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.”

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

    Say what you will about this controversy, I have found Juan Williams to be a thoughtful analyst of the zeitgeist, who usually has something compelling to say. He's hardly a screaming ideologue, and he struggles with the same conflicting thoughts as most fair-minded and free-thinking people do. Has anyone read his book "Enough"? It revealed a side of him that I was unaware of. He calls things as he sees them, and I like him.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Thomas

    I can see that the "conservatives" can't grasp "contract breach"

    October 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      They don't like it when someone says Bill doesn't have anything to do with news.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      I admit not having Googled this and not being familiar with Williams in general, but what part of his contract was breached?

      I kind of have this feeling that he (and other analysts, probably) has arguably breached his contract in the past on other occasions and other topics. So, my uninformed question isn't really "Why?" but rather "Why NOW?"

      October 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • anne

      Enlighten us Thomas...how did Juan breach his contract? Just because NPR says he did. Did you read it? And where is Jesse and Al? Where are they? And Obama when is he going to chime in. Um never because he is so far up Soros' behind.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rus

    You know, this is the reason why we still haven't had that national conversation about race that President Obama asked us to have in his '08 campaign. We all have biases, and unless we're able to talk about them, that conversation will never take place. I don't care if you're white, black, asian, eskimo or arabic....we're all a little bit racist. But until we can talk about it openly, have an honest discussion, we're never going to get past it. The problem is, no one wants to lead that discussion because of issues like this, the repercussions of having the conversation can be devistating to someone personally.

    And, all things considered, what Juan said wasn't really that bad, he was being open and honest about his own personal biases. He wasn't trying to incite hatred with them, they weren't said in anger, he wasn't calling for the extermination of muslims all over the globe....it simply was an open part of the bias we all have.

    It certainly wasn't as bad as Jesse Jackson's quote, "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about Robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved"

    We're not going to ever get past race unless we can begin talking about it openly, trying to keep something in that is simply a bit of human nature, we're never going to improve race relations in this country.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BOB

    "Ever since Watts, I've been nervous whenever black people gather together, especially on planes." Think I wouldn't be fired? Of course I would. And deservedly so.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dawn

    I don't give a crap what he said, I didn't even read much. Something about Muslims, whooptie doo. If I were a company who was trying to maintain a bit of integrity or dignity, I'd fire any employee who went on with such trash as O'Reilly, for any reason, immediately.

    I have gained new respect for NPR.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • bill

      Dawn,
      Have you ever watched Bill O'Reilly. Apparently not. FYI – He's got the number 1 show on cable network. Not just the 8:00 time slot, but number 1 overall. You're in the minority – ever wonder why?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Former NPR listener

    I used to be an avid NPR listener and I supported them during their annual fundraiser. This action reaffirmed my decision to stop listening to them years ago. Government funding needs to stop and they need to change their name to National Progressive Liberal Radio or National Politically Correct Radio. They do NOT represent the public with their obvious bias and hypocrisy.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      You're totally wrong about NPR, which is a shining example of professional, well-produced, neutral fact-based journalism and the highest standards of integrity (the polar opposite of criminally-propagandist Fox). Fox is the channel that NEVER invites any serious disagreement. In fact, there are audio tapes of Sean Hannity coaching guests on what to say in response to questions before appearances, and then congratulating them afterwards for promoting the right-wing point of view....which is amazing because Hannity lacks any formal higher education and was basically hired for his jawline. There is also VIDEO tape of a female Fox producer on the location of an early Tea Party rally coaching the crowd on what to say and to be louder for her cameras.

      So basically, you're totally out of your mind if you think NPR is the biased outlet here. Fox is a right-wing propaganda tool....the JANITOR at NPR knows more about neutral fact-based journalism than ANYONE at Fox.

      Besides, NPR has EVERY right to fire this non-analyst, non-journalist for blatantly violating the boundaries between objective journalism and right-wing, yellow-journalism, hate-mongering. Besides, in ten years of listening to Juan Williams, I've NEVER heard any original thought or insight out of him. He simply reads the papers in the morning and then recites and paraphrases what he read....good riddance to this whining nuisance.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    ATTENTION FOX VIEWERS!!!

    Your guide to the outside world.

    1) Williams is not considered a Liberal outside of FOX. He's a moderate Republican.

    2) NPR gets no direct government subsidy.

    3) The first amendment restricts the GOVERNMENT from limiting citizens speech. It does NOT restrict a corporation from firing someone as a national media spokesperson for breaking their employment agreement by saying prejudice things on the air. Otherwise we'd all have the right to be on television. Think about it.

