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. John Steel

    NPR is a disgrace. It is laughable for the CEO of an organization whose every reporter and commentator is far left of Karl Marx to pretend that NPR is neutral. How many white males does NPR employ? Any? It is long past time to cut off public funding for this organization, unless it is prepared to correct the extreme bias in it's reporting.

    and it may not be PC, but I agree with Mr. Williams, Muslims make me nervous. Maybe all Muslims are not terrrorists, but pretty much all terrorists are Muslims.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Another person who clearly does not listen to NPR regularly.....and by the way, not that it matters, but just to make my point:

      Ira Flatow
      Kai Rizdall
      Robert Siegal
      Ari Shapiro
      David Kestenbaum (sp?)
      Steve Inskeep
      Scott Simon
      Ken Rudin
      Ted Kopel
      Larry Abrahamson
      Noah Adams
      Jim Zarolli

      Just to name a few prominent ones. But if you go to NPR's website, there is a list of the people that work at and contribute to NPR's programming and their are plenty of "white males" (or what can reasonably be assumed to be so) on the various lists.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Are you serioius... this has got to be one of the most blatanly false statements that I've seen all day "almost all terrorists are Muslims?" Where are you getting your information? (let me guess, Fox News)....First, what do you mean by terrorist? Just Muslim violent extremists? Insurgents of any kind? What about Mexican drug lords that behead innocent bystanders, journalists and government officials? How about the Russian or Italian Mafia? Rapist, pedophiles or human-traffickers/slave-traders? Crusaders? What about state sponsored assasins?....These all sound like people who use terror to bring about a desired end whether politically, economically, religioiusly, or otherwise. to me....People of all colors, races, sizes, gender, religions and political persuasion perpetrate horrible, unforgiveable acts DAILY, all over the world. Muslim extremists do not have the market on terror. You just choose to focus on that.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mpouxesas

    Seriously, since when NPR is liberal/leftist?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Enitan

    Absolutely, he deserved the Axe, he might be a journalist and or an author, he is still very much an ignorant.

    I am not a muslim, have been a church going Catholic all my life, nevertheless we should not be condemning everyone for the action of a few, meaning those that came to this country and killed innocent people. Not all Americans are war mongers, yet we went to Iraqi and innocent people lost their lives for a war that we now know were based on lies.

    Good for NPR

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

      While it is true that all Muslims are not terrorists, it is also true that virtually all terrorists are Muslims.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. joe

    You must not listen to carefully. Nina a few years ago hoped that Jesse Helms, his children and granchildren would be infected with AIDS. was she fired for something as outragous as that??? You must be listening with a deaf ear to what you want want to hear and what you dont. So dont get on your high horse....

    October 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. igj

    America is so hypocritical. the terroists are not after us,(black americans) only white americans and the establishment that be.juan should'nt have been worried in the first place.thats what he get 4 trying 2 be white i bet he knows hea black now. fired over the phone!!

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

      You are pathetic.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      "the terroists are not after us, (black americans) only white americans" Oh really? Do you think they distinguish between black infidels and white infidels? Do you know that Islam has 80 different words for "slave"? They have separate words for child slaves, female slaves, male slaves, escaped slaves, recaptured slaves, etc. Their word for "African" is the same as one of their words for "slave". Muhammed was both a slave owner and a slave trader. He would routinely share his favorite female slaves as rewards to his military officers.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Phil, Phil, Phil.....you really should reconsider where you are getting your information from. First of all Islam is a religion, not a language! Muslims speak MANY languages including English. If, you are referring to Arabic, the language in which the Qur'an in written, there are not 80 words for slave in the arabic language. The word for slave in Arabic is 'abd'. The Arabic word for African is 'Il Afrikiyah'...The word 'abd' means 'slave to' and is used widely by Muslims to indicate their servanthood to Allah. It was also used to describe black slaves. But when used that way it is a racial/religous slur and not the actual arabic word. PLEASE stop misinforming people and get your OWN facts straight.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. uniquemoniqu

    I certainly under Mr. Williams statement. On Labor Day, 09/06/10, I was on a plane from Seattle to Wash, DC and a Muslim sat one seat from me (window seat) and I was never so scared in all my life. My intention was to take a nap on the flight but was unable to; not only because I was sitting next to a Muslim. but he kept getting up every 10 minutes going to the restroom. I was so happy when that plane landed. I was a nervous wreck. I had to actually sit down and get myself together before going to baggage claim. I know exactly what Juan Williams is talking about.

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

      No, I... I don't think you do, actually. 0.o

      October 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bleh

    The general public is overly subdued. Our freedom of speech has been stripped away by the minorities and liberals of this country who whine every time someone says something they find offensive. Guess what? Not everyone is nice, not everyone likes everyone, some people are racist, some people are not. But thats life, so deal with it. Stop taking away my first amendments because you are angry.
    I'm white and I've met more racism coming from minorities than anyone else. I've never been anything but kind to everyone I meet yet I live in an area where spanish, black, and middle eastern people constantly attack and degrade me for being white. And do I complain? No.

    My pitch? Say whatever you want, dont like it? Dont listen.

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

      Racist!!! You're the pot calling the kettle black!!!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      It is UNPOPULAR speech that requires protection. Popular and accepted speech needs no protection.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      Bleh Why don't you come to North Carolina. I am African-American and we will treat you with respect. We are a large family and we will make you feel at home. Sorry that the blacks in your community are treating you badly. All of us are not racist. maybe you can venture out a little more and you can find better people.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Erpa

    This is quite funny because my husband who is an Arabic Muslim who grew up in Egypt is afraid of black and Hispanic people in America.

