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. Brent

    Classic Libdog hypocrisy. "there is plenty of dialogue as long as you agree with our point of view" And done with our tax dollar–of course, only a Libdog would view tax dollars as the government's and not the taxpayers'.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Dennis

    I'm sure Fox would be glad to hire him to do his own show "Just Juan-dering."

    October 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • T

      Instead of "60 Minutes", it could be "Juan Hour".

      October 21, 2010 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. scott samples

    Fox news does not get it's money from tax payers. If Juan said what he feels then were is the harm. Free Speech!

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. greggo

    As an independant moderate I have never been a NPR fan. Never been all that crazy about Juan Williams but I have always respected the man, his opinions, and the way he presented hisself. To be fired by NPR for expressing his opinion when a majority of Americans agree with him is disgusting and just another example of our continuing loss of rights led by the present administration. If not "politically correct" and not in agreement with the controlling powers we are no longer allowed to express our without fear of persecution? I mean, seriously, who among us does not get a little nervous when we see a person who possibly may be of Arab descent sitting across the aisle from us on our 747? Who doesn't give this person a second look, check him out a wee bit closer. We have a right to! Call them Muslim terrorists, Muslim extremists, Muslim freedom-fighters, whatever. The fact is that these horrible acts of terror have been carried out by Muslims. They weren't catholic. They weren't jewish. Nor were they babtists, methodists, charismatic pentecostals, or any other Chritian religion. Having conflicting feelings about Muslims is correct and understandable even among the most open minded and forgiving of American citizens. This is a country of religious freedom and acceptance and I do not believe that islamaphobia is a prevalent problem in this great land of ours. But we certainly have the right and obligation to be wary and concerned.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • veggiedude

      What does the administration have to do with this? Nothing!

      October 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      I do not get nervous. If they jumped up and started causing a scene I might. But that's not about their garb, that's about their actions. For that matter, if someone in "hill billy" dress (whatever that might be) or "white trash dress" or even "business suit" dress jumped up and made a scene, I might get nervous. But holding Muslims accountable for 9/11 is wrong. Hold the terrorists accountable. Terrorists can be from anywhere. It just happens these were Muslim and their plan caused a lot of devastation.

      Do you remember the Oklahoma City bombing? That was one of our "so called" "own". Do I get nervous when I see a white middle aged man driving a truck? No I don't.

      I refuse to live in fear. And I refuse to hold the many accountable for the actions of the few.

      October 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joseph

    NPR is wrong on this one. And it seems those who agree with NPR on this blog are so disposed to dislike FOX news (I understand) but the issue here is free speech and keeping things in context. Liberal thinking need not throw these ideals.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • geekgirl42

      No one said Juan Williams doesn't have the right to make islamophobic comments. But his employer, NPR, has ethical guidelines of journalistic responsibility to which Mr. Williams is bound. Making racially or ethnically charged statements on air is journalistically unethical, and NPR has every right to terminate him for his comments. Free speech does not apply to journalists when their speech violates their employers' policies on journalistic ethics. I think it's good that NPR still applies the code of ethics, unlike other media outlets like Fox News, which seems to foster a culture in which it's ok to say whatever you want and inject personal opinions into news pieces as a matter of standard practice.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reetz

      I really think Juan should have been given the opportunity to apologize and explain that he is wrong to sterotype that way, but he(we) can't help it.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • veggiedude

      I agree. NPR is wrong. But what the heck is "Liberal thinking"?? If I want liberal thinking, I would go to church and love Jesus. I do neither.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Craig

      I am not disposed to dislike Fox News. I am disposed to despise Fox News. Calling it a News station is like calling Russia a Democracy.

      October 21, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DanW

    It never ceases to amaze me that one group - the Muslims of the USA - who number less than 1% of our population have been able to cause so much division. We always have to cater to them; always have to refrain from hurting their precious little feelings, while they say whatever they please about whomever they please. What the h3ll are you people going to do when they become 5 – 10 % of the population, as they now are in Europe? How foolish we are to allow massive immigration from nations that proclaim themselves our enemies!

