Yesterday Juan Williams, the guy who wrote the book Eyes On The Prize and a long time contributor to NPR, was fired by said company for remarks he made on the Bill O’Reilly program on Fox News. Hours later he got a brand new show on that same network for more money than he was previously being paid, so it seems all went right for him.

The remark in question has sparked all kinds of controversy, and people are obviously split down the middle on this particular topic, as well as his statement. I’m not going to repeat the statement, though I will say it was a stupid statement and Mr. Williams, if he’d been thinking, probably should have recognized his thinking was pretty stupid in retrospect. Either way, that’s not really the point right now.

The point is whether people should or should not be fired for stupid remarks. In these days of political correctness (which I support) and people making inflammatory statements for a bump in publicity then apologizing the next day (which almost always sounds phony), it’s a topic that has to at least be addressed and discussed, and, in my opinion, put in its proper place to decide when discourse is legitimate and when it needs to be shut down.

You might ask why I support political correctness. It’s because I have found that when people say they don’t want to be politically correct, what it usually means is they want to be able to say whatever they want to say to whomever they want to say it to and not get any grief out of it, no matter how potentially hateful it is. And whenever these people say these things, they either say they have the right to say it, it was taken out of context, or they apologize if anyone misunderstood their meaning. But if they’d taken the time to figure out exactly how they should say something so they could get their point across without intentionally inflaming anyone, and trust me it’s always intentional, then they might actually have someone listen to the message they’re trying to get across instead of complaining about how that message was delivered.

Having said that, anyone who has read this blog over the many years I’ve written it will remember that I’ve often said that people have the right to say and do whatever they want to as long as they’re ready to deal with the consequences. That’s actually the life of a blogger; you always have to be ready for someone who takes an opposing stance against something you say and may not say it to you in an appropriate manner. Of course, on a blog if someone uses language that’s not appropriate you can just delete it and move on; after all, you’re paying for it. But in the real world, there is no forgetting a stupid statement; once it’s uttered, then it has to be dealt with.

Think about the workplace for a minute. I remember many years ago when I was a director having to figure out how to handle a situation where one employee wrote something negative about another employee, but then made that stupid move of sending it to that employee. I was in a weird position; do I fire the employee for castigating a fellow employee? Do I fire her because she used what was supposed to be for business communications in the wrong way?

I did not fire her. I talked to the employee who was slandered first, then I talked to the employee who did the slandering. I didn’t even make her apologize; I did suggest it, though. And I gave a warning that the next time there was a personal email in that fashion on the business account that she’d be terminated; I thought that was fair, as it also went in her record.

Overall, I tend to believe that things have to be measured as to just how severe they might be. Someone expressing an opinion on their feelings might be showing their stupidity, but that’s a judgment call by someone else as to just how bad it might be. If the rules were stated up front and someone breaks them, then taking a strong action can’t be judged as unfair if the person accepted the rules when they were presented. But every situation, in my opinion, deserves to be judged on its own, with rules established, and appropriate measures taken that promote fairness and an opportunity to reinforce what the rules are.

By the way, good leaders also don’t then go on TV and say an offender needs to see a psychiatrist; I’m thinking that was ill-timed.