Richard's Reviews > Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate

Muzzled by Juan Williams
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Aug 13, 2011

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Read from August 06 to 13, 2011 , read count: 1

In Muzzled, Juan Williams takes on the difficult task of exposing polarization within our society in an engaging and persuasive way. Williams was fired by NPR for being at philosophical and political odds with NPR management, with his comment about feeling uneasy about those in Muslim dress when traveling being the excuse for NPR to let him go, and then to demean him personally and publicly. Using that event as a springboard, Williams examines many topics within the public arena (9/11, taxation, health care, immigration, abortion, and talk radio to name several) where it has become nearly impossible to have an intelligent and honest public conversation without personal repercussions.

I say that the task is difficult for a couple of reasons. First, many people already know what Juan is writing about. Other authors have covered essentially the same territory. Yet the problems that Williams describe seem to be getting worse, not better. The book is timely and valuable.

Second, it is difficult to write a book like this without, in effect, taking sides, especially when presenting examples of the suppression of public debate. Williams is an honest, thoughtful, and intelligent analyst. Yet his opinions still color his presentation. He is provocative and maddening, sometimes within the span of a few sentences.

I was least pleased with Chapter 8 (The Provocateurs), devoted to media opinion programs in general and talk radio in particular. His descriptions of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are unfair and the examples he uses are taken out of context or are interpreted simplistically - ironic in light of the subject of the book. I could cite many examples, but here is one. Williams quotes Rush as saying to a black caller "take the bone out of your nose and call me back." I researched that quote and discovered Rush said it to a caller he couldn't understand when he was working as an insult DJ in Pittsburgh in the early 70s at the beginning of his career. Rush since expressed remorse for that comment. By including it in the book, Williams implies that it represents who Rush Limbaugh is and what his national radio show has been about for over 23 years.

I thought Chapter 7 was among the best as Williams really tries to present a "fair and balanced" discussion of "The Abortion Wars". Yet even here, Williams gives me pause. He gets into the discussion of the place of religion in society today and through history. Some of his points are based on what some say is revisionist history that diminishes the role the Founders assumed for religion in society.

All in all, this is a good book on a timely topic. I recommend it. But read it closely. Williams' center-left foundation is often subtle but it is to be found throughout the book. And while I agree with his central thesis that nationally we are stuck in our various orthodoxies, I'm not sure how we move beyond that point. Perhaps it simply takes enough people of good will and character to say Enough!
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[Name Redacted] I'd say his out-of-context Beck & Limbaugh examples are especially ironic given that NPR fired him by doing exactly that -- taking his comment out of context and claiming he was behaving unprofessionally.

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