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. lannie B

    I am a blond hair, blue eyed Jamaican. When people hear me talk they can never figure out where I am from. When I tell them Jamaica, they ask "Yes, but where were you born?" I do take offense when most people further question me because "all Jamaicans are black".
    Did anyone not realize that the Europeans were in Jamaica before the black race, or that the original inhabitants before the Spanish and English were the Arawak Indians. I have spent all my adult life in the United States, almost daily, defending my heritage.
    Do you all consider the comments I face racist ? If it was a black person defending their heritage you would. I just consider it to be a lack of education of world history. For the record most people are in denial if they think they have not stereotyped at some point in their lives.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Seth

    To the "Government Funded News" comments: CBS published a story yesterday that basically debunked that BS. NPR is a private non-profit news organization that receives between 1-3% of its funding from federal grants that it applies for and that must be approved. The rest of its funding comes from affiliate dues and private dontaions. You aren't going to find NPR in a line in the Federal budget.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • ficheye

      But how are people going to accuse NPR of being a socialist commie organization if they have to use 'facts' to support their point of view? What fun is that?

      October 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sniffit

      Indeed. The GOP/Teatards and the rest of the conservative right wing nutjob extremists just hate that NPR actually does an extremely good job of being objective reporting just the news. NPR represents a serious danger to their misinformation and demagoguery campaigns.

      On a side note though, NPR is horrifyingly boring and I only know like 1 person who ever bothers to listen to it other than the cabbies around town.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Then why are they whining about people wanting to defund it. They should be happy to have the burden off their back

      October 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahKate

      Thanks Seth. I am going to check out that article. I have been looking up a few facts of my own and find a lot of things interesting. I think a lot of people would find many things interesting if they would just stop taking every word they hear on any given network as the truth. People need to do their own research of facts. In itself that can be tricky....many websites have their own bias as well. It's nice that there are some people who can discuss matters and help find the facts.
      As for Sniffit: You are a classic example of why people don't get along. Why there are news organizations who cater to extreme liberals/conservatives. You are mean spirited. You calling people names for being republican or anything else is no different than descrimination due to race, religion or anything else. I hope that someday you are able to find some true happiness in your life, if not for you I hope it for the people around you how have to put up with you. Serenity....

      October 25, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. jim

    It's interesting to observe how the ethnicity of a person accused of "improper speech" affects the tenor of the discussions about it, and the ethnicity of his defenders. Politically correct America, circling the drain!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bruce

    All you who attack NPR must not have any understanding the critical role NPR plays in our lives to bring news from a different perspective (may not be 100% perfect), but far superior than any news meida.
    As far as Fox channel is concerned, these executives and ORilley are playing with fire. Today it is Islam, tomorrow it will be Judism, then Budhism, atheism , and then ethnic background == KKK and Nazisim. America can not afford polarization of its society which is Fox channel ethos. There is NO positive word out of any Fox anchor person about democrats, liberals, other religions, other ethnicity,that is 80% of the population being harrrassed by less than 20% of bigots who share Fox mentality.
    Grow up and learn to love thy neighbors --is not this the teachings of Christ? if so, then follow it!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alan

      I am not a christian. I don't have to love my neighbor. Some I do. Some I don't. I can be afraid of anyone I want to be .

      October 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sheila

    NPR is the only news source that offers genuine and honest debate on an issue with full views from both sides. Unlike FOX where it's all about who yells the loudest and tells you that you're a "pinhead" or a "moron" the most. Even MSNBC offers biased input where it's more about ridicule than debate. But even the combination of how far left-leaning the other outlets may be, no one leans as far the left as FOX leans to the right.

    Even with that said, WIlliam's comments did not warrant his firing. It's clear to anyone who understands the situation that the heads as NPR simply did not like his appearances on FOX. Instead of firing, NPR should have acknowledged that they did not approve of him appearing on the FOX network and offered him the choice to choose one or the other. Then it would have been his choice, it would have been an honest reason and not this load of balogna that the CEO of NPR is spewing. I'm very disturbed by the unprofessional remarks made by Schiller. At least when CNN fired Rick Sanchez, they had the professional courtesy of leaving their statements to a two-sentence, respectable press release.

    I respect the journalists that work at NPR and work so hard to bring us balanced news and analysis, but the administrators need to do as Whoopie Goldberg stated and get their acts together.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seth

      I am not sure the argument that it was his appearance holds water because he has been on Fox many times before. I agree that Schiller's comments have been ill conceived, but I think the firing had more to do with the content of the comments than the appearance itself.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sniffit

      "clear to anyone who understands the situation that the heads as NPR simply did not like his appearances on FOX. Instead of firing, NPR should have acknowledged that they did not approve of him appearing on the FOX network and offered him the choice to choose one or the other. Then it would have been his choice, "

      WRONG. They offered him that choice when they first put the employment contract in front of him that contained the policies prohibiting voicing opinion, feelings and theories about political issues when on other shows, on blogs, or numerous other venues. He made that choice when he signed the employment contract and accepted his employment. Nobody forced him to work there and nobody forced him to accept that condition on his employment. He could have just told them to jump of a bridge if he wanted and not accepted the employment they were offering.

