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. Rick

    CNN fires Rick Sanchez for suggesting the Jewish people have undue influence in the media, or Helen Thomas is forced out for offering her opinion on the Isreali/Palistinain conflict. Where was the outrage with those two? The difference is that Muslims are fair game, Jews are not.

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

      Rick, I totally agree. And American workers lose their jobs for no reason at all everday in the Republcian world of "Right to Work!"

      October 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • jeffrey faul

      Thank you , Thank you , Thank you , Respectfully I have no plans to visit the USA again
      indefinetely. You understand the issue not just the events like most others. I think the
      new protocol is to consult Ann Coulter on the approved racial criteria. Jeff in Toronto , Canada

      October 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • arbitrator100

      Huh...Muslims are fair game and Jews are not? Both Rick and Juan ended up with similar responses as well as Helen.
      These people are reporters, not commentators. Bill OReilly can say what he wants because he owns his show. Fox and NPR in our Right to Work world are free to employe who they want based on whatever criteria and none of us are required to patronize or support if we choose. Try getting a job at Hobby Lobby without carrying a Bible.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tracey

    I'm not saying it is right or wrong that Juan was fired because I don't know what was in his ontract or what NPR policies are BUT where was the outrage when Helen Thomas was fired? She was just giving her opinion too?? I like Juan Williams, but I think as a "journalist" you should be impartial and just state the facts – not give your personal opinion. That is was Helen Thomas did and NO ONE came to her defense – what is the difference here???

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

      I think the main thing was that Juan was explaining that he had an irrational fear. I was in a car accident during the rain and totalled my car, it was months before I would drive in the rain, and it still makes me nervous and it has been years. Applying that logic to what he said would suggest that I'm afraid of cars and that I hate them, or that I'm afraid of the rain or hate rain.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John Haynes

    Prejudice or experience? After having a very frightening experience in NYC where I was challenged by blacks who appeared to be gang members, I reacted that night in an uncharacteristic manner when a young black man sat near me while waiting for the midnight train at Penn Central Station. I knew my thoughts were irrational, but I think most people would have had the same feelings.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • If the shoe fits

      People say stereotypes are bad, but here's an example where it saved your life.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. eduardo

    Fox News had to hire him, they need someone to replace Beck!!

    October 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tracey

    Yes Rick – I forgot to mention Rick Sanchez too – where was the outrage when he was fired???

    October 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mountaineer

    While I personally didn't think, Juan should have been fired, many states have a law called Right to Work that republicans like real well where a business can fire an employee at will for no reason, just let them go. Now, they are objection to Juan Williams being fired. Americans get fired everyday for no wrong-doing! Why the double standards. And Fox just gave Juan Williams a $2 million dollar, 3-year contract. It's not like he's hurting. NPR had rules in place and didn't feel Williams lived up them. Where was the outcry with Helen Thomas who was fired over expressing her views. But I forgot, this country is full of double standards.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Toni

    If Elizabeth Hasselbeck was also an NPR reporter and said that every time I went on an elevator and saw a black man I grabbed for my purse. Everyone in America would be outraged and want her fired as an NPR reporter. Well that is exactly what happened to Juan Williams and he should have been fired. NPR stands for National Public Radio and no one reporter should offend any member of the public which is what Juan did. Report the knews not your personal opinion. Get over it and move on people.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Leslie

    Who even listens to NPR anymore? I quit listening during the last Presidential campaign. The left leaning rhetoric just became too noisy. THey did a pice on the Vice Presidedntial Candidates. For Biden they focused on a speech he gave in Ohio or Pennsylvania, a heavily Catholic, blue-collar area. He used Catholic references heavily in his speech. The "reporters" laughed along with the crowd, mused at how wonderful he was and what a lovely speech he gave. They waxed on about how he was one of the people and the people loved him. Jump to the next piece on Sarah Palin. They chose ot interview 4 young Mothers in St. Louis (I believe it was St. Louis – a large city). Of the 4 young Mothers they chose to interview, 3 had already decided not to vote for Sarah Palin and proceeded to launch into the details of why they were not voting for her. The 4th Mother did her best to hold her own but was very outgunned. So, where was the impartiality??? Why would anyone listen to NPR?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  9. coach john

    I have heard and read that a Muslem aboutto bring down a plane wouldn't dress in Muslem garb..Unless he was a real hip Muslem... knowing nobod would expect a Muslem to do that,
    Just a thought.... and nomatter what it WAS a violation of free speech

    October 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sweet

    doesn't juan fear the white man, who r**ed his mother and forced his father to work the fields? i'm surprised, maybe he needs a history lesson

    October 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • wil

      Very Silly!!

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

      maybe his people were the houseni***!!!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • sweet

      yeah housen****rs just had to kiss a*s, but the white man still r***ed his mother

      October 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. wil

    NPR reminds thinking people of the old Radio TASS. Government control of news controls people. Soros billions contriols NPR to spill their leftist garbage. Thinking people are smart enough to see right through them. Pull the taxpayers money and let them be self supporting. They will soon go the way of Air America. Even the leftists wouldn't support their leftist show. Bankrupt city baby!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ronnie

    Williams has the right to say anything he wants to but NPR has the right to fire him over the same comments.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bob

    NPR is wrong! I'm white and there are black area's of Saint Louis I would never go to for fear of my own saftey. Does that make me racist?

    There is a black family that I gave food to (until the mother died and the family spilt up) and the mothers son would take a city bus to my home about once a month to pick the food up. He would pick up 3 or 4 sacks and I felt sorry for him carrying all that food on a public bus.

    So I offered to bring it to his home.

    Guess what? He declined and told me I would not be safe there.

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

      And vice versa!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MW Johnson

    ~The crazy thing here is that everyone thinks this when they board a plane. We weren't attacked by Mormons on 9/11...NPR needs to get a grip.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Winston

    Interesting, I don't remember conservatives (or even many liberals, for that matter) defending Helen Thomas when she got fired for making comments that offended Israel. Weird.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Because Helen Thomas' words were indefensible. You don't get it do you? Juan Williams words were innocuous, and he was being made a scapegoat. His firing was not justified. Helen Thomas was way over the top.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
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