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. Texan

    Fact is, Fox leans right, MSNBC leans left, CNN is slightly left of center, while NPR (depending on who you listen to) meanders from pretty middle of the road to fairly left. There is no such thing as an unbiased news source, and there never has been. Both the left and right will talk about the importance of freedom of speech then throw you to the dogs as soon as you say something they don't agree with. The left loves to talk about how open minded they are, then condemn anything that doesn't follow their paradigm as ignorance and bigotry. The right claims to embrace freedom, yet is quick to condemn anyone who falls outside their comfort zone. We live in an increasingly polarized environment, where the lunatic fringe (on both sides) has the loudest voice. Neither side is any more or less guilty than the other. That's just the way it is.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry BFF

      Nicely said.....

      October 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tom

    I wonder if those who were undecided about who to vote for will take this action by NPR concerning Jaun Williams into consideration. Looks like liberals may not be as fair minded as we like to think. Shame on NPR for their decision and shame on them for their poor timing. On another front: Can anyone tell me who the pro-life blue-dog congressional democrates are? I remember hearing from them during the Health Care debates, but have lost track of who they are.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerry BFF

      There are "fair-minded" and unfair-minded liberals...just the same as conservatives. NPR does not speak for the liberals. No one does. One of the big differences between liberals and conservatives is that liberals can come from all directions politically...conservatives come from one direction. No one speaks for all liberals.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bill Logsdon

    I don't agree with much of what Juan says but I respect his integrity and professionalism. This is just one more step of NPR's move toward being irrelevant.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. SmarterHuman

    How truly bizarre and nauseating that the first response quote you chose was from Sarah Palin. That's truly disturbing. As if her opinion has any value. She's a beauty queen dropout quitter. STOP quoting that idiot!

    October 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Piper Shaniqua Wellington-Jenkins

    We demand freedom of speech because we lack the ability to THINK before speaking!

    October 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dennis

    {Points} "Ha-Ha!"

    October 21, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mateo Diego

    I am quite disappointed with the firing of Juan Williams by NPR. I am a regular listener and contributor. IMO he has done a fantastic job at NPR and to fire him is deplorable. While I may not agree with everything that is said on NPR I have always thought that NPR gave all sides a voice. What Juan said was exactly what many people, including myself actually think even while it may offend some. To fire him over it is wrong. NPR fall on your sword and reinstate Juan or risk losing one or more "loyal listeners".

    October 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spiegelhead

      I agree. Pull their funding. Why should my tax dollars go to fund a gruop who I disagree with?

      October 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kim

    I am a huge fan of Juan Williams' work as a journalist. What he thinks privately is irrelevant, as long as he doesn't let it get in the way of unbiased and balanced reporting. Unfortunately, by making his personal feelings public, he evokes the perception of bias in his reporting, in the minds of many who hear him. Reporters are human and humans have biases, prejudices, perceptions and all the baggage that comes with being a thinking/feeling person in the world. It is not a reporter's job to be unbiased; it is a reporter's job to be FAIR. However, NPR (and other news organizations with strict ethical codes) recognize that the perception of bias or conflict taints everything that comes after. It's not right or fair to hold reporters to higher standards than the people they cover, but it is what it is. And it's written in ink in NPR's code. I am so disappointed that I won't hear Juan on NPR anymore.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John S

    Q: Which of these things is not like the other?

    Whenever I try to get a loan and I see a Jew I get nervous
    Whenever I go the gym and I see a gay man I get nervous
    Whenever I walk past a black man I get nervous
    Whenever I call the police and the cop is a woman I get nervous
    Whenever I get on a plane and I see a Muslim I get nervous

    A: Whenever I see racism defended as free speech I get nervous

    October 21, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tommy T


      October 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Well your just a nervous reck, aren't you!

      October 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa C.

      LOVE IT!!!! Great post!!!

      October 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BostonDan

    Political Correctness reaches a new low! Time to pull all tax funding out of NPR. No free speech, no tax $$.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jamez

    The poop has hit the fan. Since when do we in America COWER to other nations.
    There is a limit to political correctness. In America I expect people to act as Americans.
    This continued showing of National awareness by third world riff raff is not acceptable.
    It has been demonstrated that people of the Islamic world will not police their own society.
    Terrorist use the muslim religion as a cover and the leaders of the faith will not denounce them in the temples.
    Its time for SMITH and WESSON to start talking.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. joesnopy

    Yes, Juan can be a uncle tom some times but I think he was telling how he feels while flying. I hate to say this but I feel the same way when I fly and I should be ashame because I am of color.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Adam Smith

    Where's the ACLU? NAACP? Liberals are Liberals-first, everything else second.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. v. kusak

    Juan Williams was born in Panama. His parents are from Colon, Panama. He came to the USA as child and enjoyed the oportunities that this country offered him. This Panamanian guy is not welcome back to Panama because he is a racist, and a bigot. I was born in Panama. The difference is that I put my life on the line for more than 26 years to defend this country from people like Juan Williams. Juan be careful that they don't suddenly mistake you for a terrorist. My grandparents were jews from Germany and I am also black and latino.

    October 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. iramos

    What a shame, shame on NPR.. .no way, no how will I tune in to them ever again. Juan WIlliams did not make a racist remark, he simply stated what is the truth, Americans are apprehensive. Do we not live in the United States of America?!Too much political correctness with all of these news anchor people, This world has changed, the reality is we live in danger.. how about supporting the sensitivity of the American people!

    October 21, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
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