Green Room

Juan Williams And The Preference Cascade

posted at 12:47 am on October 22, 2010 by

Everyone has their pet theories about National Public Radio’s stunning decision to fire Juan Williams, and most of those theories are probably correct.  Williams is reliably liberal in most of his views, but he’s too friendly with conservatives, and his presence smears a bit too much liberal credibility on the dry right-wing toast of Fox News.  It’s a pledge week for NPR, and the high-profile sacking of the tainted Williams will inspire the insulated left-wing audience to push a few more bucks through the feeding slots in their hermetically sealed isolation bubbles.

NPR also received a boatload of the sinister foreign money President Obama has been hyperventilating about, from billionaire George Soros, and all that imported cabbage probably bought him some editorial influence.  He might have insisted on a standard of ideological purity that Juan Williams could no longer meet.

Political correctness may have prompted a reflexive dismissal from the mindless drones running NPR, who were last heard musing that Williams should be reviewing his opinions with a psychiatrist.  The Volturi do not give second chances.

Fear of criticism by the Islamic front organization CAIR, which the Left takes very seriously, could certainly have been a factor in their decision, as could anticipation of even more pointed criticism from less elegantly tailored sources.  NPR certainly isn’t afraid of Juan Williams, and its CEO is no Megyn Kelly.

For the record, NPR stated that Williams’ remarks were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices,” which is an understandable position for them to take.  In his conversation with Bill O’Reilly, Williams slandered a Republican congressman with an idiotic, easily debunked conspiracy theory, stating he had advance knowledge of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombings but did nothing to prevent them.  Wait, sorry, my bad.  That was Rachel Maddow, over at MSNBC, and she’s still got her job.  Williams said this, in response to O’Reilly’s assertion that “jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet:”

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

I think one of the reasons the hardcore liberals who run NPR terminated Williams is their desire to abort a preference cascade.  This is one of the major reasons black conservatives, or those like Williams who express some appreciation for the conservative viewpoint, are treated so harshly by the left.  The Democrat Party, political vehicle of the Left, depends on nearly-absolute support from black voters for its very survival.  Second thoughts from such a captive constituency would be deadly.

As described by Glenn Reynolds in a classic 2002 essay, a preference cascade occurs when people trapped inside a manufactured consensus suddenly realize that many other people share their doubts.  Preference falsification works by making doubters feel isolated and alone.  In a totalitarian society, the dissenter fears that if he speaks up, his will be a lone voice, easily squashed by the enforcers of the regime.  When dissenters realize they are not alone, and the true strength of their numbers becomes apparent, “invincible” regimes vanish with astonishing speed.

The same effect can occur without brutal oppression, when fear of ostracism and ridicule cause people to suppress their own doubts. This kind of preference falsification requires strict discipline from the makers of opinion.  Since a free society makes it very easy for individuals to change their opinions, they must be prevented from even considering such a change.  Manufactured consensus is very fragile in a competitive arena of ideas, when there is no fearsome penalty for a “Fresh Air” listener who decides to switch over to Rush Limbaugh.

The manufactured liberal consensus about Islamic terrorism rolled off the assembly line a long time ago, complete with a serial number and a limited warranty… which will instantly expire on the date of the next successful terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  Islam is held hostage by a tiny minority of extremists.  Juan Williams is more likely to be struck by lightning in midair than share a plane with one of them.  The War on Terror was largely the invention of a paranoid and divisive Bush Administration.  We repaired much of our rift with the Muslim world by electing Barack Obama, and the rest will be filled in with billions of foreign aid dollars, since poverty is the primary cause of terrorism.

A credentialed, taxpayer-supported NPR liberal cannot be allowed to question this consensus.  It will shatter too easily if the clients of liberalism begin connecting dots between underwear bombers and pistol-packing Army psychiatrists.  They cannot be left to nod quietly in agreement with the earnest musings of Juan Williams… then look around the room and see all the other faithful liberals nodding at the same time.  It’s especially threatening when you consider the enormous increase in audience Williams gains by appearing on Fox News.  He wasn’t just an employee of NPR.  He was well on his way to becoming the public face of the organization, and his prominence would only increase in the wake of a November wave that destroys the relevance of his peers.  This would put him in a position to threaten even more leftist dogma with mild questions.  Liberalism has no shortage of fragile beliefs.

Juan Williams came too close to understanding ideas he was supposed to hate.  The Left is deathly afraid of what happens when its constituents begin to understand the Right.  They didn’t like the idea of millions watching an NPR contributor break the biohazard seal on strictly quarantined ideas.

Williams will be just fine.  He’s got a new $2 million deal with Fox News.  Getting fired from NPR when you’re a fixture on Fox is like Will Smith learning he’s been kicked out of his local dinner theater company.  With a secure position, and considerable sympathy from conservatives who know all about the closing of the liberal mind, he’ll be in a perfect position to get those preference cascades rolling.  I have plenty of disagreements with Juan Williams, but I think we can unite in our appreciation for the awesome power of an honest mind.

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but I think we can unite in our appreciation for the awesome power of an honest mind.

That is a very elegant turn of phrase.

I hope you are right and there will be an awaking on the left comparable to what has happened on the right.

