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. FelipeBR

    I get nervous around teabaggers, they the largest recognized terrorist group. And since when FOX is a reliable source of anything?
    The only good thing that comes from FOX is Family Guy.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • marty mortimer

      that is good what children would say lol.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • FloridaGirl

      Family Guy? Really? That just goes to show how crude and small minded you are.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not in Nottingham

      And you visually identify Tea Party people how?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bobby McKenzie

      WHAT?? Are you crazy or just stupid. And please tell me how many people have died because of "TEABAGGER" suicide bombers? You claim "teabaggers" (BTW it is "Tea Party") is the biggest terror group, that statement in itself is stupid and mean-spirited in the worst way. Just because you disagree with someone, (Like what Juan said) doesn't give people like you the right to besmirch them and smear them. GROW UP

      October 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane

      I don't blame you for being nervous, they want government to stay out of peoples lives and not help the dumb and lazy.....guess that would hurt you....lol

      October 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      Tea Party is what they call it. Tea Baggers is so much more apropos. People on the right are looming over them and the idea is hilarious. Another bunch of programmed zombies who prefer to stay that way.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • FelipeBR

      FloridaGirl,
      Yes, I am small minded.
      But not as bad as following "The Maverick", could not even finish her term as governor of Alaska, a State that takes most of federal money.
      Can you Imagine How great it would be to see Palin as president and O'Donnell as Secretary of State? It would make me very proud of NOT being American.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. marty mortimer

    As a Deputy Sheriff retired due to being ran over. I was disaplined over a comment |I made stating to a group of tranees that |"|I was ran over by a crazy asian guy|" |If it was a white guy |I would state crazy white guy or a crazy black guy, shoud that warrant a disapline. This guy used his feelings like |I did in my statement. God give the guy a brake!!!!!!!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      I believe God will give him a break, but not NPR. He knew the policy, had been previuosly admonished for making remarks unbefitting a reporter, so he was on notice that they were looking at him and if he screwed up again there would be consequences. Juan was on the show as a REPORTER paid by both NPR and FOX, not as some guy being interviewed off the street about his PERSONAL opinion.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. 4Mom25

    Will someone please, please, PLEASE do us all a favor and give "The View" the ax?!? What kind of "View" anyway? Bunch of silly women with limited scope and opinion--and with very little education to back up their opinions. Ridiculous! Please, get a REAL woman to represent me!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lori in St Pete

      Ladies and Gentlemen, please take note.... this is what the reichwing truly believes should happen to those with whom they don't agree.

      If you don't like The View don't watch it. Who the hell are YOU to censor ANYONE. The teabag witches on the right don't represent or speak for me, but I'm not insisting that faux infotainment fire dim bulb barbie.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • 4Mom25

      Dear Lori,
      How do you know what my political opinions are? "The View" is dangerous because simple people with authority take the views of these simple women to heart, and implement them into their decision-making process. And I don't watch "The View". Just don't have the stomach for it. And I believe the gentleman that was fired was censored. So what exactly is your point?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lupdilup

      That's how I fell about Fox news, so we're at an impasse.....

      October 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      I do not understand people watching a show they do not like to the point where they know more about it than the people who do watch it occasionally. It is soft journalism. It is more about entertainment than anything else. Fluff. And once in a while they do get going on something that disturbs them. So what? It is hardly a dangerous show given that it is in the morning and most of the viewers are people at home. Sometimes they swing left and sometimes they swing right and sometimes they just swing stupid. Hasselhoff is an uneducated idiot who is incapable of letting anyone finish a sentence much less able to follow a line of reasoning or even facts. . Sherry must be there for the cutsy and dim part. Barbara should retire before her reputation as a serious journalist is totally shot. Whoopie has turned into a wimp. Dangerous. Hardly.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shane

      Its trainwreck TV. Like people who stop to watch an accident scene, people are only watching to see what drama is going to unfold. A lot of TV is like that now, that's why reality tv shows became popular.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lori in St Pete

      Mom, please read my statement again and tell me where I made ANY reference to your political views. Ya can't because it didn't happen

