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. jackson

    Just another example of the Soros funded ‘clan mentality’ of the left, which is simply; if you are ‘right’ then you are ‘wrong’. They have no qualms whatsoever of telling everyone else what their version of right/wrong is, but woe unto those who may disagree, even civilly, with them. And they wonder why they’re going to get their thick heads handed back to them in brown-paper bags come November 2nd.

    An elitist mentality, combined with a “I’m right, your wrong” position at all times, is going to be their undoing. I’ve always believed that all we had to do was give them enough rope, and they’d find the tree to hang themselves. The rope just got shorter, and the tree just got taller. And they did it on their own. But why do I think they’ll find someone else to blame? Oh yeah, I forgot……it’s their standard M.O.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Clifford in New York

    Mountaineer Why don't you ask the Kuwaitis how they feel about America! 😉

    October 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Scott

    Ms Schiller cannot get away with calling Juan crazy, that he needs a psychiatrist. But Bill O'Reilly certainly can get away with calling Schiller a "pinhead' because Fox doesn't have the same posing standards NPR professes to have.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Juan is not crazy. Schiller is a pinhead.

      She had a typical, liberal, knee-jerk reaction to declare anyone who disagrees with her to be crazy.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      But Bill was stating a fact!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Guest

    If you've been listening to this guy on NPR all these years, you'd be wondering why it took so long. He's paid for balanced news analysis and there is no room for opinion in those parameters. I largely suspect that most consumers of Fox News no longer understand what that means since its opinion first there, journalism second.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. rebel84

    CNN should conduct more research before posting ariticles. Yes Timothy McVeigh was born Catholic and received last rites prior to his execution but later in life was a self-proclaimed agnostic. So it was no Christian who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City.

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

      Ok. So just use "white person" then, or "male"...either way the point is the same that you can't just lump a group of people into a category based on one person's actions who belongs to that particular group.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. soxphan

    The simple fact of the matter is that this guy signed a contract in which he was not allowed to give his opinion on other broadcasts. He broke his contract and was fired because of it. He was NOT fired because of his opinion but rather because he broke his contract. It would have been the same outcome regardless of the opinion given or station on which it was given. He broke his contract and was fired because of it. Non-issue. Period. Don't break your contract that you signed and you'd still have a job. It has NOTHING to do with the fact that he was on Faux News although you'd think that someone who wortks for an ACTUAL news organization would know better than to break his contract by giving an opinion on an entertainment network that is so devoid of real news that it shouldn't even have the monicker "news" attached to it at all.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Freddy

    I'm a dedicated NPR listener and supporter. I think what they did was stupid – they have handed the right wing talking heads a martyr, and in this unfortunate era of rising conservatism, drawn an uneccessary bead on themselves. If Fox "News" had fired someone for saying something like: "let's give Obama a chance," the liberal blogs would have gone haywire, saying a lot of the same things the reactionaries are saying now about NPR.

    Dumb move, Dumb.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Matt

    His sacking was wrong same as other CNN reporters, which made comments privately about Israel. Problem is that we are all selective. In a way we talk about freedom of speech and then when we do not like we condem that. But if you are call your self a journalist then your job is reporting and not making personal conclusion. But then again they are human and they have a view wornog or right. Do they have to keep them self quite. But I am not worry about this guy, I was more worry about other reporters which got sacket in CNN. His comment was a public comment and other CNN reporters they made comment privately.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tetvet68

    FOX NEWS is the perfect place for Juan Williams.
    He was – by far – the worst – and the dumbest – "journalist" NPR ever had. You could always count on him to say something stupid. Goodbye and good riddance!

    October 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff E

    Am I the only person in America smart enough to see that right wing extremists, are secretly behind the scenes encouraging Bin Laden, Al Quaida, and anti- Muslim sentement?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Nope, they are just hard to find in a country full of sheep.

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

      Sad, and true!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. James

    No mention that Vivian Schiller is Jewish...I bet that sweetens the controversial pot...

    October 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bob

    I hope you get help Jeff.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Greg

    If a news analyst stated that they get nervous/fearful whenever they see any black person in full 'thug" gear they would be immediately removed from their position (and rightfully so). This is no different. People need to get on with their lives and stop living in the Bush Era, where fear has allowed many atrocities to take place in this country. Fired for being an idiot is common in all workplaces. If I made a comment that put shame or discomfort on my employer they would have a right to fire me. Whatever happened to the notion that you are a reflection of your employer. Why didn't Sanchez get a 2 million dollar deal with Fox after his opinion was expressed.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  14. barbara

    Juan Williams' comments were unacceptable because they were biased and ill-informed. If they had merit then there would be reason for pause. What if a reporter said they listened to Sarah Palin and concluded that women are just too stupid to be politicians? That would indicate a broad and biased view and a kind of simple-mindedness that would disqualify them to be effective journalists in my opinion. To say one is afraid of the millions of Muslims on the planet because a handful of men, who happened to be Muslim committed a terrorist act, to me, reflects highly flawed judgment to say the least. Men commit more violent crimes than women, should I fear all men?

    October 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Well said Barbara!

      October 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      It's true that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is also true that virtually all terrorists are Muslims. Violence perpetrated by Muslims around the world is epidemic from Chechnya to India to Somalia to Pakistan to Iran. 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 NPR's CEO saying Juan needs to "discuss this with his psychiatrist"?! What a typical, liberal, knee-jerk reaction: anyone who disagrees with me is insane. NPR should fire their CEO, not Juan.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      @ Phil: Man, this has got to be one of the most blatanly false statements that I've seen all day. First, what do you mean by terrorist? Just Muslim violent extremists? Insurgents of any kind? What about Mexican drug lords, Russian or Italian Mafia, rapist, pedophiles, human-traffickers/slave-traders, Crusaders? What about state sponsored assasins? All sound like people who use terror to bring about a desired end whether politically, economically, religioiusly, etc. to me....People of all colors, races, sizes, gender, religions and political persuasion perpetrate horrible, unforgiveable acts daily. Muslim extremists do not have the market on terror. You just choose to focus on that....I challenge you to listen to NPR for a month and step away from the Fox-pipe.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      @ Phil...I agree that the part of the CEO's comments that mentioned Juan Williams' psychiatrist were way out of line and she should be reprimanded, if not fired. But I agree with you on this, for the same reason I believe that Juan should have been fired...actions have consequences. And in both cases, the actions were professionally unacceptable.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mike mcgloin

    I'm glad he's gone. I'm a member of npr and he and other fox noise (using the term loosely)personalities are not in the same league. Now if I hear from Williams, it'll be here or Medea Maters.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
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