Book Review: Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate
Publication Date: Jul 26, 2011
List Price: $24.00
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC
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Book Reviewed by Kam Williams
"Is it possible to talk about Muslims and terrorism without being called a bigot? …What happened to me was not about me alone. It was an assault on journalism and honest debate…
My purpose in doing this book is not to get people to feel sorry for me. The goal of this book is to set the record straight and to use my experience in what amounts to a political and media whacking as the starting point for a much-needed discussion about the current, sad state of political discourse in this country. It is time to end the ongoing assault against honest debate in America."
--The author explaining why he wrote the book (pgs. 3, 27 &92)
Juan Williams ignited a firestorm of controversy last year when he
admitted to Bill O'Reilly on national television that he feels nervous
whenever he sees fellow passengers in Muslim garb getting on a plane with
him. Within hours, Juan was fired from his own talk show on National Public
Radio (NPR) by his boss, Ellen Weiss, despite his having an exemplary record
since joining the network almost a decade earlier.
He says Weiss essentially labeled him a bigot and "gave me no chance to tell my side of the story." And the very next day, NPR's CEO, Vivian Schiller, not only rubber-stamped his termination, but added insult to injury when she implied that Juan might be mentally unstable by suggesting that he should've kept the comment between himself and his psychiatrist.
Williams never retracted the Muslim comment, and he subsequently suffered some sleepless nights and shed some tears over the loss of his job and reputation. After all, didn't his sterling civil rights record as the author of the award-winning, PBS saga "Eye on the Prize" as well as of a critically-acclaimed biography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall count for anything? Yet now he was left with no idea what effect the blowback from the brouhaha would have on his career as a journalist just for merely exercising his First Amendment Right of Free Speech.
It is important to note that Juan's incendiary quote had been taken out of context, and anyone who bothered to watch the whole interview understood that he had never actually advocated any intolerance of Muslims or expressed any anti-Islamic sentiment. Nonetheless, he remained dismissed by NPR, and effectively muzzled for the insensitive sounding sound bite.
Half heartfelt memoir/half an urgent appeal for the return of civil discourse to the public arena, "Muzzled" persuasively bemoans the pressure placed on pundits nowadays to talk only in sanitized, politically-correct phraseology. Its title probably sounds appropriate given that it was inspired by the unfortunate chapter of Juan's life during which he was temporarily taken off the air.
However, I'd say "Vindicated" might make more sense, given that both of the NPR executives who had humiliated Juan were eventually forced to resign in disgrace. Meanwhile he went on to sign a multi-million dollar deal with Fox Television where he's finally free to speak his mind and to savor the last laugh.