    Thank you, carry on.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      Exactly. I applaud NPR for beginning to try to "clean up its act". Just last week they issued a memo for news personnel to skip the Jon Stewart rally unless they were covering it. Ostensibly it is not political, I applaud the concept, but in today's charged atmosphere it is likely considered "partisan" by a number of people.
      Journalism is What? Where? When? Why? Who? not opinion.
      There are several occupations where showing partisanship or strong opinions is forbidden contractually. There needs to be a return to a distinction between journalistic reporting and editorializing.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kathy

    “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,”...Um, why? Because they would be hiding the fact that they were Muslim? I'm sorry, but if it shouldn't make people nervous, then why wouldn't they be wearing full Muslim attire before they blew up a plane?

    October 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      What does it matter why? You wouldn't be nervous in a situation? How about if the Muslim lights his shoes on fire, or puts his hands on the emergency exit while praying to Mecca? It doesn't matter, he has a right to feel nervous about whatever bothers him, and a right to share that.

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

    NPR should be unfunded!~ hell, I think it is unrealistic to think people are NOT uneasy around muslims on a plane.
    besides, the muslims don't seem to be waging a campaign to exclude extremist in USA and worldwide.
    people that think this is justified are RETARDS!

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

    Vivian Schiller needs to be fired for how she handled the whole situation, because of her insensitive remarks about Juan Williams talking with his Psychiatrist. How hurtful a comment from a CEO. People need to understand that just last week Geroge Soros gave NPR 1.8 million to hire liberal journalists. George Soros is not even and American and he is trying to ruin America just like he has done in Greece, France and England. People in America need to wake up and look at his World Agenda. It is all abour George Soros making more and more money for himself. He could care lease about you.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      You're out of your mind, and your screen name is appropriate...did you just crawl out of your grain silo in Kansas?

      NPR has EVERY right to fire this non-analyst, non-journalist for blatantly violating the boundaries between objective journalism and right-wing, yellow-journalism, hate-mongering. Besides, in ten years of listening to Juan Williams, I've NEVER heard any original thought or insight out of him. He simply reads the papers in the morning and then recites and paraphrases what he read....good riddance to this whining nuisance.

      Also, you're totally wrong about NPR, which is a shining example of professional, well-produced, neutral fact-based journalism and the highest standards of integrity (the polar opposite of criminally-propagandist Fox). Fox is the channel that NEVER invites any serious disagreement. In fact, there are audio tapes of Sean Hannity coaching guests on what to say in response to questions before appearances, and then congratulating them afterwards for promoting the right-wing point of view....which is amazing because Hannity lacks any formal higher education and was basically hired for his jawline. There is also VIDEO tape of a female Fox producer on the location of an early Tea Party rally coaching the crowd on what to say and to be louder for her cameras.

      So basically, you're totally out of your mind if you think NPR is the biased outlet here. Fox is a right-wing propaganda tool....the JANITOR at NPR knows more about neutral fact-based journalism than ANYONE at Fox.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      Billish, when criticizing a third party for "hate-mongering", let's try not to embody the trait ourselves, k?

      Further, if you're criticizing Williams for being non-original, the point would be better made if you stopped pasting the same post over and over.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MSD

    I do not recall hearing Mr Williams or fox news come to Rick Sanchez defense when he was fired from CNN.
    CNN is just as bad as Fox news do not be fooled. all in thier own way

    October 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie Dockery

      So true!!

      October 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff Paulson

    I keep hearing the reference to a double-standard ... but what you miss is that since Extreme Liberals don't have any standards (other than personal feelings of the moment) ... Extreme Liberals can never be accused of having a double-standard since the standards they do have change based on the whim of the moment. And as far as a Code of Ethics at NPR? Really? There clearly is nothing ethical about any standards they apply at NPR. NPR claims that the government funding is not a large part of their budget, then fine. Stop sending governement money to NPR.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rev. Howard

    I think that people should use the 'gray matter' of their brains and not use, as a subsitute, 'chatter'. Juan Williams was already on the payroll of Fox News and NPR was within it's rights, as an employer, to terminate their relationship with Mr. Williams after his prejudical, condemning and incinerary remarks about all Muslims! How could a seemingly talented and seasoned professional committ such a stupid error? He wasn't speaking from his I.Q., Mr. Williams was acting the fool with Bill O'Reilly. He caught carried away with himself. As an African-American, there is a tendency for me to say, "The did the brother wrong"! I am not in that faternity. Mr. Williams, like another man whom I respect and admire, Rick Sanchez, made a serious error in his choice of speech in a business realm where relationships fuels the image and profit lines. No sane business can invite nor tolerate this kind of liability, especially in a 'global' economy and world. We just experienced a near 'war' situation, when the gentleman in Florida threaten to 'burn Korans'! How terribly insane given the inferno it would have created for our troops in 'both wars'. Not to mention the provocation it would have ignited in the U.S. and the rest of the world. "Free Speech"? Hell no! This is insanity. This would have been like opening the doors and windows of a blood bank in a 'vampirehood', declaring one has the right to do so. How can people say that Mr. Williams has the 'not so bright' right to say the inflamming things he said, but the same right isn't extended to Minister Louie Frarakaan or Rev. Wright? We cannot have it both ways. How would white christians feel if Pastor Rick Warren got up and said from his pulpit that all white christians should be feared by blacks, because of slavery? How irresponsible and ignorant this would be! To the unenlighted and uneducated mind, this might seem like a fair and logical statement, but the history facts are that all white christians didn't support or practice slavery. In fact, long before the civil war, white christians, like the great John Brown and his family died fighting for the freedom of black people and the Quakers were killed for this moral and just cause. So, in short, "loose lips, sinks ships" and Mr. Juan Williams sunk his own ship!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      well said, mostly. No one regrdless of what race, what profession, what age, what nationality, etc. is immune from suffering the consequences of being a bigot.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Urban Republican