    And growing up in the South, I noticed that almost all white people were afraid of black people. I haven't lived there in awhile so maybe things have changed.

    The main point is that we have a lot racism in our society and there is nothing wrong with bringing it out in the open. I think that NPR acted hastiliy and should have just put out a statement saying that Mr. Williams doesn't represent NPR's views and wouldn't be allowed to say such a thing on NPR.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      I'm sorry but you're missing the point. Juan Williams was not some joe blow off of the streets that was just on Fox News giving his opinion. He happened to be an analyst who was contracted with another network not to give his personal opinions about issues even in other venues. He has done it before and had been reprimanded/counseled about it. He did it again, and thus has to pay the consequences for a breach of contract. What about that don't you understand?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ficheye

    He should have been fired. Fired. Now he's got a great job at FOX. Things worked out for the better, right? People shouldn't be complaining, because FOX now has a brilliant new commentator. Right? Shouldn't this make all of the right wingers happy? Why aren't you happy? Because you will never be happy until the radioactive ash is falling on the heads of anyone who thinks for themselves. Marching towards a fascist america!

    October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bleh

      You're right, lets live in Obama's socialist america! The inflation is splendid.

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

      Bleh: Name one thing that Obama has accomplished that's socialist. I've been challenging people for weeks to do this, but no responses are forthcoming. Forcing everyone to pay for healthcare is not socialism. You have not idea what it means. It's just a name people like to fling around when they don't like something. Obama acts more like a republican than anything.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith Long

      The definition of socialism includes government control of the means of production. All industries have some degree of government control, some more than others such as autos, health care and financials. I'm not saying that Obama is a socialist, only that government by both parties strive to insert more and more government control. I'd call it creeping socialism and if it continues it will eventually destroy private enterprise in the United States.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. arbitrator100

    Fox objects to NPR's reaction to Juan's comment, but two things, 1) No one would continue to be on Fox that supported a more liberal opinion, and 2) they want to get rid of NPR because they are the opposition. We can only speculate as to whether NPR would have responded the same way if the comment involved a different minority group or we can grab the pitch forks and walk with Fox like Lemmings.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ratkartz

    NPR has shown its true colours. Remember in November to vote for a candidate who can help remove the public tax funding from this loathsome ministry of political correctness.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • wil

      Righ on. You have it figured out. Vote the corrupiton out in two weeks.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      I have been listening to NPR for decades. During that time I have voted Democrat and I've voted Republican. There was a time when I was even listening to Rush Limbaugh out of curiosity of what all the hoopla was about at the same time as I was listening to NPR. NPR has never been anything other than objectievly insightful, interesting and informative. I find myself yelling at NPR often because I think they are highlighting the Tea Party and other so-called conservatives views too much! So, no.....comments like yours come invariably from people who do not listen to NPR on a regular basis. If you don't listen to NPR regularly, then please keep your comments to yourself, because you haven't a clue what you are talking about.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John F.

    NPR needs to have a totally new management team put in place. Vivian Schiller is an embarrassment to the organization and Ellen Weiss should have had chutzpah to recognize her superior's mistake and take action.
    Lets be adult here, to suggest Juan may have mental/emotional issues was totally consistent with Ms. Schiller's management skills.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. D.A.F

    Black conservatives cry that other Blacks shun them because they won't tow the party line and be Liberal like them. That's not the case. We are just amazed that you can continue to align yourselves with people who hate you. We are astonished that you continue to seek acceptance from people who refuse to accept you (no matter what they say in public). Look at the Republican agenda, look at what they stand for, look at how their policies adversely affect Blacks, and tell me, Black Conservatives, what about any of that appeals to you? I have the same opinion of the so-called Log Cabin Republicans. Are you and Black Conservatives blind to what the Republican Party REALLY stands for? Even when they speak in code and tongues, it is quite apparent that they are the party for White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Straight Men and Women (as long as they stay in the kitchen and raise babies).

    October 22, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bleh

      You're crazy. There are a lot of bible belt white people that are like that...but the rest of the country moved on. Maybe you should too. Not as many white people hate black people as black people hate white people.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Phillip Bias

    They where all muslims does that mean that all muslims would do this NO
    But they where all muslims, now if you want to add exstreamists go right ahead. but muslims just the same. just like muslims in other countries say they where attacked by zionists Meaning christians or jews.only the very stupid would separate them, it is after all there holy book that says i have to be one of them or they need to put the sword to my neck before paradise can come.SO AS I SAID WE WHERE ATTACKED BY MUSLIMS IN THE NAME OF ISLAM AND ALI...MUSLIMS FOLKS MUSLIMS

    October 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Whatever

    Mr. Williams stated what 99% of all Americans feel, me included. How we react to those feelings, defines who we are, not the feeling itself.
    Unless we can have an honest discussion on WHY those feelings exists, we will never move on.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mountaineer

      Do you not think Muslims overseas don't see Americans the same way! Afterall, we have a track record ot imposing our will on them and have done so for years. Our government's Big Oil interest have destroyed many lives overseas. Just ask those in Nigeria!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Wrong! 99% of Americans do not feel that way. I certainly do not. YOU feel that way because you are ignorant about Islam and have not educated yourself well enough not to let other people's biases and fears affect your thought processes....and as to your claim that 99% of Americans feel this way, its wrong, but even if it were true, that doesn't make it right. Right is right if only one person is doing it and wrong is wrong even if everyone else is doing it. Steroetyping people based on their race, age, gender, religion, appearance, etc. is just plain wrong even if 99% of Americans were doing it.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
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