October 22nd, 2010
11:17 AM ET

Juan Williams' remark aside, firing draws ire of left, right

The hullabaloo over the firing of ex-NPR news analyst Juan Williams is far bigger than right v. left.

Fox News has assailed NPR for its handling of the situation, calling it an assault on free speech and stoking GOP pundits and potential presidential candidates to demand that NPR's government funding be cut.

But it’s not only the right wing frowning on NPR’s decision. Though a handful have applauded the public radio station, journalists of every shade have come to his defense without condoning his comments. Williams said seeing people in Muslim dress on airplanes makes him nervous, and while plenty view his remark as silly or dangerous, few think he should have been axed.

“First of all, if I got on a plane and someone was in full Muslim attire, I would feel very safe because if you’re about to blow up that plane that’s not the way you’re going to be dressed,” Barbara Walters said Thursday on “The View,” where the controversy ostensibly started. “So if this is what you’re wearing, just as you might wear a cross or a Jewish star, fine. I think it’s a silly statement for Juan to be making.”

Walters, no stranger herself to the line between journalism and commentary, went on to say that “if you are someone who is giving your opinion then you’re allowed to give your opinion. You may or may not agree, like on this show.”

It was on “The View” last week that hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly after he blamed Muslims for 9/11.

O’Reilly was discussing those remarks on his own show Monday when Williams made his controversial statement.

Many analysts, both liberal and conservative, have noted Williams also tempered O’Reilly’s remarks by saying that likening Muslims to extremists would be like saying all Christians were akin to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

No matter, though. NPR’s CEO Vivian Schiller told the Atlanta Press Club that Williams’ comments undermined his credibility as an analyst and that political activists cannot be reporters or news analysts for NPR.

“This is not a reflection on his comments. This is not a debate. Juan feels the way he feels. That is not for me to pass judgment on,” she said - before passing judgment.

“His feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between his psychiatrist or his publicist – or take your pick – but it is not compatible with the role of a news analyst on NPR’s air,” she said.

She later apologized for her “thoughtless remark,” but there was no word whether NPR would discipline her for her deviation from the facts.

NPR’s ethics code, repeatedly used to defend Williams’ firing, states, “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.”

Williams isn't buying it, though. Speaking to O’Reilly after the Los Angeles Times reported Fox had signed him to a $2 million contract, Williams said he was targeted because of his affiliation with the conservative news channel, where he had been a contributor before his ouster from NPR.

“I don't fit in their box,” he said. “I'm not predictable, black, liberal. And let me tell you something else, you were exactly right when you said you know what this comes down to. They were looking for a reason to get rid of me because I'm appearing on Fox News. They don't want me talking to you.”

Williams also said he was provided no opportunity to present his case “eyeball to eyeball, person to person,” despite having given NPR more than a decade of service.

He said he received a call Wednesday, two days after the remark, from Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news. She asked him what he meant to say, Williams told O’Reilly.

“I said what I meant to say," he recalled telling her, "which is that it’s an honest experience that when I’m in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened on 9/11. That’s just a reality."

He said he was told the comment “crosses the line” and Weiss implied it was a “bigoted statement.” He said he wanted to discuss it in person.

“There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind,” he quoted Weiss as telling him. “This has been decided above me, and we’re terminating your contract.”

Many journalists have stated in the last 24 hours that while they disagree with Williams’ categorization of Muslims, they also frown on his firing.

Goldberg even drew a line between Williams' opinion and O’Reilly’s remarks that prompted her and Behar to walk off "The View" set last week.

“What Bill O’Reilly said he was saying as fact and he was painting it as fact, and the reason that I was annoyed is because it’s not a fact. When you say Muslims did this, are you talking about Muhammad Ali? Because he’s a Muslim.”

As for Williams, she said, “The point he was trying to make is, I get nervous and that’s OK to say. Firing him for saying that, I think, is kind of ridiculous."

She concluded by summing up the thoughts of her co-hosts, who run the political gamut: “In all of our opinions, it seems the firing of Juan was a total mistake and sends the wrong message. And NPR, get yourself together because we’ve all got to work on this together.”