I used to think there were good people on the left… I’d like to think they are still there, just buried by the evil ones in charge today.

petunia on October 22, 2010 at 3:38 AM

Juan always conducts himself respectfully on his appearances with O’Reilly and the panel he participates in during the afternoon. I don’t agree with everything he says, but at least he acts as if he’s THINKING about his responses in the debate, as opposed to Alan Colmes, whose responses sound like he’s checking off talking points from a list, sometimes before the discussion really gets underway. There are also a couple of female analysts and contribtors for the liberal side who comport themselves well without the same old tired knee-jerk responses we usually get from the liberal end of the pool.

tpitman on October 22, 2010 at 7:00 AM

So Libtards want to know where we would cut spending? I know JUST where to start.

SDN on October 22, 2010 at 7:09 AM

and his presence smears a bit too much liberal credibility on the dry right-wing toast of Fox News.

I always love your articles, Doc, but I have to say, this is the greatest literary metaphor you have ever, ever used. Hats off, sir!

On topic, the article was excellent. Reminds me of this clip. Even within my own social circle, the intolerant and knee-jerk reaction of Leftists upon doubting Leftists have astonished people I know. Friendships abruptly end when someone walks off the nationalized farm, so to speak, for a jaunt in Redneck Bigotsville.

I am quite pleased with the entire situation. This, the 10:10 people, Senator Moran… a few things that come to mind. The mask has well and truly slipped.

KinleyArdal on October 22, 2010 at 9:44 AM

have has

Grammar fail.

KinleyArdal on October 22, 2010 at 9:54 AM

…will inspire the insulated left-wing audience to push a few more bucks through the feeding slots in their hermetically sealed isolation bubbles.

Reminds me of ‘The Bubble Boy’ Seinfeld episode…chuckle

percysunshine on October 22, 2010 at 10:54 AM

At the end of the day, it is this:
Juan proved himself to be not sufficiently unhinged nor illogical to hold a position at NPR.

He just had to go.

esnap on October 22, 2010 at 11:28 AM


Owen Glendower on October 22, 2010 at 2:00 PM

A unique perspective. I hope Juan sees it this way, at least a little.

jeanie on October 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Preference Cascade appears to be similar to the Abilene Paradox.

Ace ODale on October 22, 2010 at 4:10 PM

Wow, what an amazing coincidence. An preference-cascades article on Climate Skeptic and now here.

Somebody owes somebody a Coke…

mr.blacksheep on October 22, 2010 at 5:47 PM

The most stunning information I gathered from this post is that a vampire Wiki-site exists. Very scary that you know this, Doc. Even scarier, you link it to support your metaphor (or was that an allegory?).

Just laughin’ with you, Doc. Love your stuff.

lionheart on October 23, 2010 at 8:23 AM

This is very good, Doctor Zero.

bour3 on October 23, 2010 at 2:32 PM

The faith cannot abide questions, because it has no respectable answers. So the process must be aborted before it has begun: The orthodoxy must create an emotional reaction of revulsion to any questioning, so [to] prevent the faithful from taking that step.

Perhaps this is the underlying meaning to Eric Holder’s comment that when it comes to race, “we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Apparently, NPR is too cowardly to test the social “orthodoxy” on most anything .. especially during “pledge week.” instead, they have created the “extended ‘Two Minute Hate’” format for their listeners.

J_Crater on October 23, 2010 at 2:39 PM

If NPR’s desire was to extinguish any potential sympathetic light-bulbs igniting amongst Blacks regarding the spoon-fed Leftist Islamic narrative, they’ve accomplished exactly the opposite.

Liberals all over are now seeing the consequences of someone whom they identify with and admire – who also feels exactly as they do about an important subject (the Islamic “problem”) – being jettisoned into the trash heap by the Left. One of their own has been consumed for something that if every one of them were honest with themselves, a huge majority would agree with Williams. Intellectually honest liberals are feeling the sting of Juan Williams’ firing, and they are identifying with him, not the hard Left or NPR.

IronDioPriest on October 23, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Juan Williams came too close to understanding ideas he was supposed to hate.

And the people.

Tammy Bruce and others relate a similar experience. It must be like awakening from a years-long nightmare, only to be kicked in the head for waking up. If the entire country wakes up, there will be too many to kick.

Feedie on October 23, 2010 at 6:48 PM

Excellent Analysis Doc Zero!

CCRWM on October 23, 2010 at 9:59 PM

While it’s encouraging that this “Preference Cascade” may be on the way, it never should have been necessary. Americans collectively should have seen the disastrous route the country was taking and the enemies circling around it long, long ago. And I further fear that the “Preference Cascade” may fizzle if many Americans realize they may have to make personal sacrifices, such as on Social Security and Medicare. They may run back to their liberal patrons, screaming, “Noez, I wantz my govment monies!” without a thought for whether or not those programs can realistically be continued.

R. Waher on October 24, 2010 at 3:23 AM

Doc, James Taranto quotes much of this brilliant piece at WSJ. Your writings are like a fine wine. I am proud to say I knew you when…heh. Great job!

d1carter on October 24, 2010 at 1:18 PM