Press: Is The Firing Of Thomas, Sanchez And Williams Censorship?

In the past five months, three firings of high profile journalists by their respective news outlets have raised some serious questions about what is left of the freedom of the press in the US main steam media. The firings also raise questions about defining the blurry journalistic lines between analysis, commentary and opinion. It started with the firing of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas in June, than the one of Rick Sanchez by CNN a couple of weeks ago, and finally the firing of Juan Williams by NPR last week.

The three cases have a lot in common. Thomas, Sanchez and Williams all committed the “sin” of expressing their respective own opinions, not on their regular beats but as guests on other broadcasting venues. And this raises the key question here: In our current toxic and biased US news landscape are journalists allowed to express their own views?

Back in June, our own Liam Fox at News Junkie Post reported in his story “Helen Thomas: No Apologies Necessary”, about the hasty firing of Thomas over her comments on Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians.

“Helen Thomas statements were about policy, not people, and for that, we should have not lost her. To liken what Thomas has said to racist rants inviting African-Americans to return to Africa is disingenuous at best, and more directly, a twisted misinterpretation designed only to silence opposing views to Israeli expansionism,” wrote Liam Fox in his June article.

What was worse in the case of Thomas is that the White House had an explicit hand in it, and by doing so the Obama administration attacked not only the freedom of the press but even Helen Thomas’ freedom of speech. Both Thomas and Sanchez committed what is a crime of lese majeste in the United States media: speaking out against Israel, and the country’s border line criminal policies towards Palestinians.

In the case of Rick Sanchez, the firing came after a comment he made concerning the control of America’s media by Jews. The reason used  to quickly give the ax to both journalists was that both made “anti-Semitic” remarks. In either cases, the opinions expressed by  Thomas and Sanchez were not an attack on Jews, as a people or a religious group, but a critic of the state of Israel. For Sanchez, he was merely expressing the complete biased in favor of Israel that is chronic  in the US media. But apparently, the board of  CNN’s corporate master do not make a distinction between anti-Semites and journalists who dare to critic Israel.

If the firing of Thomas and Sanchez had to do with Israel and Jews, the one of Williams has to do with comments he made about Muslims on Fox News. NPR considered Williams’ anti-Islamic view to be “bigotry”, and not acceptable coming from an NPR  Senior News Analyst. But NPR, who claims to be non-biased and “objective”, by their clumsy reaction and the firing of Williams have made itself a bit less credible as a serious news organization. Instead of firing Juan Williams, they could have changed his title from Senior News Analyst to Senior News Commentator which would have giving him the ability to express his opinions, regardless of their merit, in a much more open way.

Regardless of anyone’s political opinions about Israel, Jews and Muslims, what CNN and NPR lost in the process is credibility as news organizations. Journalists should be able to speak out without being concerned of getting fired, and this is not only an issue of freedom of the press but also one of freedom of speech. Whatever ways  the respective news outlets want to spin it to justify the firings, it does amount to censorship.

Editor’s Note: Photograph by Gilbert Mercier.


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