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Filed under: Air travel • Islam • September 11
soundoff (851 Responses)
  1. Don

    Wow....NPR and its PC doctrine. Juan Williams was fired for NOT bowing down to the current PC BS that permeates this country. I have many friends that are Muslim. Having served in Iraq as an infantryman I also had many enemies that are muslim. I travel quite a bit and recently I was boarding a plane and there were several people boarding the same flight that were muslim. The men were dressed in western attire and the women were dressed in niqab. You bet I did a double take. Now HERE'S the irony.: I get pulled out of line for the 'random security check' but the folks in Muslim attire don't. I'm a 6'3 caucasian with military id. I'm dressed in Jeans and a button down shirt. I was pulled along with an elderly white woman and a white guy in his 50's. I felt like it was all about showing the muslims how NON bigoted TSA was....what a joke. Political Correctness will be the death of this nation's greatness.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOB

      No, you were pulled out because your number came up. No one was trying to show the muslims anything. Sounds to me like you are into racial profiling. Don't you understand why you put on a uniform? And I put my uniform on before you were wetting the bed.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie Dockery

      Scary! You are so right!!

      October 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sansculotte

    Juan is a very confused "brother" – and it's now made him rich.
    He is now one of the highest paid purveyors of the world's oldest profession.
    Congratulations Juan.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Darsidus

    I love the hypocracy, image the outcry if someone said they fear for their Chikdren when the see a catholic priest in garb, or all Catholics are pedophiles, or all Catholics are terrorists (The IRA in Ireland were terrorists and killed many). People would be in an uproar. People are morons, they flip out when someone cannot draw a cartoon of Mohamed but have no problems with what happened to Sinead Oconnor after she tore the Popes picture up on SNL.

    Facism will come to America wrapped in an American Flag and wearing Nikes

    I like you Christ, your Christians not so much, they are so unlike your Christ

    October 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CBCalif

    NPR's behavior is outrageous. Their inept and arrogant management team is attempting to censors the views held by the majority of Americans clearly expressed by Juan Williams. Go for it, but the federal government should no longer fund any PBS operations and people should no longer donate to or listen to NPR absent their firing their upper management and compensating Juan Williams. Let Soros fund NPR.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rick

    I like Juan Williams but I can understand one network being uptight about one of their folks commenting on another. You don't find CBS or NBC folks there. Juan was a serious journalist but he entered the world of Fox "Newsertainment" which really isn't journalism. He will get a big fat paycheck from Fox and I wish him well.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOB

      Exactly. Poor maligned man now gets a big pay check and the opportunity to spout off how he really feels with facts be damned.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chumley

    Williams never belonged on NPR – NPR and Fox are at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Williams is a mouthpiece for Foxnoise, and NPR should have dumped him a long time ago!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Husker

    Willimas firing was probably justified (method questionable) but feel also Vivian Schiller shoud be terminated for her "psychiactrist" remark regarding Juan. Totally unacceptable for one in her postion.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jwn

    It smacks of a set up. I'll say something that is against NPR policy, NPR fires me, I go to work for $$$$$$$ at Fox the next day, great publicity!!

    Don't these radio and TV folks have to hammer out contracts for weeks before a deal is done? And Juan and Fox do it in hours, I don't think so!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kate

    I am about as liberal as it gets. Bleeding heart, step back because it might get on your shoes liberal. I have absolutely no idea why this man was fired. If you watch the whole segment (if you can stomach Mr. Bill), Mr. Williams was saying that yes, he gets nervous, but that's not a rational feeling. He was saying that we all have to be honest about our prejudices and move past them. What on earth is wrong with that? He was being honest, and I think that's about as progressive as it gets. You can't have progress without honesty.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      He was fired for associating with trash (O'Reilly).

      October 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff E

    Am I the only one that thinks he should be fired, because he stereotyped an entire religion of people? If he had said everytime he sees a white male, in camoflauge pants, a white T-shirt, and a military haircut, he thinks of Tim McVeigh, what's the chances people would have a vastly different opinion?

