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VINE VOICEon July 26, 2011
Nearly at the very start of `Muzzled' Juan Williams, unintentionally, makes an excellent point about why this book is an almost mandatory read for anybody interested in political discourse today. Here's his reasoning. He comments that most of us have jobs that consume much of our attention and effort. At best, this leaves a relatively short amount of time and attention for us to concentrate on political or social matters. Some folks, often described as the chattering classes of which Williams is one, do nothing but pay attention to politics. This is their job. They know the processes and the people involved. They are the political authorities. Many of us tend to think we have a comprehensive knowledge about the political process, but we can't -- given the limitations of our daily lives. Thus no matter if you agree or disagree with Williams, what he says is the distillation of more research and thought than most of us can dedicate to the process.

The first chapter of `Muzzled' is Williams' version of his firing from NPR and hiring as a commentator (rather than the occasional guest) by Fox News. Williams only devotes a single chapter to this incident probably to air his view of the event reinforced by the subsequent resignations or firings at NPR over his dismissal. He notes that while at NPR he was regularly policed as to what he was permitted to say. Over at Fox, he's always been given perfect freedom to express whatever his thoughts may be. That's a rather telling contrast between Fox and NPR.

Clearly, though, the book isn't about Williams or his time at NPR or Fox or anything to do with Williams as a person. Instead, he posits that political dialog in the United States itself is muzzled, just as he was at NPR, by what he terms `political correctness'.

Williams uses the term `political correctness' to mean enforced ideological orthodoxy. Why he extends the term political correctness beyond most people's definition of the term is something he never explains or perhaps the term means something different to him than most. He does state that he believes the term flexes its meaning depending on the speaker. Anyway, it's his contention, and he offers many examples he believes reinforces this contention, that the various sides of any hot button political debate have reached an impasse in the form of impregnable defensive fortresses neither side is willing or able to breach. The balance of the book is a dissertation from Williams about this divide, examples of how the divide continues to widen and some editorial from the author on which way the debates should trend.

It's Williams belief that both sides have, for every issue, a set of key terms to classify the listener to being either with `us' or against `us'. All or at least most commentators today will address these issues using these hot button terms because they know they are playing to their audience. For example, when talking about Obamacare, those opposed will talk about death panels and those supporting will talk about the need for universal health care. Note the difference. Is Obamacare a good in bringing about universal health care or is it a bad bringing bureaucratic faceless death to those the government deems unworthy of continued existence? Depending on which commentator you listen to; it can be only one. None will say that it's a bit of both.

Williams doesn't claim that one side is fairer than the other. He slams both left and right for doing the same things although his examples of dialog failure tend, due to his admitted left bias, tend to be left oriented.

For example, he cites the Tucson massacre as an event that should have led to a dialog on gun control. He weakens his argument by stating that the shooter used `automatic' weapons (they were not) with large capacity `clips' (they were not clips). While these details may mean little to a left winger such as Williams, the obvious ignorance of his statements disqualify him from the dialog to those who are second amendment supporters. His choice of that specific event also shows his bias. He could very well have used an incident where an 80 year old woman fended off an attack upon her person using a concealed handgun as a reason to open a dialog about the need for universal concealed carry. One can't expect a leopard to change his spots, though even if this leopard is trying his best to understand stripes. Juan Williams makes no bones about being a leftist liberal and his examples and points of view show that clearly.

Another area where Williams has, himself, quite a bit of bias is Obama. Based on some of his narrative, the reader can infer that Williams was treated as a friendly by both the Obama campaign and now administration. There are many areas of the book where Williams pleads the reader to understand and have sympathy for the current administration as some sort of spiritual team activity. He doesn't, however, give a person either from the left or right who opposes Obama any hard reason to change his position. Instead, his pleas are for the general sense of unity. We all want unity; we also want it on our own terms.