      The reality is, this was happening for a while and was a problem between him and NPR for some time, with him continually breaking the rules while on Faux News. It doesn't take a genius to put 2 + 2 together here...he was hired for $2M almost instantly and has now joined Faux's team of screamers who want to get rid of NPR...i.e., the GOP and conservatives who hate that NPR is an objective news source. Objectivity doesn't bode well for conservatives.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Peter

    Of course, if they hadn't fired him, everybody would be mad that they didn't take action....
    Oh, wait, I forgot, Black people never say racist things, and it's ok to talk bad about Muslims in this country.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. nansei

    The two million dollar chicken Juan certainly couldn't get a job a CNN International. This is about cowardice above all. Imagine if the 18 year olds flying to Afghanistan were as chicken as Juan. They would get therapy. That's why his ex boss suggested he see a psychiatrist.
    bin Laden must hope that he can get all of the Fox Chickens on a plane, Hannity, Palin, OReilly. Some walks out in Muslim garb and they are rendered NERVOUS!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. DScott

    I think President Obama needs to step-in since this seems like another "teachable moment" for him to show us all dumb people how stupidly NPR acted. Oh wait...that is not going to happen this time. Even his ego is not big enough to go against his party's religion or his loyal media wing, to defend a decent black man who was truly treated unfairly. NPR needs to be defunded. If Soros wants to buy that media outfit, so be it. No more hyprocrisy, come out of the closet NPR and be just like Air America.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jason christensen

    I've actually been tempted to send money to NPR but their left wing slant has always prevented me from doing so (I listen nearly every day). Now I'm quite sure I'll never send a penny their way.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Amazing that anyone writing of NPR's "left wing slant" would ... ever ... have considered making a contribution. But saying so certainly makes for a colorful post...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Ted

    I UNDERSTAND WHY OBAMA...REID..AND ALL THE DEMS.ARE CONVINCED MOST AMERICANS ARE TOTALLY STUPID..WE ELECTED THE FIRST MARXIST...ILLEGAL ALIEN...DESTROYER OF AMERICA ..OBAMA AS PRESIDENT........THIS REALLY TAKES A STUPID COUNTRY TO DO SUCH A THING...PERHAPS NOV.2...WE WILL REGAIN OUR SENSES....

    October 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      Funny – feel the same about Republicans. Rule by fear and destroy our country financially while spending billions on stupid wars initiated by liars.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • BillOrally

      Yes, Ted, thanks for showing just how intelligent you are.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Here's to Ted for his welcome demonstration of "totally stupid" ...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JREwingSr

    "Actually, it works just fine when you add in that this is a contractual matter. As I've mentioned elsewhere, NPR prohibits all employees from going on other shows or writing for other papers or whatever in a manner that compromises their objectivity by making their opinions public. This was a CONTRACT. Williams willingly and knowingly agreed to those terms of his employment. This is not government action to censor someone. Go read some case law."

    Then his contract was invalid the moment that he was hired, because he had been a guest analyst on Fox for 3 years before NPR hired him.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sniffit

      Ummm, no, that's not how it works. He may have appeared on Fox prior to signing a contract with NPR, but that changes nothing about the duties and obligations he willingly took once he signed a contract with NPR in order to be their employee and take their money. By signing the contract with NPR, he was accepting the conditions of being their employee and giving up the right to continue appearing on Faux and voicing opinions, feelings, personal thoughts and theories, etc. He was still welcome to go on Faux News, but he could no longer stray into those areas.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. rbags

    Hey whoopi, o'reilly did state facts...muslims WERE responsible for 9/11. i know you wish he said THE muslims or ALL muslims were responsible, but he didnt. the hijackers were muslim=fact.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Like Nazis were Christians. Like Timthoy McVeigh was Christian. So based on your reasoning, all christians are bad and should be punished. The acts of these individuals don't represent the christian religion or its values. Most Christians are peace loving and caring people. If a person goes against what the religion stands for than you cannot blame the religion. Christianity, Islam, and a majority of other religions preach nonviolence, love, and tolerance for others (something you seem to lack). Anyone who claims that Islam teaches something to the contrary needs to learn the facts before giving ignorant statements.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  13. fastball

    It's going to be the death of honest "opinion" shows, if commentators are not allowed to express their actual opinions without running it by their bosses and sponsors.
    Frankly, I get nervous when I see fundamentalist Muslims....but I also get nervous when I see fundamentalist Jews and fundamentalist Christians. I don't understand that kind of "absolute" thinking...so it's human nature to be wary of stuff you don't understand. I don't think that's a statement that warrants being fired. Blind adherence to political correctness is just as bad as it's opposite.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • journalism dangling

      "honest" opinions.. that's hilarious! too bad you'd rather preserve the "integrity" of opinion shows in place of real news/journalism.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • EC

      If Juan Williams wants to be a commentator, he shouldn't be a journalist, THAT'S why he got fired. NPR requires its journalists to be neutral...Juan Williams is not and he has been angering NPR for a while with his participation in political commentary.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahKate

      I like your post Fastball. I don't think he was stating that Opinion pieces are any how more important than factual unbiased news. Why do people have to twist everything up?? Not anywhere did he make that statement. Juan Williams was not on a factual unbiased program when he made the comments. Why are you trying to berate him for thinking opinion shows are worth protecting and news broadcasts are not?? That is not what he said.

      October 25, 2010 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. Rino Redulla

    Being expressive of something he is scared of : Is it a crime? U.S.A. is protected by first ammendment.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      No, it's not protected by the First Amendment. There's no required "government action" to implicate the First Amendment here so the First Amendment has nothing to do with the matter. It's just like when Dr. Luara said she wanted her First Amendment rights back. She didn't know what the First Amendment actually said either because the First Amendment had nothing to do with the situation. It sounds good, but it's just wrong..

      October 22, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Some Body

      @Erik

      NPR receives govt. funding, so there may be a real 1st amendment violation here.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      First amendment says that you can speak, but contractual consequences are not part of the guarantee; unfortunately, the amendment does not proscribe misspellings of "ammendment"...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. fastball

    Ted...I'll spell this in caps, so you'll see it. YOU'RE AN IDIOT.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
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