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. Qev

    Look, I'm against Williams's firing, but...Faux?...O'reilly? This racist pig, O'reilly, who openly refers to Mexicans as "wetbacks" and hopes that black kids "aren't outside stealing our hubcaps" (look it up)...and more...is going to use his new and shiny 'token' for all he's worth then send him back out to the fields. Which is exactly what 'weak-minded minorities who chose to be suck-up to the Racist Right deserve.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. capcity

    What if it was O'Reily who said, "if I'm walking through New York City and I see people who are BLACK in urban garb who identify themselves first and foremost as being BLACK I do a double take I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened to..." EVERYONE would be going berserk, caling for his firing, calling him racists, etc. So how is the underlying sentiment of what Jaun said any different than this analogy? He said something stupid, is trying to play it down, but lost his job for it. he should have as a reporter, is he a monster NO. He was at best commiting insensitive stereotyping, at worst he could be labled a bigot (they come in all shapes, sizes, political views, and color ya know!)

    October 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rus

      How is your "what-if" of O'Rielly any different to what Jesse Jackson said previously?

      “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"

      By your own standards, do you think Jesse is a biggot as well?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    Oh, please! Juan Williams rarely had an original thought in his commentary. I hardly ever heard him say anything that wasn't already said by other commentators. And, yes, it does disparage NPR's credibility to employ someone who also works for the propaganda machine euphemistically called Fox News. And, finally, Williams was stereotyping with his comments about Muslims. If a white commentator had said, "I get nervous every time I step into an elevator with a black person," how long would he/she last on the air?

    October 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Urban Republican

    NPR may have conservative journalists on their programming, but they have to stay in the liberal box. Juan Williams was a naughty boy and went over to that evil Fox News Network, and diid not act like a Black people are supposed to act. PBS's NPR is publicly funded by tax payers, and they have a nerve to accuse any journalist of staying neutral, just reporting the facts as they pretend to profess thenselves in their imaginary world of being liberal is really neutral. News Execs in the main stream media are by and large liberal, but after Obama was pitched liberal slanted softballs by journalists to easily win the election with the most biased news coverage ever, it took the credibility of the American Journaist away. More importantly, American Journalists felt like the First Ammendment Right to Free Speech was completely trampled on, because the same Journalists who were told to paint a rosy picture of Obama were also told to demonize the GOP. This made them stop and wake up realizing that they were not only being told and directed what to say, and who to say it to, but that there media colligues at Fox News were shut out by the Obama Administration. Journalists want to bring stories of people and events to the American veiwers, and be looked at as ethical and reputable reporters of the news. What Williams said could have been more carefully expressed, but every red-blooded American including many Muslims know that there are terrorist cells here in America who could try to kill us again.

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

    This whole story is just causing more division in our country. Whether the 911 terrorists were dressed as Muslins makes no difference because they were Muslims out to destory our country.
    Making people angry by firing Juan Williams just adds fuel to the fire.
    If they can do this to Juan Williams, most true journalist had better watch their backs!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    "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." – Hey, Elliot, did you forget to mention that plenty view his remark as legitimate and even empathize? Guess so...typical CNN crap.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Carlton

    The expectation by others for black men in America is only to breath and make other people money and keep quiet. Wake up black men, stand up and speak up!!!

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

    Its one thing to have an opinion, but this idiot should of known better. Its profiling plain and simple and leads to nothing good.

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

      It leads to nothing good? Well it led to passengers subduing Richard Reid, the shoe bomber as he tried to light is sneakers on fire. Don't let facts get in the way of a good argument, huh?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      Scott- you are wrong, go back and read about Reid, he was acting bizzare so that brought attention to himself, that's not profiling, that's being a dumb and a poor terrorist thank God! Had he been smart, the outcome could of been disasterous.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    Well freedom of speech is a hot topic now, but who cares? It was a racist comment but Fox News have racist, and more importantly false statements all the time. He will be right at home over there where he belongs.

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

      I guess Rick Sanchez isn't a profiling racist, huh? Maybe he'll get a cushy job over at NPR...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. adam

    Where was the outrage over Rick Sanchez firing from CNN? You canned him because of perceived anti-semetic statements. So it's totally ok to fire someone if they say slightly anit-Jewish but if they say blatantly racist statements Muslims its not ok?

    Imagine if he would have said "I can't sit next to a black person with fearing they are going to rob me?" would that have been acceptable? His firing was completely justified, reporters need to stop pushing their own agenda, and if they are bias, they need to remove themselves from the conversation.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Vanilla Gorilla

    Juan just spoke his mind and that used to be protected by free speech in this country.
    Just go to http://www.npr.org and join in the fun. Any federal funding should be stopped and they should start paying taxes going forward.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      free speech does not mean no consequences for what you say, no one censored him then or now, so he was and still is free to say whatever he likes

      October 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    A couple of years ago I was on a flight from San Antonio to Washington, D.C. Some time during the flight I had to get up and go to the bathroom which was near the galley. I had to stop over a man who was keeling and praying on a small carpet he had spread out. I was definitely afraid as were many of the other passengers. I think my reaction, along with other passengers, was appropriate. I spoke to many of my Muslim friends and they told me this man's actions were totally uncalled for and Islam does not require prayer obedience if the only place, like an airplane, is available. Mr. William stated his feelings, which like mine, are valid and reasonable.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      just becasue you are able to conjure up a thought does not make it correct, and just because you have it does not mean it's right to say it, he should have used a filter between his brain and oral orrifice

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

      His firing is because he is suppose to be a news analyst instead of his spouting his personal opinions, hatreds and feelings. He has become more right wing since working with his peers at FOXNEWS RACIST network and let his personal hate spout out with his buddy Orielly so he can be accepted by the racist buddies. So he should be fired regardless. Same thing happened to Rick Sanchez but no one from the right griped about that. Because Juan has become a good pet Liberal that can be controlled by FOX and instead Rick was a problem for the right at CNN.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  13. John Smyth

    When is Al Sharpton gonna weigh in on this?

    The only black male fired and not a word.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Amen, John

      October 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. D.A.F

    Juan Williams needs to remember that he is still Black, and some people are afraid whenever they see HIM, regardless of what he is wearing. Remember what Malcolm X said about a Black man witha PhD, he's still a #@%^ to certain people. So check yourselves Jaun Williams and Clarence "Affirmative Action Didn't Do Anything For Me" Thomas.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. adam

    How come everything that isn't Fox new is "Liberal"?

    October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
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