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. John

    This blog left out an important part of what Williams said. He isn't nervous or scared every time he sees someone dressed in traditional Muslim garb. He worries when he's FLYING and sees a Muslim who chose to dress that way on a flight. The idea is that it would make sense for a peaceful Muslim to try and show that they're just regular folks trying to put others at ease. That makes sense to me. Jews, in Nazi concentration camps weren't allowed to wear traditional Jewish things like yamulkas. I'm sure that no Jew would place any importance on that. Jews would have been happy to dress like everyone else in Germany if that would make the Nazis leave them alone. Dressing like Romans when in Rome –just during a flight, because of recent events–isn't such a big deal. So it scares Williams when someone wants to make a point by dressing in Muslim clothing.

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

      Rather like saying that what Williams said was fine until he began moving his lips...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. LEFTY

    I skew to the left side of things and even I am offended by NPR punishing someone for voicing what i consider to be an honest emotion and a reasonable one considering all the psychological terror our country has been subjected to by a small handful of fanatics. The sad truth is that the law abiding, peace loving majority of muslims are going to have to accept the fact that we need time to process what haoppened only 9 short years ago. Such discussions and statements as Mr. Williams' is a first important step in excorsizing these negative feelings. Nothing will improve unless we are first, honest with ourselves and with each other. we should not punish people for being human.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Army Wife

    Where is the Black Community Outrage??? Juan was the only African American reporter on NPR. Other than Whoopie,
    I've heard no comment from Jesse Jackson, Rev. Wright, or other leaders.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • buddy

      Why aren't my replies going through?

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

      They would lose most of their Afric@n-Amer1can Mu5lim 5upport.

      Geez. What you have to do to put up a simple post.

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

      @ Army Wife. You sound like a bleeding heart liberal

      October 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. EC

    A lot of people are missing what this issue is about. It's not really about free speech, or liberal vs. conservative. NPR strives to be impartial and its journalists report the news without opinion, that's why it's different (and better) than networks. It's a non-partisan, non-profit. NPR has been annoyed at Juan Williams for a long time because he ignores the NPR code of ethics (quoted above) and presents his opinion on TV programs. His latest comments were the last straw. Journalists are supposed to be neutral. Juan Williams goes against that and NPR has high standards, they no longer tolerate him.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mike harr

    What Mr Williams said was real, honest, intelligent, and fair-minded. To fire him was a huge insult against the USA.
    The muslim world is not policing Islamic terrorists. And the terrorist community is continuing on...
    Getting on a plane should one close your eyes? – and just push your little kids on -we can't say or think anything outside
    the box of myopic nicedom in a fake Universe. Hello!

    October 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • journalism dangling

      insult against the usa? your hysteria is showing. just an employer firing an employee for breaking clearly stated policy.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. buddy

    They would lose most of their African-American Muslim support.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ready

    I think we're all scared after 9/11 of anyone dressed in Muslim garb...I can't tell one religion from another when you are confronted by someone's religious dress code...

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

    This excuse from NPR is a joke. Gwen Infil wrote a pro Obama book while being a newsCASTER for PBS. Juan is a Pundit, paid to give opinions.
    NPR's postion is morally and intellectually bankrupt.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Peter

    I think the fact that NPR is taking heat from both the RIGHT and the LEFT seems to suggest that they are pretty much down the middle.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. tyronejones

    Williams didn't say anything that the average American is feeling.

    NPR and Public TV need to be de-funded.

    We, the tax payer, have been paying for leftist propaganda from these outlets for far too long. It is time to check the bias.

    DE-FUND NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

      NPR gets less than 1% of its funding from the gov., first of all. Second, he wasn't fired for what he said, he was fired because he is a journalist, NOT a commentator. NPR doesn't want its journalists spouting their opinion on national TV, and they clearly say so in their code of ethics. He has been angering NPR for a while, this was the last straw...a journalist's credibility is compromised when they start spouting ANY opinion.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Barbara

    This is just like fox, leave Hannity with his rubbish talk, but fire someone who states how he feels when he is on a plane. heck what I have been hearing on the news at fox, they need to close down the whole network, fire them all. what rubbish they talk about is not worth listening too. Wake up fox, report the news not give state how you feel or you maybe next. YEPPIE can't wait for that to happen.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Phyllis North

    Williams did not identify himself on Fox as an NPR analyst. He should be able to say whatever he wants outside of his NPR job. NPR is so politically correct that they won't allow free speech.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Go, Phyllis! Legal contracts are such a pain...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. lannie B

    I would feel nervous if a boarded a flight and spotted a group of Arab ( I would assume Muslim) men. I do not like to fly at the best of times. My father was killed in a plane crash. I am a nervous flier.
    Pan American Lockerbie Scotland 747 all killed............Arab (Muslim) group
    9/11.......4 flights down all killed ......Arab (Muslim) group
    Shoe bomber.....attempted bombing of flight ( UK Jamaican, Muslim convert)...Arab trained.
    Christmas Day attempted bombing (Muslim Nigerian)....Arab trained

    Why do we have to be afraid to say that we stereotype when we fly, many of us are nervous to fly at the best of times.
    Muslims should blame those of their own faith who have caused the rest of us fliers to do this. Juan was just being honest about how he felt. Sure we all know it is wrong to fear any one group of people, but usually there has been a pattern of behavior that causes us to be afraid.
    When you hear of someone being attacked by a shark, are you not afraid of swimming in the ocean? Rationally you know that there are millions of sharks and very few shark attacks. It is statistically an unreasonable fear. But that does not make you less afraid .

    October 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick A

      Allow me to retort, 2 Iranian civilians aircraft shot down over their own territory by US missiles.
      Libyan aircraft shot down by US missiles killing civilians.
      Do some research ok idiot we and Israel are the biggest terrorists on earth,we kill our own citizens in order to get into WAR.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Mooney

      Patrick A
      You are a recruiting person for the bad guy's. Your facts are false, the attacks on us where made with intent to cause harm to innocent people, yes we may have made errors, but not with intent. We also provided payments to the families involved. To put these events in the same context is mindless, and is a typicial demorcate view that all people in all countries hold our views about life. Wake up! They don't go there and visit, they don't care about human rights, about women, they are out to destroy the Great Satin, and if desite your comments they won't give you any mercy!

      October 25, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bob

    Make no mistake–NPR fired him for one reason and one reason only: They were afraid of the Muslim reaction to what he said. They were afraid that NPR might become a terrorist target. By firing Williams, they were basically saying "See, we got rid of him, so please don't hurt us." Such wretched, craven cowering gives a new meaning to the term "Islamophobia."

    October 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      Effusive thanks to Bob for his convincing demonstration of "wretched"...

      October 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mr Bilek

    Poor, poor Juan Williams. He declares his cowardly bigotry on FOX in support of FOX Mouthpiece O'Reilly and gets punished with a $2 million contract on FOX while getting all kinds of free publicity and attention for FOX.

    Someone is (cynically) crazy like a FOX....

    October 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
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