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. Tim

    Good grief. An opinion like this does not justify a firing. It is human nature to feel that way, be it right or wrong. I think it is a valid point for discussion. And we should be having the discussion with muslims involved, Europeans, us, whoever. Discourse will do nothing but help. Knee jerk reactions for not being ultra PC does nothing...except get Juan a multimillion dollar contract.... BTW, I am one of the most accepting lefties out there and I get nervous with muslims at the airport. I don't want to feel that way and it's getting less and less but I am human.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Havildar

    NPR was right
    How would Mr Williams react if some made that same comment and said "Black" instead of muslim?
    I wonder why the nutty rightwing teapartyexpress bagging/republicans are jumping on this ? Fox the "No News Network" is well known for its entertainers to make this kind of remarks with no proof. So it is not a surprise that Karl Maxist rove is behind all this fuss. Governor that cannot fulfill her job but be all gas is braying about it. etc.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      Blacks did not blow up planes or kill their fellow Americans during the Civil Rights protests. Muslims do. Franklly, it is an insult to blacks to make such a comparison.

      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.

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

      The IRA were terrorists. They were heavily subsidized by the Irish American Catholics.
      Members of the Christian Right were terrorists. They murdered doctors and bombed clinics.
      Timothy McVie was a white American terrorist.
      Oklahoma bombing; white American terrorist.
      KKK; white American terrorists.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Linda

    I wonder if all of the love that fox news and the republicans have for Juan Williams has anything to do with the coming election? They can say,"hey, I like black folks, so why don't you vote for a republican". I am not falling for it. When I am on a plane, The people that frighten me are the ones that looks normal. They can be the dangerous ones.All of us have to be aware at all times of our surroundings.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. B. Barker

    He'll make a lot more money on Fox News spewing forth shockingly stupid derogatory remarks about anybody and everybody. It's far more fair and balanced than NPR, and you don't have to have any proof – you can just state facts as if they are facts.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. F Daniel Gray

    Once again, the media (whether Fox, CNBC or CBS) manipulate us. And, encourage dumbed down thinking. Who knows what O'Reilly, Williams, Walters, Couric, Lauder, etc. really think? They are all being PAID, folks. The entire scenario was a set up. A perfect example of why race becomes a magic word, about which we all think we KNOW what is at stake and what it is about. The universities are full of scholars. And IF we wish (no question we need one) a balanced discussion about history, political science, capitalism, socialism, sociology, etc., that's where you look for examination from a panel ranging in ideology. Obama is NOT a socialist, despite all the rhetorical nonsense bandied about. I am, and know one when I here one. A true range of views on panels should be regular fare in the media. Having people shout and spit at one another is a SHOW for which corporate America is willing and eager to pay. It distracts us, stokes fear, and encourages us to do likewise. Read the posts here. Calling people names, because we are afraid, will NOT solve the unemployment crisis. Nor will the democrat/republican posturing. Corporations give money to both "parties." So we have a facade that seems to pose a choice,but is, in reality, two sides of the same coin. This, in a time when we need clear thinking and skeptical evaluation of it all. Taking sides in a distraction may have short term self-satisfaction, but is dangerous when long term planning and solutions are imperative.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Entertained

      Yes, I agree that broadcast news is no better than a reality show like Jerry Springer or Real Housewives of Wherever. Its all swill served up and supported by corporate advertizers. Even NPR has become a self serving organization perpetuating its existence bowing to its main $ contributors. The BBC is one of the only last real unbiased news sources on the planet.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Karl

    Most of you moron's posting on here have never listened to NPR. You need to stick to your dumb down thirty second news cycles and leave NPR for people who really care about news. If any news organization does a good job of unbiased reporting it's NPR, However I do think(in hind site) the firing was a rush to judgment. I don't think NPR many decades of unbiased news reporting should be vilified over this one incident. I still trust NPR more than I would FOX, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC or Al Jazera for news.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dana

    It absolutely STUPID to bring up the argument of "what if a white man had said this only using a "black male" in the place of "muslims"... WELL, I am white and will definitely be the first one to say that I've heard some VERY RIDICULOUS racist claims so, typically I would agree with this argument. BUT, the last time I checked I have not heard of any "african-americans" flying airplanes into the side our buildings and killing THOUSANDS of american people. To the ones who are using this argument please STOP as you continue to show just how STUPID American people really are getting. Thanks...