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      How do you cater to us????? Was invading Iraq catering to us??? There are plenty of normal, decent, law abiding Muslims in the US, I guess you must live in Redneckville so you don't know any of us. I personally spoke out against the mosque being built by ground zero because I don't think its sensitive to Americans or appropriate.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • geekgirl42

      Yep, keep voting republican because the Muslims (gays, abortion doctors, atheists, blacks, illegal immigrants, etc, etc) are all coming to take what's yours. They're all coming for you. That's exactly what they want you to believe. Open your eyes and think for yourself for a change.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      "Redneckville", Susan?

      I find that to be a bigoted reply, given that I am from Alabama. Oh, wait....it's still acceptable to completely mischaracterize Southerners.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Curt

    Thanks for taking one of the things I really enjoy in life (NPR Programming) and turning it into today's freakshow. I realize their politcial reporting hasn't been without controversy over the years but tell me where the hell else I can find such excellent, insightful shows in today's era of 15 second stories. Fresh Air & On Point have given me countless hours of education & really made a difference in the way I look at the world. I am ready to move to the next planet as this one has just about run its course.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Susan

    I identify as being Muslim before being American. I'm not a crazy fundamentalist, I'm educated, married, I have a career. My dearest friends are Christians. I didn't know we were supposed to put being American before our love and committment to God. After all it was God who created me, not my country. Strange...just strange.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. absurdist

    There are moderate Muslims everywhere, and they do speak out, but they don't get as much press, because our media loves sensationalism.
    NPR promotes values of tolerance and acceptance, and this journalist went against that. If you publicly defy the core values of your employer, you should expect retribution. They didn't violate his free speech; they made a decision as an employer.
    Racism is racism, whether it's unpopular or popular (hating on Muslims and Mexicans) racism. Period.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. geekgirl42

    I agree with Jay Bookman of the AJC. If a white, Hispanic or Asian journalist had gone on TV and said "'When I get on a bus, if I see black people, I get worried, I get nervous' " it should and would have elicited a similar response. This is no different. Prefacing it with "I'm no bigot" doesn't make it better. What is any self-respecting, serious journalist doing on Fox News, anyway?

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. shatterboxvox

    Williams has been dining out at Fox on his NPR affiliation for a long time, and appearing on infotainment outlets like O'Reilly, throwing out ill-conceived one-liners dilutes their brand. I don't blame them. I thought employment at will was conservative dogma. Williams has a right to say whatever he wants, but NPR is not obligated to give him a forum to do so. I'm sure he and Dennis Miller can make a bundle on an "Outcasts of Liberalism" tour.

    The teabaggers and their enablers love to pop off about press freedoms, then ban reporters from their events (yes, I'm talking about you Sarah) and have their private security morons handcuff and detain journalists unlawfully on public property (like Palin's protege in the Alaska senate race).

    October 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rkm63

    It wasn't black men who attacked America on 9/11 Tom, it was muslims. They fired Juan because of his affiliation with Fox, plain and simple.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • fuzzy786

      They were not Muslims you idiot, they were Terrorists who attacked us. If you get a stroke and go to ER, you might get a Muslim doctor. Are you going to let him treat you or die of a stroke because he is a Muslim Dr.?

      October 21, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Czarina

    Freedom of speech is a notion that NPR believes in, provided it's not one of your employees. He was not on FOX representing NPR, but as a journalist who stated his opinion. I'm ashamed of your decision and will hereby stop my annual donations. I don't need to fund an organization whose employees are not allowed to voice their thoughts and opinions outside of their job. He was professional and kept a journalistic integrity within the confines of his actual job. Shocking, but sometimes we need to express ourselves despite the overt expected political correctness. Shame on you, NPR.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • geekgirl42

      This isn't about free speech. It's about an employer's right to enforce ethics guidelines. You can be fired for making a comment like that in a board meeting at most companies in this country. A journalist, who is bound by the journalistic code of ethics does not have the right to make comments like this on air without taking the consequences of violating the guidelines of his employer.

      October 21, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Minnie

    Mr. Williams expressed the worry he felt when he got on a plane with passengers in Muslim garb. You would be lying if that thought had never crossed your mind. It seems that if you are in the American public eye you are punished for exercising your lst amendment rights when your employer can't control your mind or tongue. Fox News are the bigots!

    October 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ed

    NPR – public funded bigotry against sanity!

    October 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
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