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. Sy2502

    NPR should only be able to control what its employees say on NPR channel. What they did is disgraceful.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Entertained

    The more I think about it, NPR really screwed this up. Obviously NPR knew that Juan had been appearing on Faux News (I love it!) for some time. There is obviously some key folks at NPR that decided enough is enough. Either you are a loyal liberal or you don't work @ NPR. This country is so divided idealogically at the moment between left and right. The media has traditionally been always left of center no matter how "unbiased" the reporting (hey, I'm actually a liberal democrat saying this!). The days of Walter Cronkite and the Dragnet style sterile delivery of the news is over; hello Rachel Maddow, Haggerty, and the Fox characters. Between Sarrah Palin's "I can see whatever from my house" tweets to the out of control Tea Party candidates comedy clips , we are in the era of News as Entertainment. The firing of Juan and all the smoke is just a glipse into the birth of yet another celebrity to the scene. Just sit back, enjoy the show and good luck finding the unbiased news in this mess. I would suggest the BBC as one good source.

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

      And you base this on........what? You comments are nothing but conjecture. Proof please. Thank you.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LKJ

    When I get on a plane I worry about being labeled a terrorist. I worry even more for my sons, who have Muslim names and wear beards.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • worker bee

      I am a follower of christ and I have children too I blame ALL media NOWADAYS for this self CREATED HATE. LOVE is and caring for your fellow MAN is the MOST important thing WE HAVE to ACCOMPLISH.So TUNE OUT THE TV its POISON!!!To your minds health.I am human and I feel you pain My fellow DAD..Do not let the Fear and Hate stop You from being out spokan and friendly to strangers I DON't YOU DO THE SAME so our CHILDREN can Learn GODS WAYS>>>>

      October 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Phil

    I was dismayed that NPR would fire Juan Williams for expressing a feeling that 80% of Americans share. Juan is no bigot by any stretch of the imagination. I have listened to him for years, and while I don't always agree with him, I always find his options to be well reasoned and intelligent. He is one of my favorite commentators.

    NPR's actions are a perfect example of Political Correctness going out of control. The simple truth is that virtually every terrorist attach for the the last 12 years has been from Muslims. France and other European countries are at this very momemt at high alert from Muslim attacks. So it is natural to feel anxiety when you encounter a devout Muslim on an airplane.

    And what's with their CEO saying Juan needs to "discuss this with his psychiatrist"?! Is she saying that anyone who is nervous on an airplane with Mustlims is insane? If anyone should be fired it should be the CEO.

    Not having Juan on NPR is their lloss. I will continue to listen to him elsewhere.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. beachbum

    Williams had it coming, he's been a shill for the right under the pretense of being moderate or liberal forever. Now that Fox paying him the big bucks he can be happier kissing Bill O'Reilly's butt.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cal

    For those who think he has breached his contract needs to understand the following. The NPR allowed his appearence on Fox news many times without holding him to the contract. NPR has waived there right to fire him on this alone. So this firing has legal ramifications. If you do not enforce a contract on the first infraction & knowing it happened will waive this part of his employment contract. You cannot enforce a contract upon your own choosing, if you do not enforce the contract from the begiinning it is essentially un-executable.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Popesays

    @Tarren,

    I think that race as a class of bigotry has had a lot longer to simmer and be worked out than the class violent jihadism or other classes of religious fervorism. You are without any fears...? Dubious.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mr Burns

    Free speech doesn't come without consequences.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Muffin

    How does Barbwa WAWA know that someone dressed in Muslum garb would do harm to a non-Muslum??? I bet she knew that Muslums dressed in western clothing were going to fly planes into buildings filled with people. The View is filled with mindless females that make me embarassed to be female.

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

      I believe it "Baba Wawa"...

      October 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wil

    Only a fool would agree that NPR fire Williams. He is well respected by both the left and right. But wait, there are a lot of fools. He was fired for one reason only. Soros pulls the strings with his billions. Only a leftist nut case could feel Williams should be fired. Just another reason the leftist crooks (Pelsoi, Reid and the others) will be kicked to the curb in two weeks. And I'm retired and a moderate democrat.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      Will Since you have only one vote as well as myself, how can you make a broad statement as that.? It looks to me as you are wrong. Get back to me on November 3.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      'leftist nutcase"? WTH?...Juan Williams broke his contractual agreement not to express his opinion on topics, even in outside venues. He got fired for it. What about that is leftist or nutcase? He signed the contract and didn't abide by it. He was even warned about it beforehand. He started smelling himself because they were stroking his ego over at FOX and he ended up losing his job for it....By the way, you are not a moderate Democrat. Have you even read the Democratic Platform? If you had then you would know that what most Congressional Democrats are doing is exactly what the Democratic Platform states that the Democratic Party is in business to do....If you don't like the Democratic platform, then either do something constructive to work to alter it, or get out of the party. Name calling fellow Democrats is just plain juvenile...

      October 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Skindad

    This is very unfortunate. Now, I think I want my contribution money back from NPR this week. Lets be honest, what juan said is how we all feel, or at least felt esp. after 9/11. Now, I am going to start listening to him on FOX!!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      You're going to tell me how I feel now? How helpful!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jacob

    This is no different than CNN firing Sanchez, or Helen Thomas being essentially forced into retirement...other than we seem to be a lot more accepting of anti-Muslim bigots. Adding: Juan Williams should have been fired ages ago for his contempt of the facts and overt willingness to aid the propaganda machine that is FOX News. He reflected poorly on NPR, which is about as close as we get in this country to neutral, fact-based news reporting. Of course it is still just to the right of center (especially marketplace).

    October 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      We should be able to have this discussion without being called anti-semetic.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rose

    I agree that NPR was wrong in firing Juan . I feel exactly the way he does, and with good reason.. I'm sick of
    the political correctness that doesn't allow us to see and face the truth. What other religion has followers that
    hate, want to wipe Israel off the map, put out fatwahs against their own and others if they dare say the wrong thing...?
    They treat women like dirt, they disparage other religions, burn our flag all the time, BUT Don't dare say or do anything
    against their Muhammad, or draw a picture of him, or try to build a church or synagogue in their countries.!
    They teach their children to hate, and their moderates never seem to do much in the way of criticizing their extremists
    and terrorists. When they do, maybe I won't be so much of an islamaphobe. Or, maybe if their moderates do say
    something against their extremists, they'll be in danger themselves! What a great religion.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. klamerus

    What BS.

    NPR is the biggest single outlet of punditry of any media outlet. There's no more biased and opinionated an organization than NPR (with the exception maybe of Fox and MSNBC). Regardless, NPR is right up there with them without doubt.

    Juan is one of the most reasonable and best representatives of NPR PoV of any people they have. Another reason for me to quit listening to NPR.

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

      You Sir are the one who is spreading the BS. I have listened to NPR for decades and it has been THE most informative and objective outlet that I've come across. I've been a Republican and a Democrat. I've listened to Limbaugh, Fox and NPR and I KNOW without a doubt that your characterization of NPR is FALSE, as done anyone who listens to it with any regularity. I don't have to yell or shout or make a scene. I've listened to NPR for decades and your statement is simply not true.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tom

    I would expect this article to have a byline. It is commentary, and I would like to know whose opinion I am reading.

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