Juan Williams’ 2011 book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, contains information relevant to the lack of public-access television in Columbus. Williams wrote the book in response to his firing from National Public Radio in 2010.
NPR gave Williams the ax because he publicly admitted to feeling nervous when seeing people dressed in Muslim garb while he’s boarding airplanes. NPR’s ire was not allayed by the fact that in the same interview, Williams said we need to override such fearful emotions with a rational recognition that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and not connected to terrorism.
Concerning the media’s extensive coverage of his firing, Williams states: “I am struck by how little of it tells the full story of what actually happened. Basic facts were distorted, important context was not provided, and personal attacks were treated as truth. The lack of honest reporting about the firing and the events that led up to it was not just unfair – most of it was flat-out lies.”
He says such problems are common in the media and dangerous to America: “The acceptance of hypocrisy and outright fabrication in journalism is a threat to the nation.”
He explains that the dishonesty is often caused by political correctness trumping a commitment to truth and free speech. “We are creating a culture in the newsroom where facts, context, and insight take a backseat to fear of complaints of insensitivity, accusations of racism, and all sorts of phony charges of bigotry.”
He says this atmosphere has contributed to the problem that “entrenched, moneyed interests maintain fierce control over what we can and can’t say or debate.” As a result, “The voice of honest debate in America has been muzzled. And as those voices of honest debate have grown silent, the quality of our political institutions has been diminished.”
Many persons who have worked in government in Columbus know that the local media can be just as deficient in covering stories, whether because of political correctness, selfish economic interests, hidden agendas, or other reasons. Public-access TV, however, would give knowledgeable citizens the ability to correct misinformation spread by the media.
Williams also recognizes the extreme importance of free speech. He writes that it is “what we cherish most in this country,” “our most precious freedom,” “the essence of America,” “our national sunshine,” “arguably the defining aspect of the American way of life,” a “fundamental right” that “has been exalted by every American generation,” and is “nearly synonymous with democracy in the United States and has been ever since free speech was enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”
He goes on that Americans “are not afraid of other views,” “encourage people to express their points of view,” and have a “passion for free speech in all its glory: radical, liberating, informative, artistic, rebellious, and defiant.” And he says those attitudes are bipartisan: “Across political lines we stand in fierce defense of that fundamental right.”
It is puzzling how things have gotten to the point in Columbus – the purported All-American City – that city officials oppose public-access television and show little affection for the hallowed principle of free speech, which American soldiers have died for and continue to do so. Williams notes that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington told his soldiers that free speech was one of the rights they were fighting for.
Additionally, Williams mentions how significant free speech has been for promoting racial justice. He quotes Randall Kennedy, a black Harvard Law School professor: “Resistance against censorship [has] always been an important and positive feature of the great struggles against racist tyranny in the United States, from the fight against slavery to the fight against Jim Crow.”
A lack of public-access TV prevents some citizens from publicly exposing and speaking out against racial injustice.
Further, Williams describes the sad state of political discourse in the commercial media. He says national talk-show hosts obtain ratings by stridently advocating for a particular side, not searching for compromise or common ground. He maintains that “in sparking debate that plays off of our fears and concerns,” the talk-show hosts “drive out rational discussion and reasoned debate. Their very function as hosts and provocateurs can serve to drive us apart.”
Williams argues that to correct these problems, Americans “have to take matters into our own hands. Ordinary Americans need to join the fight against the scourge that is undermining our essential American belief in letting people speak their minds.”
Although Williams doesn’t mention public-access TV, it certainly is a means for Americans to take matters into their own hands, speak their minds, and influence how public discussions are conducted. Without the need to obtain ratings by using harsh, pugnacious, and divisive approaches, some of them could use public-access TV to calmly and rationally try to bring people together by seeking solutions having wide appeal. In any event, they likely couldn’t do worse than certain talk-show hosts in the commercial media.
A final statement from Williams is particularly relevant to the need for public-access TV: “Closing ourselves off from one another and one another’s honest opinions – especially at this crucial juncture in the nation’s history – is the last thing we should do, encourage, or accept.”
Tragically, in regard to the views expressed on television in central Ohio, Columbus officials apparently want citizens to remain closed off from each other and muzzled.