October 21st, 2010
01:50 PM ET

NPR cans Juan Williams, stirs up blogosphere, Twitterati

Many have run to analyst Juan Williams' defense, but some feel NPR was right to can him.

NPR has fired Juan Williams over remarks he made on "The O'Reilly Factor" this week, and there is no shortage of opinions on the analyst's ouster.

Many have jumped to his defense and others have applauded NPR's stand, while a few have expressed concern about the recent firings of journalists who made remarks deemed insensitive or inappropriate. One observer compares the editing of the Williams clip to the video of Shirley Sherrod, which saw the U.S. Department of Agriculture employee fired before her remarks were put into context.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said his remarks were inconsistent with NPR's editorial standards and practices and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.

NPR's ethics code provides some insight into the firing: "In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis."

To recap, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly faced heat last week after remarks he made about Muslims on "The View." He was discussing those comments with Williams on "The O'Reilly Factor" when Williams made the remarks NPR found objectionable.

"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," Williams said. "But when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Here is a roundup of reactions from blogs, columns and tweets around the nation:

Sarah Palin: "NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it. Juan Williams: u got taste of Left's hypocrisy, they screwed up firing you"

Slate's William Saletan: "Three months ago, right-wingers clipped a video of [Shirley] Sherrod to make her look like a racist. They circulated the video on the Internet, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture fired her. Now it's happening again. This time, left-wingers have done the editing. They clipped a video of Juan Williams, a commentator for Fox News and NPR, to make him look like an anti-Muslim bigot."

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic: "There's a larger trend here, the increasing tempo of journalist firings around the issues of Islam, terrorism, and Israel. There is Helen Thomas, of course, as well as Octavia Nasr, who was fired by CNN for praising the radical Shi'a Ayatollah Fadlallah. Helen Thomas is a ridiculous figure, and her comments touched on the Shoah, so I think my position on her firing remains, good riddance, but Nasr's firing seemed unjustified to me, and Williams's removal, so far at least, seems unjustified as well."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman: His denials of bigotry aside, Williams’ remarks this week validated a stereotype of all Muslims as terrorists just as a similar comment about black people — 'When I get on a bus, if I see black people, I get worried, I get nervous' — validates a perception about black people as criminals. There is no qualitative difference between the two stances. A very small percentage of black people are criminals, and a much much smaller percentage of Muslims are terrorists. But once you start defining the much larger group by the activities of that much smaller subset, you start down a very bad road. NPR, in other words, acted appropriately."

Forbes' Conor Friedersdorf: "I don’t think that Mr. Williams should be fired by NPR, or that it’s good practice in general to fire people based on a single remark, however offensive. (There are exceptions. This isn’t one of them.) I say this as someone who is glad that there is a strong social stigma against bigotry. There is an upside to this stigma that is under-appreciated: it signals to some people that bigotry is wrong, even if they don’t quite understand why."

Mike Huckabee: "NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left."

NPR media reporter David Folkenflick: "Williams also warned Fox host Bill O'Reilly agst blaming all Muslims for 'extremists,' saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Tim McVeigh"

Salon's Glenn Greenwald: "If we're going to fire or otherwise punish people for expressing Prohibited Ideas against various groups, it's long overdue that those standards be applied equally to anti-Muslim animus, now easily one of the most - if not the single most - pervasive, tolerated and dangerous forms of blatant bigotry in America."

Council on American-Islamic Relations' National Executive Director Nihad Awad: "Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR."

Think Progress: "... [Williams'] kind of thinking is exactly what digs the hole that is America’s fight against terrorism deeper by letting the enemy define the terms of the struggle ..."

Jacob Heilbrunn, author and Huffington Post contributor: He said there "should be taboos when it comes to public discourse. Some taboos are necessary and even vital. Yes, trash-talking about Muslims has become dangerously prevalent. But firing Williams only feeds those sentiments. The honorable thing would have been for Williams to apologize and for NPR to have moved on. Now it's created a furor and turned Williams into a martyr. Williams will survive his firing. The real loser isn't Williams, but NPR."

Editor William Kristol of The Weekly Standard: "Do the powers-that-be at NPR think Juan Williams is a bigot? Do they think a traveler who has a reaction (fair or unfair) like the one Juan describes, in our age of terror in the name of Islam, is a bigot? Of course the powers-that-be at NPR know he's not. In fact, I suspect the powers-that-be at NPR pretty much think what Juan thinks. But the standards of political correctness must be maintained. Pressure groups speaking for allegedly offended Muslims must be propitiated. And so Juan had to go."

Big Journalism's P.J. Salvatore: "A taxpaying-funded organization fired someone over their free speech? No! Shocker! ... Can we stop pretending that this is serious radio and pull their public funding already?"

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Filed under: Civil Rights • Islam • Sarah Palin • Twitter
soundoff (764 Responses)
  1. kwaddle

    Shame on you NPR. The Quran is full of hate, fighting and killing. We will no longer listen to NPR, or promote it to anyone in any way. Are you afraid of muslim retaliation for Juan expressing his views? NPR should realize that most of their listeners are hard working, God fearing Americans, that agree with Juan. Here is a website that illustrates the promotion of violence by the Quran. http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/023-violence.htm. It is pretty clear to me, that this "peaceful religion" is anything BUT peaceful.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jumpjackflash

    One less right wing bigot to listen to on NPR. Now he can get his own show on Fox, and I won't have to listen to him at all.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • efinn

      And you will, of course, be writing a big check when we at long last are able to pull NPR's taxpayer handout, right? Hey, they will also then be able to change their name to Air America II. LOL

      October 21, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fremry

    This has NOTHING to do with political correctness, and has EVERYTHING to do with NPR maintaining journalistic integrity. NPR is actual news. It's not a pundit station. If you actually listen to any of their News programs, you'll hear a distinct lack of punditry from their news analysts. This is to maintain integrity as a news source for not preferring one side over the other.

