You might call journalist Juan Williams the man in the middle. A correspondent for both the FOX News Channel and National Public Radio, he’s said to be distrusted by some at NPR because of the Fox connection. And he says while he’s seen by black viewers as “the conservative on Fox,” white viewers consider him the network’s liberal. But, “I’m not beholden to any one ideology,” Williams said yesterday during a luncheon Q&A at the Belo Mansion. The problem is that “nobody in Washington ever acknowledges that the other side is right, because they’re all getting paid by people to stay on one side of the fence. So we have a fragmented media world.” The Belo audience was an eclectic bunch–Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, local GOP honcho Jonathan Neerman–and they got their money’s worth from Williams (pictured in this photo by Lisa A. Street). Answering questions posed by John Goodman, president and CEO of the right-leaning National Center for Policy Analysis, the veteran correspondent took on the Obama White House, CNN, teachers unions, and Republicans who dragged their feet in the health care debate. Jump for the highlights.
On the White House’s current “war” on the Fox News Channel, Williams said the Obama administration “is suffering from a bunker mentality. It reminds me of what Nixon tried to do with Katherine Graham and the Washington Post. I think it’s sort of anti-American. There should many voices of opposition … you allow a marketplace of ideas to determine the winner. … Once they shifted [from attacking commentators Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, etc.] to ideological grounds, I think they shifted to a losing hand. I think they’re wrong, and I think they made a terrible calculation.”
On Fox itself: “In terms of the actual reporting, it seems to me that it is quite fair. Fox viewers are 1/3 Democrats, a little more than 1/3 Republican, and the rest are independents. And a little more than 1/4 of Fox’s audience is people of color.”
On whether CNN is “fair and balanced”: “Their position is that they simply give you the news. But what they choose not to cover [is telling]. The most recent examples are the ACORN and the Van Jones stories [which CNN initially downplayed]. But wait a minute, the Democrats in Congress voted to withhold funding from ACORN, then the Census Bureau [weighed in], and the New York Times, CNN had to catch up with news broken by Fox. The question is, do you present all perspectives on the news? That’s where I think CNN falls short.”
On the No. 1 mistake liberals make: “The world is changing fast. There’s a need for innovation,” and “liberals are slow to react. For example, the biggest challenge of our time is education, and the poor quality of education for minorities. How can we have a discussion about equality when there’s such an achievement gap? How are we not talking about the breakdown of the family–70% in the black community? Yet the left is absent on those issues. That pocket of issues requires innovative thinking. You don’t see the left changing with the times.”
On the No. 1 mistake conservatives make: “Republicans feel embattled, and I think it’s been a mistake by some Republicans not to be more engaged in the health care debate. There’s also a changing demographic: more people of color, younger people, and there has to be a Republican approach [to them]. There has to be a clear message sent, and a willingness for the party to engage. That’s crucial if it’s to grow.”
On the Rev. Al Sharpton, Williams said Sharpton offered to organize a “civil rights demonstration” on behalf of one side in a corporate dispute in return for $10,000–a tactic Williams likened to a shakedown. “I think that’s a base activity. And this goes on all the time. But the media says, ‘That’s Al Sharpton, and that’s acceptable.’ ”
More on minorities and education: “Why aren’t more minorities organizing and demanding better schools? Why aren’t parents themselves literally taking to the streets and demanding better education? When educators ask that, the parents say, ‘We have no alternatives.’ They don’t want to ‘put down’ their children and the quality of their schools. … [But another factor is a reluctance ] to take on the unions. They don’t want to do anything that would weaken the teachers’ unions.”
On the black Establishment: Williams lamented the reluctance of the black leadership, especially its churches, to condemn the community’s “terrible out-of-wedlock birth rate, the generations dependent on welfare, the acceptance of drug use. Why don’t they say: ‘This is damaging and a negative phenomenon in our community’? ” He also ripped groups like the NAACP for running political advertisements (specifically, the James Byrd Jr. “dragging-death” ad that branded George W. Bush as a racist in 2000) that he said were based on outright lies.
When Williams’ presentation was finished, we asked D.A. Craig Watkins what he thought of it. The journalist had played a little too much to the mainly conservative crowd, Watkins said. Specifically citing the James Byrd-ad example, Watkins said “the right” is guilty of doing the identical things. As a result, “it wasn’t as balanced a discussion as it could have been,” Watkins said.