Who Is 'Kirkus Reviews' And Why Do They Hate the New Juan Williams Book?

Julie Moos at Poynter.org reported Monday that reviews are “mixed” for the forthcoming Juan Williams book on his firing from National Public Radio (title: Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, due July 26). But the only review Moos cited was Kirkus Reviews, which hammered at the Williams book as a step backward in the debate: “In the end, about the last thing the civil-discourse cause needs, namely more self-interested preaching to the choir.” The unnamed Kirkus reviewer was snarky:

A plea to make the world safe for bad-mouthing Muslims against the big bad PC police of the Far Left.

Self-described middle-of-the-roader Williams (Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It, 2006, etc.), now a fixture on Fox News, was famously relieved of his duties as an NPR commentator after having confessed to getting queasy aboard planes in which certain passengers are "dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims."

Here, the author recounts that removal, generalizing from his experience to lament a world in which free speech is supposedly suppressed in the interest of political correctness. True enough, we live in a time when the gravest offense often seems to be to give offense in the first place, even though there are plenty of people—and plenty of them on Fox—who make good livings doing just that.

Williams is not especially convincing in that generalization; to read this account, it seems he may just have had a toxic relationship with his boss, herself recently gone after a political misstep of a different kind. To be fair, he concurs that some Fox types, particularly the soon-to-be-gone Glenn Beck, are guilty of stifling and shouting and incivility, though this admission comes in a rather roundabout way: "So while my friends at Fox frequently and courageously expose the use of this tactic of political correctness by the Left, it's important to remember that the Right plays this game too."

Most of the book is unobjectionable—sure, it'd be nice if we could all play nice and Al Franken wouldn't roll his eyes at Mitch McConnell. Even so, much of the narrative is a long exercise in complaint about his bad treatment at the hands of NPR management, in which Williams overlooks, it seems, the Ailesian right-to-work credo, which holds that all employees serve at the pleasure of their bosses and there's no such thing as tenure or appeal. Who lives by the sword, after all...

Kirkus Reviews is an important source for book sellers and librarians, so snarky Fox-bashing book reviewers can make a difference in whether a book like this gets bought and stocked.

UPDATE: Politico's Mike Allen has a couple of sneak-preview paragraphs:

“Just after 8:00 a.m. [the day after Williams was fired from NPR with what he calls a ‘dismissive late-afternoon call’], I got a call from Bill Shine [Fox News executive vice president of programming]. He told me that Fox CEO Roger Ailes wanted to see me in his office at 10:00 a.m. Since I had talked with Hannity the night before, anxiety and pent-up anger and depression had all pulled at my emotions. I had not slept. At times I had cried over what had happened and over the potential destruction of my career – all because I had spoken my mind.

“When I walked into Roger Ailes’s office, accompanied by Shine and Michael Clemente, the senior vice president for news, Ailes greeted me with a smile and said, ‘Well, we can’t have you working here.’ As my jaw dropped, he broke into a laugh. He waved his hand and said he was offering me a new three-year contract with an increased role at the network. Ailes asked me how much I made at NPR and said he’d make up every dime so I wouldn’t have to go home and tell my wife and family we’d lost money because of NPR’s actions. He also said he wanted to see how America’s left-wing media and politicians reacted to a serious journalist being silenced this way.”

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Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis