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. Jeff E

    If I got on a plane, and had to choose between sitting next to a white male in camoflauge pants, and a confederate flag t-shirt, and a muslim in full garb, I would choose the muslim 10 out of 10 times. The Muslim was probably checked 5 times by the TSA, the good ole boy, probably went through the express pass line, and will talk the entire flight about how if the muslim gets up to use the bathroom, he will have no choice but to attack. LOL..

    October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff E

      I wonder how long it will be, before some hypocritical right winger is offended for being stereotyped? LOL..

      October 22, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  2. capcity

    could be No Predictable Republicans, but I'd prefer Nude Public Radio

    October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Brian

    "journalists of every shade have come to his defense without condoning his comments.".......

    Part of the problem is we have too many "journalists." Journalists like to see themselves as professionals but this is one profession that has no minimum standards. Any drop out with a pencil and piece of paper can himself a "journalist." The result is we have an army of hack writers passing as journalists. I know one case where the managing editor of a newspaper was a high school drop out. He got the job because he owned the newspaper.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. adam

    Amen Rev. Howard.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. steve


    October 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MiMi

    NA – NPR is not a news program anymore....it is a propaganda machine, now financed by George Soros and cronies like him , to shut down freedom of speech, by the press, unless of course they are putting out the disinformation. A reporter many years ago (and still with NPR) wished AIDS on a public figure and that persons' grandchildren because of the postion that person took regarding gays. How bout those "code of ethics"??? I quite listening to NPR many years ago because of its one sided political view. So, dumbfounded, you better get informed. I don't not like Williams personally, but have never liked him on Fox because he of his liberal views. NPR sold out long ago, just recently to Soros, simple as that!! NPR is left wing.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jweller

    "...but there was no word whether NPR would discipline her for her deviation from the facts." Oooo, being snarky are you mr/mrs article writer. lol

    October 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      I'm glad someone else giggled at that as well. 😉

      October 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. D.A.F

    Conservatives are all for freedom of speech as long as everyone agrees that torture is fine, war is perfect, guns are for everyone (even insane killers), and tax cuts for wealthy people make sense.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Disco

    Juan...I'm sure if you made a similar comment, but replaced "muslim" with "Christian" (N)ational (P)ropaganda (R)adio would have given you a RAISE!

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

      Hmmmm.... when was the last time that NPR produced propaganda? I've heard some pretty lightweight articles and a lot of fluff, but if you think that they produce propaganda maybe we better take away your Barney DVD's. That's just crazy.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ficheye

    They should have fired him. Fired, fired, fired. But they should have just waited a couple of weeks and told him that they were downsizing. Besides, the contract offer from FOX was probably already on the table. I also agree with na, above. I never considered reporting the facts to be a 'liberal' thing.... it's just telling the truth. I'll always listen to NPR. I think I'll even send them some money. I totally disagree with all of the people trying to ambush them. There are always those in our overcrowded world who need to have their voices heard when they truly have nothing to say.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. zephyrwinds

    Juan Williams is a man of great integrity and fairness. Although, I often differ with his views, I have a deep respect for him. His firing is just the beginning of the power Soros has over this administration and the organizations who back it. Soros donation of 1.8 million dollars the day before Juans firing is no coincidence.
    I wonder, however, if Juan were white, would the left be condeming his firing. My advise is, PEOPLE WAKE UP and GET INFORMED ON SOROS. FREE SPEECH IS BEING DESTROYED BECAUSE SOROS HAS THE MONEY TO DESTROY IT>

    October 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. derek from KS

    So Juimp Williams is scared of people that don't look like him, and he whines like a little girl after he violates company policy and gets canned? I say good riddance. The next logical step would be for Fox to give him his own show where he can cry for the cameras.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lori in St Pete

    I wonder how many of the rightwingers feigning outrage about Mr. Williams' firing were this charged up when CNN fired Rick Sanchez a few weeks ago for stating that the Jews own the media.

    Wait, I remember now – they were applauding CNN decision, and calling Sanchez all kinds of not so nice names.

    Can you say hypocrisy?

    October 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff E

      Good point!! The bottom line is the right wing is wrong again, like they're on pretty much everything. I can't think of one issue that they're right about, other than the overall debt is too high. Nevermind the fact that the deficit and debt went down under Clinton, and rose tremendously under Reagan, Bush, and W Bush.

      And they're trying to get rid of Obama currently, because they know if he has time to work on it, the debt and deficit will be lower under him also.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. capcity

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

    YES I do Rus, JJ's statement is just as bad, read what I wrote in parentheses, no one has immunity from being stupid and a bigot.

    Rus said: 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 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fanfaron

    The MONSTERS we need to watch out for will try to BLEND IN to other people... those would not be the Islamic men GENERALLY wearing turbans–unless, of course, they change their demonic tactics. The 9/11 MONSTERS tried very much to look just like everyone else, with no obvious MUSLIM distinctions. Aside from whatever the Islamic extremists wear or don't wear... JUAN, be glad you are no longer associated with nutjobs like NPR. They lost a real treasure and FOX gained immensely. I only hope Juan will sue the NPR basterds for defamation of character!

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