      October 22, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. michael

    As a black man I am disheartened wihen another who has been the victim of discrimination and profiling turns around and does the same thing. Juan disappoints me,,,I wonder what he would think if someone else says everytime I see a black man i get scared....we all need to stop the hate!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • RightAllTheWay

      Not many think like you. I am afraid the world we live in today is different than what we dreamt of it being all along.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • sophialamb

      Everyone has been the victim of prejudice. I'm a white guy who happened to be in a predominately black junior high during the early nineties. The anti-white sentiments of gansta rap and the Rodney King riots made life uncomfortable for me, not because of anything I did, but because of the skin I was born with. So, you would more correctly say: 'as a HUMAN I've experienced racism.'

      October 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      Sophia- that is unfortunate, but the point is NO ONE is immune from being a bigot or racist and no one is immune from being the target of it.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shane

      Sadly, so long as we all have eyes in use to make judgments we'll be dependent on using them to scrutinize each other. I wonder if we all couldn't see if we'd be judging each other on what we sounded like.. probably so. Eventually if we live long enough we'll (hopefully) learn that people are complicated and not one of us is exactly like another.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Macthemechanic

    Funny really. He just chose to go to Fox before the deal was on the table. If Fox had someone who spoke out against them, they'd fire them too. And those foolish lawmakers who want to cut NPR funding because they don't agree with the politics should be reprimanded for abusing their authority. I suppose they would do the same to any piece of Art they didn't like at the Smithsonian as well. There is a very thin line between those zealots and those they wish to demonize.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Todd

    Mr. Williams has every right to feel the way he does. I do not share his opinion for one millisecond, but that is his right. Having said that, I may disagree with his opinion, but he does have the right to say it. I think it was wrong to fire him, and it is a double standard regarding tolerance. If we are suppose to be "tolerant" of other people's lifestyles and views, than that means you also have to tolerate those who may be what we consider "intolerant." Its not real tolerance if its only with people you agree with, and that is why firing him is wrong.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      Todd you are correct, but the problem is that Juan was being paid to be a reporter of FACTS not his personal views and fears. If he is doing his job and reporting the facts then tolerence is not even a concern. He stepped out of reporter mode and touched the live wire, there are consequences for that.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. btechno

    Not that I agree with NPR's decision (and I can't say I know all the details that lead to the decision), but if Juan had made the same comment about white Protestants (even if he was just expressing how he feels) I doubt the so called "defenders" of freedom of speech would be taking his side. This is nothing more than opportunistic grandstanding by conservatives, islamaphobes and fair weather Fox Newsers to attack political opponents. That said, I also have a feeling that NPR would not have made the same decision had the comment been directed toward white Protestants...both sides are clearly guilty of political bias...

    October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • worker bee

      Juan is a GREAT journalist and the MOST HONEST MAN you can find in journalism today on ANY network.BY the way I am A German Italian WHITE MAN! You Good Sir can STOP your RACISTS VIEW It takes a RACISTS ARTIST to PAINT a RACISTS PICTURE of MY WORLD >> NO MORE PAINTING PLEASE PLEASE>THANK YOU SIR!!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Frustr8ed

    NPR's decision smacks of hipocrisy. It's simply unbelieveable that a publicly funded organization can be so tone-deaf as to fire a very credible person in Williams during the annual fund drive is incredible. Schorr and Totenberg have expressed far more outrageous opinions, and they were not fired for their comments.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tarren

    How would he feel if somebody was on TV saying, "Every time I walk into a store and see a black man wearing a baseball cap who first and foremost identifies himself as 'black,' I get a little scared." It's racist, it's bigoted, and it's stupid and NPR is basically saying, if he can't be an objective reporter (reporters and journalists REPORT, they don't spew their hate-filled opinions) then he shouldn't be a part of the team, and I totally agree.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      absolutely CORRECT!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. jerry w

    i always thought better of npr. censoring is not our way,if itwas we would be a dictatorship. but now the thought police are showing themselves in public again. this man said nothing we don't all think. the islam nation as a whole did not attack us. only the extremist did that, but who are they? we have the right to speak our minds but some inside the system would like to see that stopped. this nation is falling apart with the help of those who should be holding it together.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Juan Jimenez