To give Williams credit, he does strain mightily to see legitimacy in conservatives' views. He may not, in the eyes of many conservatives, succeed in fully understanding their views, but at least he tries. In that, he's going much further in attempting reconciliation than many prominent on the conservative side. If you doubt this, read then compare `Muzzled' with Coulter's `Demonic' and decide for yourself.

Due to Williams' experience and insights, (even if he remains biased) his book is and important read for anybody interested in current events or politics. For those on the left who generally view themselves on the side of the Obviously Correct Way it will offer a chance at self-examination and introspection. For those on the right, who feel equally justified in their belief that they are always on the side of Right and Holy, it will demonstrate how their side is as resistant to honest dialog as they claim the left is.

It is well past the time to dial the temperature down some. Maybe this book will be the start of that dialing down.
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on November 14, 2011
For a book discussing first amendment rights and political extremism, Muzzled doesn't execute terribly well.

Juan starts out strong, discussing his dismissal from NPR frankly and honestly. As the book moves on, he talks about what happens when you can't tackle difficult social and governing issues due to fear of being strung up by your ankles. He presents his case well, providing solid evidence and making excellent points.

Unfortunately, it's the middle of the book where things start to break down. As he tackles specific issues, the non-partisan approach he had taken to writing begins to break down, and Juan himself digresses into not exploring all sides of an issue. The majority of negative examples are from Republicans, the majority of the positive from Democrats. While I always expect partisanship in books, at the outset Juan himself states that, while he is a registered Democrat, he prides himself on looking at all points of view.

Getting out of this situation is a catch 22 - how do we start to discuss the issues when discussing the issues is equivalent to stepping on a land mine? There was no chapter dedicated on how to get things moving again, just sentences here and there stating "we need to be able to talk about these things." I agree - but how?

Muzzled is worth a read if you're as frustrated by the state of extremism in our government as I am, but overall it fell short of my expectations.
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VINE VOICEon July 27, 2011
I have long been an admirer of the fearless, straightforward style of news commentator Juan Williams, an intelligent liberal moderate who welcomes conversation with others on all sides of important issues in contemporary American politics. So, I was shocked and deeply dismayed when he was dismissed by NPR for his willingness to discuss ordinary fears that are shared by many people (fears that he was simply admitting not defending). Williams' firing, described in the first chapter of "Muzzled," forms the jumping off point for this book, but the book goes far beyond being a personal narrative of his experience.

In nine chapters that range widely over the controversial issues of our day (health care reform, immigration policy, abortion, the tax code, campaign finance, and many more), Williams traces how our increasingly polarized media have degraded the national discussion of these issues, drowning out rational debate and preventing the reasonable compromises on which political progress has historically been based. Although more American voters are now Independents than either Republicans or Democrats, our political discourse is dominated by strident voices at the extremes, and the result predictably is that many citizens feel alienated from the national conversation and have lost trust in the ability of the news media to provide them with the information they need to understand issues, an essential requirement for the exercise of our precious franchise. Williams indeed reminds us that we are in control as citizens, a control we need to assert more vigorously. His commonsense analysis (and even more his own career as a successful journalist who plies his craft with the utmost integrity) provides hope.

A central paradox of the book resides in the way that our tradition of free speech has provided the platform for this silencing of the "honest middle." As Williams points out, we enjoy "a lot of free speech, but free speech at the fringes do not promote sincere debate between Left and Right. At best, they give us shouting matches." But make no mistake: Williams does not retreat from the core constitutional protection of the first amendment. He remains opposed to any additional restraint to speech. Instead, he is against the political correctness, a term he defines broadly and traces historically back to the 60s and 70s, as it is wielded as a weapon by those on the political extremes to silence anyone with whom they do not agree.

