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How Juan Williams Mastered the Only-Liberal-at-the-Table Role

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Juan Williams is headed for a gentler life. As the lone liberal co-host of Fox News Channel’s roundtable show “The Five,” he took the heat on live TV on a near-daily basis for years— sometimes mocked condescendingly, sometimes hollered at ferociously, always completely outnumbered.

On Wednesday, Williams, who lives in Washington, D.C., announced that he was stepping down from the job, days before fully-in-person production resumes in the New York studio. A year of largely calling in to the show remotely, plus a personal bout with Covid-19, had depleted his appetite for a weekly commute to New York, he explained. (He will remain with Fox as a senior political analyst.) Other reporting puts it less politely, saying the drive to bring “The Five” back to the studio—which would likely have forced Williams out of the show—was fueled by animosity between Williams and one of his co-hosts.

Either way, Williams’ absence leaves Fox with a very specific hole to fill: the “designated liberal” on a fiery conservative panel. Fox knows that a figure like Williams is central to the show. And if anything, his exit lays bare how important that liberal role is—and why Williams was particularly good at what might be the hardest, least appreciated and most important job in cable news.

I spoke to Williams by phone in March 2020, a few days into the coronavirus lockdown, when he and his colleagues had just been sent home from the studio to ride out a pandemic of unknown length. I had been following the success of “The Five,” one of Fox News’ consistent ratings hits, and wanted to know what it was like to be the show’s only liberal voice. Williams recalled the day, years earlier, when he was summoned to a conversation with then-Fox mastermind Roger Ailes, who described an idea he’d been developing for the hard-to-crack 5 p.m. timeslot. It was inspired, Ailes told Williams, by a stretch of his career in the early 1970s when he had produced a pair of Broadway shows. He wanted to cast a show with five stock characters, among them a “leading man” type with a strong conservative voice; a beautiful woman; and what........

© Politico

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