Ed. Note – Any part of the play below reminiscent of the firing of Juan Williams by NPR is pure and absolute coincidence. Resemblance of characters to Juan Williams, Fox News commentator; Rupert Murdoch, owner of things; Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR; or Bill O’Reilly, Fox News host, is also wholly coincidental. Quotes that may seem attributable to those people are, similarly, not. Mostly.
It is late October 2010. The economy is in shambles for working Americans and midterm elections are near. The political climate has become increasingly suffused by xenophobic rhetoric. A few months ago Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani immigrant, brought a truck into Times Square filled with explosives. Luckily, the bomb never detonated. A street vendor notified police when he saw smoke coming from the truck.
Juan Commentator is a prominent journalist/commentator. He works for “Fair and Balanced” TV—a TV station focused on mostly conservative commentary and opinions—and Taxpayer Funded Radio—a national radio syndicator funded overwhelming by private donors. Juan Commentator was born in the Central American country of Canama, and moved with his family to an outer borough of Metropolis as a young boy. Juan Commentator began his career at The Capitol Mail in 1976 and covered politics in various positions at the paper until 2000. At Taxpayer Funded Radio, he initially hosted Chat with the Country. Now Juan has become a contracted news analyst rather than a strict Taxpayer Funded Radio reporter, allowing for more leeway in his remarks.
Vivian CEO is the CEO of Taxpayer Funded Radio. Taxpayer Funded Radio has faith in its position as an objective media outlet. Taxpayer Funded Radio has been criticized in the past for having little diversity in its on-air staff.
Bill Host is the host of a nightly show on “Fair and Balanced” TV. He is a prominent conservative commentator, although his fame has been overshadowed in the last couple of years by Glenn Host (no relation), a younger commentator who also has a show on “Fair and Balanced” TV.
Rupert Owner owns “Fair and Balanced” TV, along with many other news outlets including Barrier Road Diary and Metropolis Mail.
Juan, our lead, is in the “Fair and Balanced” Newsroom with TV Commentator Bill. American flags and flat-screen television set the studio backdrop.
Bill (In Nasally Voice): Juan, does America have a Muslim problem?
Juan: Well Bill… Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality. I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. 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. Now, remember when the Times Square bomber was at court. He said that America’s war with Muslims is just the beginning. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts.
Lights go off.
The following newspaper headline is projected onto the stage: Taxpayer Funded Radio ends contract with Juan Commentator over comments made about Muslims at “Fair and Balanced” News.
Lights Rise. Two white men and one white woman, powdered for effect, stand around a water cooler. Fluorescent lighting and cubicles in the background. Sign on wall says: “Taxpayer Funded Radio: Claiming Objectivity Despite the Inevitable Politicization of Speech since 1970.”
Male 1: Gosh, it is too bad about Juan’s firing, he was really such a character on our shows. Too bad he violated Taxpayer Funded Radio’s policy about news analysts. He should have known not to express views that are vaguely liberal but not radically so…I mean views that are not objective.
Female 1: Yeah, too bad. I am just so frustrated that CEO Vivian did not tell us this was going to happen. Instead we are being faced with a media firestorm! I am supposed to monitor the Contact Us form on the website, but it crashed at noon. So, I took my lunch break early and went to Le Pain Quotidien.
Male 2: (incredulously) Did you get any nasty emails from people complaining about our commentators’ lack of diversity and how, now with Juan gone, we have lost something like 100% of our black men on-air? Not to mention someone vaguely close to conservative. People don’t realize you cannot SEE the commentators on Taxpayer Funded Radio. It’s Radio!
Male 1: Gosh, you’re right. I cannot believe people would complain about our diversity. We are OBJECTIVE, so it does not matter who is talking on the air.
Smiles around the room. Each person walks back to their cubicles. Light fades.
Juan in kitchen with wife, sits at a round table in the middle of the room. Phone next to sink rings.
Juan: Hello…oh hi Rupert, how are you…good good, I just finished dinner… just taking it all in, it always hurts to be let go, but it is good to know I am still wanted at “Fair and Balanced” Newsroom…yes, yes, I did lose a lot of money… Juan paces around the kitchen…Wow, Rupert, I really appreciate the offer. Two million dollars a year! And my contract was not even expiring!...Thanks for standing behind me on this one…Talk to you soon, Rupert. Juan hangs up phone, pauses and turns to his wife. Honey, I guess expressing my opinion about Muslims paid off, after all.
As light fades out, Juan smiles.
CEO Vivian stands behind podium, in front of a horde of reporters below.
Reporter 1: CEO Vivian, why fire Juan for expressing his personal opinion?
CEO Vivian: Well, Taxpayer Funded Radio has a policy for news analysts like Juan. It says they can’t take personal public positions on controversial issues. That is what Juan did and has done before on “Fair and Balanced” News. This is not an isolated incident and we have warned Juan before.
Lights fade and scene changes to dimly lit “Fair and Balanced” Newsroom, January 2009. Juan has less grey hair. TV Commentator Bill shows a clip of President Obama’s Inauguration. Bill and Juan are talking about Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity programs and her work with military families.
Bill: So, Michelle Obama. Is she going to be a liability for the President, like, during the campaign?
Juan: Michelle Obama, you know, she’s got this Black-Panther-in-a-designer-dress thing going. Her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, ‘I’m the victim’ race stuff. If that stuff starts coming out, people will go bananas and she’ll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross.
Lights go out, and then back on with CEO Vivian back in front of a horde or reporters.
Reporter 2: CEO Vivian, why is Taxpayer Funded Radio so white?
Vivian: I have deep feelings about diversity and we at Taxpayer Funded Radio are working to tackle diversity head-on.
Reporter 3: CEO Vivian, how do you feel about Juan’s comments?
Vivian: He should talk to his psychiatrist or repress his feelings. When I have a problem, though, I talk to my publicist. Maybe he should try that.
(To the audience):
Oh shoot, I should not have said that out loud. Thank god I am not a news analyst. That is a pretty personal position on a pretty controversial issue.
Reporters all turn around in unison, arms outstretched, broad smiles and hats thrown up in the air.
Reporters: It is all in the name of a good headline!
Book Club Edition Appendix –
Questions to ask your group members, and potential answers for shy groups and/or discussion leaders without answers:
1. Does our Diversity need Media?
Yes. Our diversity needs media because diversity relies on objectivity. And, for objectivity to having meaning in a society with a plurality of opinions, social positions, social statuses, backgrounds and personal realizations, we have to acknowledge the plurality. So yes, diversity needs media.
2. What does Juan Commentator character tell us about life?
A lot. Juan Commentator shows us that America still exists in prejudices. Juan Commentator shows us that money makes these prejudices. He tells us a lot.
3. What do we think about ‘Fair and Balanced’ News and Taxpayer-Funded Radio?
I know how I feel. Taxpayer Funded Radio has no media, which means it is cannot be an objective diversity outlet. ‘Fair and Balanced’ News, on the other hand, seems to support commentators who say racially and religiously stereotypical images. When Juan Commentator said, “represent themselves first and foremost as Muslim,” I wondered if the same thing would have been said of a Christian with a cross around their neck. IDK. And I didn’t really get what he meant about a black panther in a dress. ‘Fair and Balanced’ News supports that.
4. Is there a ‘good guy’ and a ‘bad guy’ in this play?
Let’s look at the title. A media gaff-edy in four parts. How many named characters are there? Four. Scenes? Four. Bad guys? Four. Coincidence? I think not.
George Warner B’10.5, an aspiring playwright, divides his time between Martha’s Vineyard and New York City.