No, Juan Williams isn't like Shirley Sherrod

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

Fox's Shepard Smith is making a comparison so stupid that I have no doubt it will catch on: Juan Williams' firing by NPR following his controversial comments about Muslims is just like Shirley Sherrod's firing by the Agriculture Department:

Whether or not NPR was right to fire Williams, this comparison just doesn't make sense.

The central fact of the Sherrod affair is that her comments were taken horribly out of context by professional smear merchant Andrew Breitbart. Despite Smith's complaints, the context of Williams' remarks is clear. On Monday's The O'Reilly Factor, Williams said:

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.

Unless Williams follows that comment (and he didn't) with "That's what I used to think, but now I know better," his point is extremely clear: He gets nervous when he's on a plane and sees people in "Muslim garb." Why don't I think posting that comment is taking it out of context? Because that's the very clip Fox News has been using all day, as they vigorously defend Williams' conduct:

Similarly, Media Research Center's Brent Bozell's attack on NPR for firing Williams doesn't claim Williams was taken out of context, he says that Williams "has done nothing wrong," he's just "echoe[d] what the vast majority of Americans believe."

You know who else doesn't think Williams' comments were taken out of context? Juan Williams! In the clip above, he explains that when an NPR executive called him and asked, "What did you mean to say?" he responded: "I said what I meant to say, which is that it's an honest experience that when I'm in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb, who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear, given what happened on 9-11. That's just the reality."

Which brings us to the second difference. Williams responded to the controversy over his comments by defending them. Sherrod didn't respond to Breitbart's post of a snippet of her speech by telling her bosses, "Yes, I said I didn't help that white farmer because he was white, and I was right to do so." She told them that the full context of her speech was about "blacks and whites working together," and that video of the entire speech would make that clear.

Indeed, while Williams' comments expressed his current feelings, in her speech, Sherrod was explaining the way she used to feel, decades ago, before learning from working with the white farmer that "it's really about those who have versus those who haven't."

And that gets us to the third difference: the Agriculture Department fired Sherrod before they had the full story. Sherrod's comments were made at an obscure event, and the full video didn't emerge before Sherrod was asked to resign. Thus, they made their decision based solely on the out of context clip posted on Breitbart's site. By contrast, Williams made his statement on a national cable broadcast -- NPR had access to as much context as they wanted.

Person
Juan Williams, Shepard Smith
Show/Publication
Studio B
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