    Remark aside? LOL! This idiot needs therapy, and the $2 million will just about cover the shrink's tab. What he said is essentially that all I have to do to push him into a hysterical, screaming panic attack is wrap my head in a diaper and say "Boo!'. What an utterly pathetic fool. He'll make good company for the rest of the utterly pathetic foolish gaggle at Fox News. Good riddance.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Macthemechanic

    You know what else is funny? A right-wing black man. Talk about a fool. He's not only giving it up to the man, he's letting the man charge for the rights.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Popesays

    Juan Williams firing has really turned me off to NPR.... I was heading in that direction already,and I am a lib DEM. I mean the PC bar is just so ridiculously high on that radio station that . I get nervous too, in just about any confined space situation (as on an airplane)...yes MY nervousness extends far beyond thouse obviously or literally wearing their religion on their sleeve, or backs...my nervousness extends to a world full of wackos, a bureacracy that cannot adequately protect my kids and family (or me) when flying (yes, that December bomber just MIGHT have succeeded or countless other new plans being hatched) or simply walking to my car on a crowed NY street or getting mugged in or near my home. But I have not seen adequate distancing of the majority of Muslims, the majority of Christians (Timothy McVeigh or abortion doctor killing person) from religiously perpetrated acts. If one of your own does something awful, then you must condemn it condemn it condemn it openly and in public until people start to tell you "Ok I get it already, you are not like that awful person." I mean these are your religions, please take care of them that they don't get hijacked.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Susan

    BIG MISTAKE NPR. YOUR FUNDING SHOULD BE ELIMINATED!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Federal funding is 2% of their budget. Removing it won't make them go away. Sorry.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      Get rid of NPR. Get rid of The View. Get rid of everything that may lead to thought and controversy and we will all live happily ever after. Let us go back to the 50's where women stayed and home and served breakfast in a prom dress and heels and in full makeup and then cleaned the house in said get up.. Let us go back to where men were stuck with all the responsibility and women went quietly mad. Let us go back to a time where it was the priest or preacher who told us what to believe on every subject.

      Why is it that so many Americans hate freedom for others and think being brainwashed is the best way to be?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Still, Small Voice

    Man, we are a nation of suckers. And once again, we got played.

    FOX gets what it wants: its puppet liberal AND its puppet African America....two for the price of one! Juan Williams gets what he wants: a fat FOX contract AND his "I'm a victim of liberal media bias" bona fides so he plays right to the FOX faithful.

    And we sit here talking like this is a serious issue of national consequence. Ain't we just the suckers.

    I don't need commentators to "tell it like it is" or "be real"...I dunno about you, but I can figure that out on my own. I don't need commentators to give me "liberal" view or the "conservative" view....again, it don't take a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows. I need commentators to offer me the insights and add the intelligence I DON'T have. That's why I listen to them. I can get everything else at the corner bar after the second round has been poured.

    Juan Williams never offered a whole lot of insight or intelligence. Don't care about the color of his skin, just the weight of his words. And the longer he was on FOX, the less and less weighty his words got. This latest bit just dropped him to idiot level (and yes, I realize that in America today you're allowed to be an idiot, and to be paid to be an idiot, as long as you're "keeping it real"). If this starts the trend of news agencies firing idiots, I'm all for it. Unfortunately, I don't think it will.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Not in Nottingham

      Wow. It must really bug you that a liberal is capable of articulately conveying opposing viewpoints to the conservative element, and the conservative element doesn't hate him for it and are willing to listen to him. People on both sides of the fence would do well to take notes. But of course, from your tone, it would not appear you would be one to do that. . . .

      October 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duane

      oh stop it....your just mad he's got a contract for 2 million and your stuck earning 9 bucks an hour sucking farts out of movie seats.......:o)

      October 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
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