    When a news organization practices GOOD JOURNALISM, they refrain from the crap punditry that is Cable News. When one of those journalists breaks said neutrality and soils his reputation of being a neutral analyst by publically stating that he harbors prejudices, NPR has every right to fire him to maintain neutrality in their news reporting.

    That's it. Anyone who thinks this is politically motivated is ridiculous. He works for a company that strives to maintain neutrality, and he publically came out and said that he harbored a prejudice. For NPR to maintain their neutrality, it was necessary to sever his employment.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • smac

      Thank you Fremry. You pointed out very succinctly that a real journalist has a responsibility to hold his or her opinions at bay at all times. It is like a minister who must remember his or her job no matter what setting they find themselves in. Some people's jobs require them to be "on" all the time. Journalists who operate at the national level have one of those jobs. I don't discount what the man said at all. By all of the comments, sane or rabid, found on this site, obviously many of us probably harbor fears that we either feel free to express or don't, as our personal values (and our own jobs) deem fit. But I personally hold NPR to high standards of journalism and I trust that they handled the situation as they felt was necessary to protect the very image of nonbias that helps them keep their public funding. Honestly, if they'd kept him on and played down his comments, those same bunch of rabid people would be screaming "What?! So it's okay if YOUR journalists talk smack but let one of OUR journalists do it and all you left-wingers hate him! Yank their funding!!" Because the truth is some people just want to hate. Don't confuse them with facts, politeness, even olive branches. They need an enemy in order to feel good about themselves. All everyone else has to do is exist and that's all the fodder needed.

      October 21, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rocky

    What is this world coming too? If a black guy with a mexican name can't say anything he wants...who can?

    October 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • dashabi

      sooner or later, people will be beheaded by saying something. freedom of speech in america? it was a joke long time ago.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Robby

    He must scare the left wing biggots. When that hammens, they begin demonizing like there is no tomorrow. Thank you left fist doofuses for electing conservatives on Nov 2.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jack

    It's great to see NPR firing people for not thinking the right thoughts and exercising their rights. It serves to remind us all exactly what NPR represents.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • geekgirl42

      again, journalists do not have the right to say anything they want on air...unless they are on Fox News.

      October 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MiMi

    So....Juan mentioned the uncomfortable Muslim issue (reasonable Americans understood exactly what Juan was saying) and got fired .... yet the CEO of NPR told the world that Juan should keep his opinions between himself and his shrink!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is the CEO going to be fired for his bigoted remark about people who opin to their shrinks????? NPR has been on only one side politically for some time. I'm done with NPR....If anyone is intolorent it is NPR.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
  8. APox

    Everyone has the right to free speech. Juan Williams, though, represents NPR as a journalist. As a journalist he has the duty to report facts and not feed into punditry. He was stating outright that he lumps all Muslims together as a group that is "outside" the American norm which is patently false. Feeding into xenophobic bigotry might be okay for any of the far right commentators, but it shouldn't be okay for a journalist. Just as Rick Sanchez was released of his duties for his anti-semetic remarks.

    Furthermore, this was not the first time he has butted heads with NPR for his ignorant remarks. You may recall his comments directed towards the first lady that got him in deep.

    This is not about 'political correctness' it's about bigoted statements that makes it seem as though a whole group of people are terrorists or need to prove that they are not terrorists.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fremry

      Exactly. He is a Journalist for a company that strives to maintain neutrality. He publically opined that he wasn't neutral, therefore he loses his employment from the company trying to maintain neutrality.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Beirut_Veteran

    I have to give Sarah Palin credit for getting the correct news agency.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Prentiss

    They should "fire" muslims and then fire themselves. NPR- Not Prudently Responsible

    October 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Judy

    If there had been any negative feelings towards Muslims in this country before 9/11, maybe WTC and Flight 93 and Pentagon tragedies would not have happened. And may I submit, your honor, that the terrorists knew that and they were correct. We were caught "off guard." Which proves, that at the core, US citizens are very accepting and generally integrate well. But that event changed all thinking about how we view potential security risks/issues and the "obvious" way is by appearance.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. fake

    npr is a form of communism, you don't say anything they don't like. jaun is guilty of telling the truth.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Katie

    He has a right to his opinion, but not to express it as a reporter on a news show. It will call into question his fairness or bias when he reports on anything to do with muslims in muslim clothing. His saying this on a new show validates fears (not to mention loathing) of people. This is what leads to bans on muslim dress, racial profiling, and willful ignorance about the religion of Islam. It perpetuates the idea that all such people have an agenda that must be feared. NPR made the right call. We expect journalists to have integrity, don't we? If the news is to be accepted as "fair and balanced" then we must hold the reporters to higher standards than ordinary people. It's their job to inform us, not to give voice to our racist fears.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Suzanne

    So even if you agree he shouldn't have said this...Wow one mistake now and your fired. We ALL make mistakes, we all say stupid things from time to time. None of us are perfect all of us have some kind of bigotry we need to work on. Whatever happen to working with people. What are we saying to kids. One mistake and you are fired! Not a world I want to live in.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Blake

    Anyone that gets onto an airplane and sees anyone dressed as a muslim or acting/praying as they do, and then says they are not worried/affected by it, is a damn liar. Quit being politically correct and be honest.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • May

      YOU are SO right !

      October 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yep

      just like when you see a black guy walking down the alley behind you. Or a white guy running for office. Watch your wallet.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
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