Well informed about the history of American politics and debate, this book is written without jargon or pretense. In reading it I could hear Juan Williams' voice as I have heard it through the years in his writing, on the Fox news network, and on National Public Radio (though sadly no more). Readers similarly familiar with his work will also want to read this book to find out where he finally stands on the question of defunding NPR. I won't give that away, but as the book comes to an end, he returns to the lessons of his experience and takes a stand on this issue.
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on April 22, 2013
Juan Williams ignited a firestorm of controversy when he admitted to Bill O'Reilly on national television that he feels nervous whenever he sees fellow passengers in Muslim garb getting on a plane with him. Within hours, Juan was fired from his own talk show on National Public Radio (NPR) by his boss, Ellen Weiss, despite his having an exemplary record since joining the network almost a decade earlier.

He says Weiss essentially labeled him a bigot and "gave me no chance to tell my side of the story." And the very next day, NPR's CEO, Vivian Schiller, not only rubber-stamped his termination, but added insult to injury when she implied that Juan might be mentally unstable by suggesting that he should've kept the comment between himself and his psychiatrist.

Williams never retracted the Muslim comment, and he subsequently suffered some sleepless nights and shed some tears over the loss of his job and reputation. After all, didn't his sterling civil rights record as the author of the award-winning, PBS saga "Eye on the Prize" as well as of a critically-acclaimed biography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall count for anything? Yet now he was left with no idea what effect the blowback from the brouhaha would have on his career as a journalist just for merely exercising his First Amendment Right of Free Speech.

Half heartfelt memoir/half an urgent appeal for the return of civil discourse to the public arena, Muzzled persuasively bemoans the pressure placed on pundits nowadays to talk only in sanitized, politically-correct phraseology. Its title probably sounds appropriate given that it was inspired by the unfortunate chapter of Juan's life during which he was temporarily taken off the air.

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on April 20, 2016
Everyond should read this book to get a better understanding of what's going on in the US today. This is a very balanced perspective on how truly muzzled the media is and how how that adversely affects the ability to come up with solutions to our problems. Only honest and open discussions can lead to workable solutions, and the constraints on such discussions preclude achieving solutions. An interesting companion book would be "1984."
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on May 18, 2015
I enjoyed this book very much. I believe I am somewhat more conservative than Mr. Williams. But I always enjoy hearing Mr. Williams' thoughts and I always think of him as a "thinking man's liberal". Although I am somewhat more conservative than Mr. Williams, he gives voice to philosophical points that make perfect sense to me. As an example, and I am paraphrasing Mr. Williams, although Mr. Williams is a Christian, he wants a president, who, while working, views the Constitution as his/her "religion". In other words, Mr. Williams does not want a theocracy. I am a conservative Christian, and I also do not want a theocracy.

Mr. Williams voices his thoughts and backs them up with facts and logic. As an example, in this book, Mr. Williams makes specific reference to The Federalist Papers. Many of us have heard of The Federalist Papers. But they are not an easy read and not easily digested. In case it matters to a reviewer, there are modern distillations of the Federalist Papers. I do not always agree with Mr. Williams but I always enjoy hearing his well articulated thoughts. He usually gives me food for thought. He once again succeeded with this fine work.
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on April 12, 2016
Williams seems to understand that the "politically correct" pressure from either the right or the left is not just tact but a tactic used to intimidate the opposition and to open the door to extremism on any political or religious issue. His plea for open and honest discussion and/or debate is refreshing. His summary and review of recent and of current history is useful. This could be an excellent book for a book club or a discussion group
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on May 21, 2016
I have not finished, perhaps won't finish this book. I expected much more from Juan rather than chapters of explanations as to why he was terminated by PBS radio/tv. If I decide to pick it up again and read, perhaps it will be more informative.
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on February 10, 2014
Like some other listeners, I don't always agree with Juan. but, I admire the way he battles O'Reilly. He is always interrrupted and seldom given the opportunity to complete his thought. His book explains his position as the one being interviewed.
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on May 6, 2016
Juan Williams is a great writer. He explains with historical facts why "political correctness" covers up the truth on both sides of the political aisle. Nothing is getting done, because both sides are too busy taking their version of the moral high road.
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