    October 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. John

    As someone who is progressive(or Liberal as some people prefer), I think NPR made a mistake, just like Juan Williams made a mistake. I think we need to find a balance between being "politically correct" and being human beings. We make mistakes. Sometimes we make more mistakes. The question is...do we learn from ourt mistakes? Is there still compassion and kindness in this country of ours? If there is a real "moral" problem in our country is that we as Americans have taken "sides" against each other. I am as guilty as anyone. Instead of listening with an open heart/mind, I think my opinion is always right and if you don't think so , I will "shout you down". I would like to ask people to turn off the people/News which asks you to take "sides" and lets start treating each other with respect whether we agree with each other or not. I believe as Americans we have more in common than we do in our differences. Let me know if anyone else out there agrees or disagrees. Thanks,John R.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Steffan Piper

    Unfortunately, for most who can't seem to identify the issue, Juan WIlliams was merely describing an after-effect of Operant Conditioning and not promoting bigoted speech. It's unbelievable that NPR would stand behind the decision to fire him. As a long time supporter of NPR I'll probably NOT contribute any further. I think Juan Williams was a victim of Ellen Weiss's (the person who made the decision to fire him) anger and emotional platform.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. I'm just sayin

    Its obvious, the people at NPR are racists. They fired him because he is black.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      get real; they wouldn't have hired him in the first place if that were the reason

      October 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Erik

    What would happen if Williams were white and said he gets nervous when he sees black people in banks? He'd be fired as a newcaster because it affects NPR's image as a newsreporting agency. So long, Williams. People lose their job everyday for less and you already have another job. Move on and quit bemoaning the incident to only help your own career..

    October 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Normally, I would agree with you on that point. However, let me say, blacks have never flew airplanes into the side of our buildings, killing THOUSANDS of american people either. I mean, come on... I understand the whole "race card" but, this is a different ballgame.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      @Dana: My point is not all Moslems are bad just like not all black people or white people or whatever else are bad. There are bad ones. Nonetheless, newscasters often have clauses in their contracts relating to the importance of the image of their employer – not like most jobs. It's similar to morality clauses appearing in contacts for Catholic high school principals, etc.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Bruce

    This is an outrage. Political correctness gone mad. Those in the muslim world who hate us must smile at this kind of stupidy on our part

    This woman who runs NPR should be fired for her lack of judgement.

    October 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • tetvet68

      The stupidity was on Juan Williams part.....not NPR's part.
      It's not about political correctness. Juan Williams is a moron. He should have been fired by NPR a long time ago.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      I agree but I think whoever hired him should be fired and this has nothing to do with the Muslim world.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • CalgarySandy

      I suspect most of the Muslim world are not laughing as they are not paying attention. They have their own lives and problems to cope with. Lack of nutrition, lack of medical care, lack of education, local terrorists who are assaulting them for not being religious in the right way. The terrorists do, if fact, bomb other Muslims. The terrorists do kill women who are not what they consider correct. We know nothing of that life and the ordinary Muslim does not follow this kind of tempest in a tea bagger, sorry. Tempest in a teapot. The Muslim world has suffered for a long time from their Religious Right and likely have had way more people killed than in the Twin Towers.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Crady

    No surprise here. After Obama's [now infamous] interview with Rolling Stone where he essentially said that; the First Amendment (specifically, freedom of the press) and FOX News were a threat to America, NPR felt empowered to sack Juan over even the slightest political incorrectness. After the firing, NPR held a press conference to beat their chests and went so far as to imply Juan was suffering from mental illness. Nice. The president bemoans free speech, and government-funded media fires a contributor merely for stating what that vast majority of Americans are already feeling. Free speech? What free speech??? This is leftist anti-Americanism at its finest, and if you value your freedoms you'd better not be looking to the Democrats to protect them.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • XWngLady

      Really? Really Crady? The President said (not "essentially said" because that is just your opinion of what you think he said), but the President really said that the First Amendment and Fox News are a threat to America?? Produce where he actually, not essentially, but actually said anything like that. Please. I'm waiting.....See, this is why NPR and other TRULY obejective mediums are so vital!!!!

      October 22, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      @XWngLady: Exactly. The President neither said nor essentially said the First Amendment is a threat to America. This is a complete misunderstanding of what the President said, ignorance of what the First Amendment is, or a blatant falsehood.

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

      Great. Speaking of denying freedom of speech, I have attempted to respond to this twice but CNN keeps blocking my post. All I can suggest is Google "obama rolling stone attacks free speech"

      October 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Amro

    It's good to see Journalists are defending their own. I wish they did that with the Journalist who was fired by CNN for saying that Jewish people control the media. It was stupid but was it worth the firing.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  15. TB

    In that snippet, Juan only said what most people think. He didn't say anything wrong, at all.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      I agree totally. Our society is becoming such a bunch of whimps where everything no matter how true when applied to minorities, or muslim terrorists or anyone else who they deem to need protection from plainspeak has to be so carefully worded.

      O'Reilly said on the view that the 9/11 terrorists were muslims. Almost everybody walked off the set saying he was applying that to muslims at large. He specifically said the 9/11 terroruists were muslims, which is of course true. But that is just too much for the mealy mouths that run around today looking for an axe to grind


      October 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
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