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. Mark B.

    Lets see, a black man can take a megaphone in public and call out to blacks everywhere, "we have to kill their babies"
    and no one goes razy. Muslims can defend the actions of extremists on 9-11 and no one goes crazy. A guy says he scared he might still get blown out of the sky is a bigot. Yeeeshhh!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Catie

    NPR needs to lose their funding. What a bunch of hypocrites!
    So, if its left its free speech but if its right its hate speech. You all make me sick!

    October 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      It has nothing to do with "free speech" or the First Amendment. The government didn't do anything here. So, the First Amendment isn't at issue!

      October 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Catie

      I'm sorry Eric my mistake, I was certain NPR was funded by our taxes, via the government

      October 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cathy

    Sniffit-thanks for clarifying the contract situation with Juan Williams. Now the firing "sort of" makes sense to me. However, I wonder about an organization that requires that you stick to their "party line" and not voice your own opinions. I wonder even more about someone that would sign a contract to that effect. (scratches head) I certainly wouldn't. I'm guessing the first amendment doesn't apply here because of the contract. Correct?

    I personally didn't have any issues with Mr. Williams' statement. He has a right to feel however he feels whether it is warranted or not.

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

      @Cathy: His contract controls and the First Amendment wouldn't apply anyhow. It's not a matter of "free speech," but it will be spun as such. Simply, the First Amendment requires "the government" to have done something affecting free speech. I agree with you about Williams and how he feels.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • EC

      It's not about what he said it's THAT he said it. Journalists are supposed to be neutral. He loses credibility when he reports on NPR after spouting his opinion on national TV. It's about journalist vs. commentators. NPR did the right thing.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Some Bodysomebody at AOL

    Since NPR receives govt. funding, isn't it a 1st amendment violation to fire an employee based only on his speech outside of his role as an NPR reporter?

    October 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MSB

    Williams was being honest about how he feels. I disagree with him, but he should not get fired for that. His comment was on a completely different level from O'Reilly. There is a real problem in this country that many people associate the Muslim religion with terrorism, and they feel genuine fear. Williams seems to be one of them. He's wrong, but firing him for it is wrong too. NPR should instead have sent him on an assignment on "A Week in the Life of a Muslim American Family."

    October 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      And, of course, Williams would have agreed to such a course so very willingly...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Middleman

    Ok. So whether or not you receive taxpayer money has become the standard by which a company is allowed to fire an employee it believes has violated their policies. Or whether that company can support a specific political agenda. In that case how can you justify providing taxpayer money to government defense contractors who pay lobbyists specifically to promote conservative politicians in order to receive lucrative government contracts? The very very small amount of money NPR receives from the government pales in comparison to what Haliburton or Lockheed Martin receives in government funding.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • EC

      SO, so true, Middleman. And NPR receives very little money from the government, anyway.

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

      Please... please ... stop with the facts already; it's so unfair to those wishing to rant...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahKate

      Good post, something I was thinking about myself. There is corruption both sides of the aisle on that one!!

      October 25, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. RichardJ

    NPR is nothing more than Government Run Radio. No different than Mr. Chavez's radio station in Venezuela. NPR is the voice of our current Leftist Admininstration.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Middleman

      Richard, you sir... are an idiot. Number 1: NPR receives less than 1% of its funding from the government. Number 2: the Obama administration does not tell NPR what to report or censor reports it does not want released.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      RichardJ: truly an American hit-and-run hero...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bert

    The only ones offended are those who defend terror by a supposed peaceful relgion.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nina

    I wonder if the left and right would've defended his freedom of speech had his comment was about Jews or blacks?

    October 22, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. BillOrally

    I don't think Williams should've been fired just for this, but if it'd been a left-wing commentator saying how nervous and uncomfortable he gets when seeing that he's going to have to sit next to a Christian fundamentalist clutching a Bible for the entire flight, Fox News would've been all over it to get the guy fired. After all, Fox News fired liberal commentator Mark Lamont Hill last year. And whatever happened to Alan Colmes.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. 'Waymystick

    Political corretness will be the end of America. This guy is CORRECT!!!! The first thing I look at on a plane is for any Muslims. You'd be STUPID not to. Muslims commit 75% of terrorist acts, have taken down airplanes, have had over 16,000 attacks since 9/11.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Yoshimoto

    NPR should be ashamed of themselves. Somebody should go into their office and pull out an reference to journalists because they are not journalists. I am a former journalist, and to muzzle someone for indicating his fear, the same fear that ALL Americans feels when they board a plane. This person did not denigrate Muslims, but 9/11 was a horrific, horrific event in which innocent people, including children, were slaughtered. Naturally that would make anyone feel afraid when they see a Muslim board a plane, even though rationally you know it is not Muslims but radicals that did this. Any decent thinking person there should look at resigning or at least walking out in protest. This is not FREE SPEECH.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • EC

      It's not about free speech! He's a journalist, he's supposed to be impartial. Look at the NPR code of ethics in the article....he went against that many times, this was the last straw. It's not about what he said. Journalist credibility is compromised when they start spouting their opinions on national TV. NPR has high-standard, their journalists have to be neutral. Juan Williams is NOT neutral so he got canned.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      But if he said that all persons named "Yoshimoto" are clueless, that would have been protected speech, right...?

      October 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. FelipeBR

    All religions should be made illegal. Imaginary friends are for kids.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ken

    Unfortunately this gentleman said what he felt in his heart. The climate that has been historiclly established in this nation is reflected on light skinned, dark straight hair Arabs today. This fear that is beeing etched in the mind is a confused mechanism that will take generations to dissolve due to the images of fear created. For example, if you were walking down a dark street at night and saw a gentleman categorized as White in a suit and tie and another gentleman categorized as Black in a sweat suite whiich one would you consider the most harmful? Oh yea they both are heart surgeons leaving the job. Hmmmm.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. reason

    Last year FOX fired Marc Lamont Hill for expressing his opinions. What's the difference?

    October 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • buddy

      Exactly. What's the deal with these pundits pulling a Sanchez?

      October 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Army Wife

      That's not true. Lamont Hill is on O'Reilly's show frequently to debate. Get your facts straight, please. You obviously
      don't watch Fox or you would know better.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • reason

      my facts are straight. Hill was fired from FOX news last year. Being a guest on a show is different then being employed the company. Get your facts straight.

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