    Don't you see what this is all about you idiots? It's a bunch of right wing christian fanatics trying to say it is acceptable only if the person being stereotyped is a muslim. While, in all honesty, there are far more right wing extremist groups out there, that are just as dangerous as the muslim extremists. I mean who do you think is a bigger threat really? These crazy right wing groups, running around in the woods, planning for the end of the world, and a vast war against the government, if they don't have someone in power, they feel is one of their own. Or muslim extremists, that basically can't go anywhere or do anything with out someone looking at them??

    This isn't about Juan Williams you idiot's, it's about ideology, it's about power and control.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      I totally agree about the ideology. The millitia people running around in the woods are completely terrifying. But Juan Williams hardly spouted the rhetoric that they do. Mr. Williams was admitting that he has irrational feelings. If you watch the whole segment, he said that we all have to move on, and get past those irrational feelings. How else do we do that as a society without first acknowledging that those feelings exist?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Adams

    Mr. Juan has to understand that freedom of speech comes in the same package with personal responsibility. You are free to express your opinion. Others are free to disagree with you. NPR hires you because you're intellectual abilities not because you are good at building cars. If you fail to maintain their level of professionalism, if your speech comes in conflict with their publicly established standards, you don't go to jail but they have a right to terminate your contract with them. Once again, you are free to voice your not so intelligent opinion in public. That does not mean I have to pay you to do that when your opinion comes in conflict with the rules you have agreed upon.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. musings

    As we might have guessed, if you are a "spokesman" for the media, you cannot share your personal feelings in public if it will jeopardize the sponsors' careful cultivation of its demographic (from which its profits are derived). Juan Williams forgot that he was an employee, and as such he had to maintain a professional distance from his personal feelings whenever he went on record. It is irrelevant whether those personal feelings pointed to something valid.

    Mel Gibson has discovered that although his almighty ego seemed invincible, when it comes to the business of making movies, he might be "unbankable" at the moment, just as Juan Williams is in "news".

    October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dub1045

    The credibility of NPR has been flushed down the toilet. Sure we will continue to listen to the cute fluffy pieces they produce, but will take a jaded view when they present us with "serious journalistic exposes or "analysis" of world happenings. Then have become, overnight, irrevelant. Go figure....

    October 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. adam

    It's funny to realize how dumb the NPR prez is, and to think that she had no idea how big of a deal Juan's firing would be in this country. Now she knows. Ultra liberals need to come back down to planet earth and join the rest of society.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. na

    This is crazy. Whoopi Goldberg is on a TALK SHOW!! NPR is a news program, period. I listen to it every single day and NEVER hear one of the journalists or reporters make remarks that reflect their personal feelings on subject matter whether its sensitive material or matter of fact. During major elections I have heard both parties have their interview time. Whenever I hear anyone say that NPR is a left wing liberal news outlet I am just dumbfounded. SInce when is reporting the facts and not being partisan considered liberal??

    The View and several of the Fox News programs are there because its a forum for people to express their OPINIONS. Juan chose to be present on Fox News and say what he said while representing NPR – its no secret to everyone who saw him on the program that he worked for NPR. Their code of ethics clearly states what is not allowed and what is. ANYONE who was offended or hurt by his remarks would have had a hard time listening to him on NPR as an analyst without thinking about his comments.

    He knew what he was doing and he shouldn't be surprised that his contract was terminated. Maybe the $2 million dollar contract with Fox News was what he was really after. Nice way to start your new career on television – with a whole lot of free publicity. I can add this to the list of why I don't watch Fox news.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I guess you never heard of Nina Totenberg ... she's a really good reason why to never listen to NPR. Google her and see the ridiculous and partisan rhetoric that she has been spewing for over 10 years and still has a job at NPR. NPR is a joke...and this truly displays it.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • na

      That is pretty terrible John – She should have also been fired for that statement she made back in 1995 about Jesse Helms. But just like my point about Juan Williams – I will have a hard time listening to her reports without always thinking of her hateful remarks, albeit about a pretty awful person such as Helms.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • na

      of course I was also 14 years old back in 1995...the political climate was much different.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
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