understand. There is an understandable conflict of interest when a news analyst is also involved with an editorial program. When Juan Williams is on Fox news there is potentially a tainting of his news analyst position when he expressing editorial opinions. This I can understand. Juan Williams has the right to free speech as an American, but his employer also has the right to terminate the relationship is free speech jeopardizes his role.

Here's what I don't understand. If NPR allows there news analyst to go on editorial programs how can they then fire someone for what they say? Mara Liasson is another NPR analyst who is regularly a FOX News contributor as a panelist on Fox News Sunday, again providing editorial content, not preparing news packages. Is Liasson next? If I were her I would be fearful of this mixed relationship. I feel like NPR could have handled the situation more diplomatically then firing for one comment. And maybe they tried, but this was not conveyed to the public. But it seems rash to allow him to editorialize, but then fire him for editorial comments.

Anonymity. It's interesting how our first amendment right to free speech is rarely challenged. But that our jobs and even future unheld jobs impact our speech. It is for that reason that I write my own blog anonymously. I don't say anything to "rock the boat" but one comment could be taken the wrong way and jeopardize future jobs or my current job. That's unfortunate, because it definitely limits dialogue and true expression of thoughts (liberal, conservative, spiritual, personal doubts, etc). We have a new time when things like Facebook encourage openness but our greatest fears are not what other people think but what future employers, current employers, and co-workers might do with this information.

Jackie Robinson: And it's not just about playing it safe. I was in an HR training once where a scenario was hypothesized where a group of white men compliment a new member of the team, a black man, by saying "You're our own Jackie Robinson." The debate was whether a comment of this nature was inappropriate or not. Some would say, yes, it's inappropriate because your identifying someone by the racial characteristics by identifying them as black. Where others said, no, there was nothing wrong with this because Jackie Robinson is a positive figure and a trailblazer, and to compare someone to Jackie Robinson is a compliment. The fact is, our comments will be perceived differently by others, and that who knows how anything we say will be perceived by others. Even if we think we're being careful about what we say.

Men on Elevators: When I'm at work, I've noticed women talk freely on elevators while men are usually far more reserved and quiet. Women (as a generality, not a rule) will share a great deal more about their personal life, work life, feelings, frustrations, and life on an elevator. Men might be talking to a friend and be silent as they enter an elevator. Again, this is a general rule, but I have to wonder, that as our society historically has relied on men as the bread winners for families, if the pressure for men to monitor what they say is far greater than that of women. I think most men feel this pressure to careful monitor what they say in a work environment. Maybe I'm off, but ask some men.

Fear. It's a scary prospect that a company might determine that you are unfit for their company based on comments you make about social taboo subjects like politics, religion, society, or personal admissions of bias. I don't think the intention behind human resource departments and corporate management is to fight the first amendment right, but our media age makes sound bites, e-mail snippets, and news articles fly so fast that they're right to have something to protect, but in protecting these things they create fear in people that their professional career could be over in a sentence.

1 comment:

Adam S. said...

One of the biggest regrets I have with the Stone Report is giving up my anonymity. I had visions of being a great military blogger, but since I had my name behind it, I really had to watch what I said. This was especially true when I wanted to say something I knew would be taken wrong by one of my officers.

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