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. Tyler

    Will not miss Juan and now that you are a mouth piece for Fox I will never have to hear from this person again. Thanks NPR for keeping a clean house.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Janjan

      This should actually read "I'll never have to hear from that uppity Black man who doesn't say what he's supposed to say, thank-you NPR for upholding the club's rules" ....there, fixed it.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. DSMW

    Darned NPR. Get our take on it:

    http://www.dontspreadmywealth.com/dont-spread-my-wealth/2010/10/21/npr-no-longer-tolerates-williams.html

    October 22, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. gary

    Lets stop the nonsense. I know dozens of people who have the same moment of fear when they see people dressed "differently" then they do. As long as it doesn't lead to general hate, there is nothing wrong with this. When I get on a plane, I feel the same way. It doesn't mean I hate anyone. its a natural thing.The average person doesn't have clue how a terrorist would dress, they only see what they see. If we encouraged people to speak their minds more we wouldn't have a country full of closet thinkers. You can't confront peoples fear without the conversation, but we are so full of politcal correctness we have lost that ability. Shame on all of us. There is no way he should have been fired.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • johnrj08

      Williams is a public figure and he making his remarks on network television. He was an "at will" employee of NPR, and it was NPR's right to fire him when he made comments on network television that were inconsistent with their standards and practices. Beyond that, Williams was applying a fearful and hateful stereotype to an entire population, which is the essence of bigotry. Not only that, but he was also totally wrong. No terrorist has EVER boarded an airplane wearing "Muslim garb". In fact, they make every effort NOT to look Muslim. Williams was simply repeating a theme that has been showing up on FOX News over and over again, especially on Bill O'Reilly's programs. Finally, the head of NPR has made it quite clear that this was the not first time Williams has made inappropriate statements while on the air. This was merely the last straw for them and I don't blame them a bit for canning this very confused and easily manipulated man.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Walling

      Amen

      October 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      I hate to be the one to let you in on this Gary, but these types of statements and views have led to a general hatred of Muslims in America.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pete

    How Williams feels should not be the issue. How he responds to the feelings is what is important. We are all prejudiced; it's how we fight the good fight against it that keeps us from bigotry. He shouldn't have been fired.

    But I am concerned about all this freedom of speech nonsense. Williams' rights were not violated. Those who think it was hasn't a clue what the First Amendment is all about.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. gtsmoker

    "political activists cannot be reporters or news analysts for NPR"

    That is the most hypocritical statement I can imagine. NPR is anything but objective.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Janjan

      Somebody better tell Nina Tottenberg, before they fire her too....no wait....she gets a pass.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmatt

      Show us some quotes then you lying hack!

      October 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janjan

      Ok Matt, these ought to keep you busy enough to keep you from picking your zits for awhile:

      http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/250653/what-about-totenberg-brian-bolduc

      October 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jamie

    If Juan said something about the Jews then it is bad, but Muslims it is okay. You are all ignorant. Just look at Juan. He is nuts. Trust me, I know him. One day, he will be the news. One day, he will anger Bill, the nut, and Juan will be fired, then he will go around killing everyone at Fox. Trust me, he was fired not because of Muslims. NPR just wanted something to fire his crazy ass.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • johnrj08

      You're probably right. Williams has a long history of making rather insane, inappropriate statements. That's why NPR finally let him go.

      October 22, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  7. phil

    Juan is no Connie Chung. Yet when she was fired, there was little media attention. Why was she fired? do any of you know?

    October 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  8. IdiotResponse

    In my opinion, Williams is a bigot no question about it...He was looking for a forum to lash out his biggoted views for along time...Glad NPR fired him....Now he can go and buddy buddy with the rest of the narrow minded biggots at FOX...

    October 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Liby Snow

      In my opinion – you're insane.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. johnrj08

    Williams was an "at will" employee of NPR. It was NPR's right to fire him when he made comments on network television that were inconsistent with their standards and practices. Beyond that, Williams was applying a fearful and hateful stereotype to an entire population, which the essence of bigotry. Not only that, but he was also totally wrong. No terrorist has EVER boarded an airplane wearing "Muslim garb". In fact, they make every effort NOT to look Muslim. Williams was simply repeating a theme that has been showing up on FOX News over and over again, especially on Bill O'Reilly's programs. Finally, the head of NPR has made it clear that this was the not first time Williams has made inappropriate statements while on the air. This was merely the last straw for them and I don't blame them a bit for canning this very confused and easily manipulated man.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      No, Juan was NOT an "at will employee". He had a contract! Duh!

      October 22, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      An what did his contract say regarding expressing opinion in public forums? It said not to. It's as simple as that. He broke his end of the deal and got fired. That's what contracts are. The lay out the rules of a company. He broke the and the company fired him. What's so hard to understand?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • johnrj08

      His contract made him an at will employee who could be fired for any number of reasons. He gave NPR plenty.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pam From Texas

    This is a swipe at pundits' job security. Welcome to the window of the world of the average person. We can't say what we want against our employer's polciies. There are consequences. Good for NPR! I am sending in my donation now.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  11. Shawn

    We once had the six million dollar man, now we have the two million dollar token. word.

    October 22, 2010 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ryan

    When people are willing to openly admit they have racist thoughts, how does telling them to shut up help the dialog? Shouldn't we be trying to get people to discuss racism in an effort to eradicate it, rather than ignoring reality and refusing to call things what they are? How will we ever get rid of the anti-Muslim sentiment in America if people are not allowed to discuss it and take ownership of their own prejudices?

    October 22, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      I wouldn't call his thoughts racist, he was in no way trying to damage Muslim culture and he was not in any way trying to promote it. He was simply saying that after 9/11 and other terrorist attacks around the world he might do a double take or feel a little uneasy when boarding a plane with somebody dressed in full Muslim garb. Who wouldn't think the same way?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      To Brian W,

      You are partially correct here, though 'racism' does not rely on what your intentions are. Because of a non-Muslim's fear of a Muslim, Muslims have to exist in a society which fears them. This makes it harder for them to get jobs, loans, houses, exist in public spaces comfortably, etc. They are socially disadvantaged. The fear non-Muslims feel towards Muslims is 'prejudice'. Williams was expressing prejudice. However, prejudice is one of the primary causes of racism, so the comment is functionally racist if not racist by definition.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Brian W

    Liberals only believe in freedom of speech when they are agreeing with you

    October 22, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  14. James

    Was there this much outrage over the firing of Rick Sanchez for his controversial comments? Whether you think Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez should have been fired or not, I think the cases need to be treated consistently. Hardly anyone stepped up and publicly defended Sanchez. Are there different standards as to what groups can be stereotyped?

    October 22, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. Carl

    The real problem here is that Political Correctness is destroying our ability to have honest, open conversations about issues that are critical to us all. Stop pandering to political correctness and perhaps we can have the discussions necessary to actually solve problems!

    October 22, 2010 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
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