Juan Williams was attempting a tricky juggling act before he was fired by NPR last week, says Clarence Page at the Chicago Tribune. He was paid to do even-handed news analysis for NPR, which conservatives hate, and to provide opinionated commentary for Fox News, which conservatives love. NPR had warned him repeatedly "about expressing stronger views on Fox than NPR would find acceptable on its own air," so it is hardly shocking that NPR pulled the plug when Williams said on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor" that passengers in "Muslim garb" on planes make him "worried" and "nervous." Fox News "happily jumped at the chance" to twist this into proof that it is "more fair-minded than NPR," handing Williams a three-year contract worth almost $2 million. But by trying to exploit the incident for its own PR purposes, Fox is obscuring the real lesson behind Williams' "unfortunate" firing. Here, an excerpt:

Williams' nervousness about "Muslim garb" unfortunately sounded about as welcome to many ears as a white man complaining that he gets nervous when he sees young black males on a dark street at night. If it is doubtful that Fox would have embraced quite as enthusiastically a white man who was fired for speaking that view, it is only because prejudice against Muslims has become more socially acceptable than prejudice against blacks. It shouldn't be. ...

That's the point Williams was trying to make. He actually was arguing against those who want to blame all Muslims for the tragedy of Sept. 11, which was caused by a fanatical minority. But as political spin doctor Frank Luntz often says, it's not what you say that matters, it's what others hear.

Read the full article at the Chicago Tribune.