Williams: Move past rhetoric

Fox commentator will talk about politics, race and self-advancement

Fox commentator will talk about politics, race and self-advancement

February 15, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Pundits have accused him of being too conservative. Others praise him for the volumes he's written about the black experience in America.

But how much does Juan Williams take in account what people think?

"What do you mean? Am I sensitive?" Williams responded in a recent interview with The Herald-Mail. "I'm very comfortable with who I am."

Williams is scheduled to deliver a lecture Thursday, Feb. 19, at the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center at Shippensburg University. Williams will accept questions from the audience, said Leslie Folmer Clinton, associate vice president for external affairs and director of Luhrs.

"I want people to trust me and have a high sense of my credibility," Williams said. "I'm not out here to say provocative things for the sake of being alarmist. I'm out here trying to get people to understand the political process and to make sense of what I think is too much spin. Too much of the kind of empty-headed rhetoric that poses as real debate in public life."


Williams' lecture Thursday is part of a benefit for the school's yearly minority scholarship program. His speech follows an on-campus dinner honoring the latest recipients of the Helping Our People Excel (HOPE) Diversity Scholarship, which is awarded to minority students, said Ronnie Tucker, co-chair of the HOPE committee and associate professor of political science. Past speakers have included Alice Walker, Jesse Jackson and Coretta Scott King, Tucker said.

Williams, who wrote for the Washington Post for more than 20 years, is a senior correspondent at National Public Radio and is a political analyst for Fox television. He has also written extensively about the Civil Rights Movement, including nonfiction bestseller, "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965."

Williams was willing to chat with The Herald-Mail about race and the impact of President Barak Obama's election, and the political analyst offered some advice to the next generation of leaders.

"They have to see themselves a little bigger than simple concerns over what kind of job they're going to get," Williams said. "They have to see themselves having a life in which they can create jobs, they can create businesses in which they will play a central roll as opinion leaders in shaping the kind of world we live in."

He also spoke about the importance of diversity and what he called the "remnants" of slavery.

Williams' stance on certain issue has drawn criticism, particularly from other black pundits and writers.

"I think that part of it is, 'Why am I at Fox News?'" Williams said.

"Anytime I say anything that can be distorted, especially in regard to if I say it on Fox News, it's 'Oh, you know he's under the control of Fox News,' or 'He's a puppet for Fox News,' or 'He's just working there,'" Williams said.

"I worked for the Washington Post, for CNN, for PBS, for NPR, I don't think that's the point," he said. "I'm very comfortable in who I am. And I'm not responding to any instructions about what I say. I've never, ever had anyone tell me what to say on Fox, never once."

Last month, comments he made about Michelle Obama - describing her as a "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress" on Fox News - stirred up some controversy. He says his remarks were taken out of context.

Williams said it wasn't intended to be a personal attack on the first lady.

"If I left the wrong impression, I apologize," Williams said during The Herald-Mail interview. "By no means was it an attack on Michelle Obama."

Instead, he said he was referencing instances during Obama's campaign where she came across as militant and said he was simply laying out the "pitfalls" if she were to get "off message."

"Remember there was this New Yorker magazine cover that had her dressed like Che Guevara, like a rebel or something?" Williams said. "That's the kind of thing that results because I think it's really easy to portray her as an angry, shrill, black woman."

During the interview, Williams had many good things to say about the Obamas, describing them as role-models. He said Barack Obama's success is something young people should try to emulate.

"It's such an important message to young people that, you know, all Americans have the opportunities to succeed in this country - particularly to minorities," Williams said. "You can make it if you work hard, if you believe in yourself, and in your community, and your community's future. You can be rewarded. And here's a real, living example, Barack Obama, that you can emulate."

Williams said in a time of "tremendous political and demographic" change, he thinks racism is still a factor.

"Given our history, there's no doubt that race is a large part of how we see each other," Williams said. "We're still dealing with the ramifications of what many call the original sins of our forefathers, which is slavery."

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