As an accomplished TV news journalist, radio host, newspaper reporter and author, Fox News on-air host Juan Williams has participated in an industry’s slow evolution toward greater inclusion and acceptance of diverse images and viewpoints over his career of more than five decades.
Currently co-host of Fox News Channel’s political news program The Five, Williams has offered a unique perspective on breaking news and current events since joining the then-nascent network in 1997.
Williams, who has authored books about the African-American experience including Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 and Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, will be honored at the CultureX Conversations event (March 16) for Talent Reflection of Inclusion in Television.
In an interview, Williams said he was recently reminded that the industry still has a ways to go in its diversity efforts. In 2020, PBS initially invited Williams to speak as part of a show about that summer’s racial protests following the May death of George Floyd. Before he could respond to the invitation, it was withdrawn, because the producer felt Williams’s Panamanian ancestry excluded him from the African American centered conversation.
“If someone who has written best-selling books on this very topic, regardless of the person’s birthplace, you would think that’s a source of information and perspective,” Williams said. “Yet here you have a white PBS host turning away from somebody on the basis of their birthplace. It’s just bizarre.”
Role: Fox News political analyst, Co-host of Fox News Channel's The Five
Company: Fox News Channel
Award: Talent Reflection of Inclusion in Television
Why They’re Being Honored: Juan Williams has been a consistent voice for rational thinking as it applies to inclusion on-air, especially in his coverage of public affairs stories.
Progress Proceeding Slowly
Williams does feel the media business has become more diverse, with more change on the way.
“I’m 66 years old now, so I’ve seen a lot of transitions,” he said. “It’s almost like Forrest Gump — he finds himself at various moments in history and these transitions. There’s been a tremendous transition since I started on the print side as an intern at the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. When we think about race and ethnic diversity in terms of staffing, it’s been an incredible shift.”
Prior to Fox News, Williams worked for a decade at National Public Radio after working 23 years as a writer for The Washington Post.
“When I was coming along, if you saw someone like [syndicated news host] Tony Brown, it really stood out, because there was just about no one else,” Williams recalled. “That was true on the local and national news side.”
‘Change Is Coming’
“Change has come in very small increments, but it is coming,” Williams said. “It’s something that’s been difficult, because America media is a power base, and it's hard for people to welcome newcomers to power and to cede power, and information is power. Part of that information is what the person who is giving you that information is saying, what he looks like and what their perspective on the news is. This is all part of what I call the changing face of America.”
He agreed with the premise that he, as a person of color and having a more liberal leaning political perspective, has helped expand the Fox News audience.
“I think there’s no doubt about it, and I have some interesting ways of judging that fact,” Williams said. “I’m a real human being. I go outside, go to church, to the ballgame, pass through the train station, go to the airport and to the grocery store. So people, especially Fox News’s most ardent viewers, come up to me and say ‘I don't agree with you, but I like you.’ This is so interesting. It’s like I am given permission in their mind to come into their home, and I am an alternative point of view that they value. To me this is tremendous because it means I have some value in the overall package that is Fox News.
“The second part of that is I run into minorities who have a liberal political perspective and maybe don’t watch Fox News often, but what they say is, ‘Thank God you’re there. I’m glad someone is there to challenge people and to raise another point of view.’
“The demographics of the country are undergoing a tremendous shift,” Williams observed. “I think now the census has it at about 40% of the American population made up of people of color and heading higher. We've never been there before. If you look at the young people in the country, disproportionately over 50% of people under 18 are people of color, which is a huge audience.
“So if you look at everything from movies to news to television and music, you see that increasingly the successful organizations are the ones satisfying a more diverse market and population.
“When we come out of this pandemic phase and start getting open again — especially in the aftermath of what happened last summer — I think now we are compelled in terms of business interests to do a better job of representing different perspectives with this increasingly Fox News diverse demographic.”
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.