      Yo Rev. I agree with everything you said, but disagree with NPR's right to terminate their buisness relationship and contract with Williams simply because they are so slanted to the left with their reporting of the news. While NPR can in their imaginary world think that they are reporing the news in a straight unbiased way, is the same thing as saying that Fox News is reporting the news from a more nuetral perspective. I lived in Atlanta for many years, and lived in a historicly Black community. My wife who is an immigrant and I put our daughter in a school that was predominantly African Muslim Refugees and African-American students. Our daughter was treated well with not a single thought of intolerance or prejuduce. She was interveiwed by a Journalist as to what she thought President Obama should do after he had been elected. She knew that my father witnessed the Holicost in WW II, and she knew that I witnessed genocide and war in the ninteen-eighties. In a very foward way she responded on the TV camera, "There is this really really bad thing in this world. It's called War! It burns peoples homes, and kills their families, and my Grandfather almost got killed when he was in the War." She gave her final response saying, "President Obama, Could you please stop the Wars." This became a Video Letter to Obama by the Refugee Children and fellow American Children that she went to in Atlanta. I was very proud of my daughter.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Urban Republican

      As a conservative White man, I had plenty of liberal friends, and my daughter thrived in that school. Coming from a bi-racial family, our daughter felt very much at home in the Afro-centric school, because they taught tolerance, and many of her classmates came from failies who experienced torture, oppression, with no opportunity or freedom. The working class Blacks, and the educated Liberal Whites and Blacks we lived around and associated with in urban Atlanta were some of the nicest people I'll ever have the opportunity to know. I didn't pre-judge these Muslims who I enjoyed helping as a voulenteer in the community. As a minority, I didn't kiss the American Black people's ass, and nor did I look for them to kiss my ass for trying to help them and their children who went to school with my daughter. Having said all of this, I too worked in the media within the Navy, and with the international community covering stories of genocide, racism, and intolerance.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Urban Republican

      Was it wrong for me as a White conservative man to go into the Black community and voulenteer to help them? Was it wrong for me to go in to the Muslim-American community in Atlanta to help them after witnessing terrorist atacks by Muslim Terrorists that killed hundreds of thousands of my American Military brothers and innocent civilians? Judge only those whose actions speak against God's Will, and never be afraid to serve your brother or sister when God calls you to do so no matter where they come from or what race or religion they follow. I spent time fighting against Islamo-Facism when I was in the Navy deployed in the Middle-East for two tours of duty. I had an Iranian roomate in college who at the same time was a medic during the Iran-Iraq War who witnessed Iraq's horrific use of WMD's against his own people, Kurds, and Iranian civilians. Funny thing is that when people get nevous around Black people or Hispanic people in this country, they would be surprized at the CDC's statistics on crime in America. It's usually Black on Black, Hispanic on Hispanic, and Asian on Asian Crime that is usually the scenerio of perpetrators of crimes against the victums of crime in the US. When Muslim Terrorists attack and try to kill Americans, they attack soft targets of opportunity indiscrimantly with regards to race or creed all for the effect and attention they can get in the media. I suppose that's why Juan Williams feels the way he does. While I am very open-minded, but I was trained to look for signs of behavior that would lend me to be concerned with sitting next Muslims on an Airplane. I have a lot of experience with Muslims. I can't imagine Juan would not have much experience working with or socializing with Muslims as a Journalist. I don't know his personal experiences, but he should be careful how he words his thoughts as a Journalist, and seperate his personal feels or fears. He should have never been fired though. worked for PBS as a contracted TV Journalist before, and know all too well how political NPR is.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike Johnson

    I saw an wonderful difference between liberals and conservatives. If Fox News had fired a liberal for calling Palin a ignorant ditz there would have been silence by conservatives. Around 90% of the comments posted on NPR defended Juan Williams.

    Juan sure blew it. He cold have gotten five million from Fox so, they could have a token to attack NPR.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kevin

    I'm not surprised to hear pundits outrage. If this level of integrity becomes commonplace only journalist will have those lucrative jobs on our "news" networks.

    Imagine having to live on a single salary again. Frightful!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26