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. KB11

    Two things: 1.) NPR should be able to fire who they want for whatever reason they want. 2.) Juan Williams should be able to voice his 'feelings' in the context of a discussion without restraint. That having been said, NPR is obviously full of crap in their reasoning for his firing. First, he did not make the remarks NPR finds out of line on their network in the context of doing his job, but off NPR's 'clock' on another network and on a show with an 'opinion' format. Secondly, I have heard NPR commentators on their own programs disparage Christian and Jewish beliefs as 'crap' and 'hokum' and heard them wish deadly diseases on sitting politicians and their families(guess on which side of the isle they sat?). Somehow all this required was a half hearted apology or disclaimer. Standards? PLEASE. If you think NPR is non-political you are either very dumb or so completely partisan there is no use debating with you.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • asrael

      How could anyone even ... consider ... disagreeing with a post that manages to fork in "crap" not once, but twice...?

      October 22, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Patrick A

    If that guy Sanchez was fired for calling just 1 JEW a bigot,this William guy who probably think he,s a white man now having work for FAUX news for over a Decade should be ax as well for making such a statement about 1 billion people.
    Terrorists come in all shape and forms,White,blacks,JEWS and even nation,when a drone drop a Bomb where civilians live that,s TERROR.
    whether we like it or not.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nkelly

      Remember that this nation was founded on the hard and persistent work of a large bunch of terrorists – us! Lesson: don't be bigoted against all terrorists.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      You liberals are amazing, a black man who has been on your side for the past 10 years says something that you don't agree with and you try to call him an oreo and drag him through the mud. Just disgusting

      October 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • lannie B

      Have you ever lived in a country other than the United States? You seem to be a highly opinionated person. In many of those countries that you champion over the United States you would be in jail with no trial . Or even more likely you would probably just mysteriously disappear never to be heard from again. All people have a right to admit their fears. This wonderful country allows everyone to express themselves . I propose you move to the Middle East for a few years and perhaps you will appreciate the society that you live in. It is not perfect but it is still affords us a tremendous amount of personal freedom.

      October 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. TheTruth

    When Rick Sanchez says the media is run by Jews and gets fired for it the very next day, no one says anything. When Juan Williams says somthing about the Muslims, he gets fired, and EVERYBODY makes a big deal out of it. So let me get this straight, you cannot talk about the Jews, but you can talk about ther Muslims? It's sad how ignorant you people are. Helen Thomas says a little something about the Jews, she gets fired during the week. Um..I guess you can't talk about the Jews in America.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ken K

    When did Whoopie Goldberg become the spokesperson for journalistic standards? She's an actress and a host of a TV Talk show that encourages hysteria, not conversation or debate. The way I see it, Juan Williams signed a contract and should abide by it. Obviously, he's not the right fit for NPR standards and will clearly be happier at FOX News, the leading beacon of racism and hate mongering on the airwaves.

    But I find it disturbing that CNN's journalist standards have also diminished so much that they site irrelevant entertainment sources such as Goldberg and The View, instead of perhaps taking the time to interview journalistic experts such as professional news editors, professors, publishers, etc.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. What about the rest??

    Where is the rest of what Juan said? He goes on to explain that even though a majority of us may get anxious about post 9/11 realities, we have to still treat each other equally with respect. If Barney the Dinosaur had done 9/11, and he was getting on your flight, you would stop and take some notice. And if you deny this simple truth, your motivation is purely political. When will common sense finally overcome this pc nonsense?Lp Do you really think you'd volunteer your children for the "rainbows and unicorns" security line at the airport where we have to turn a blind eye, or the line where we do everything we can to keep the aircraft safe, ie not ignore Barney completely?

    October 22, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Independent

    Hey ken k.... What about msnbc?? They are the same as Fox, just on the other side... And, how do you explain that Fox continuously has MANY more viewers than all the other networks combined? There really must be a lot of idiots out there, while you are safely part of the unbiased "my crap don't stink" minority. Good for you!! And good luck with that....

    October 22, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken K

      Yes, "Independent", in America we have an unusual number of idiots. MIllions of people actually voted for Bu$h, Inc. twice. Sarah Palin was nominated for VP. Dog The Bounty Hunter has higher television ratings than Great Performances. How many more examples do you need? FOX has more viewers than other networks because they are inflammatory, because they are run by a billionaire who hates America, and because they know how to attract sheep. People who watch that network don't want to think and don't want news.

      BTW, MSNBC also is flooded with opinions (usually more based on fact than the outright lies you hear on FOX) and based on the contract Juan Williams apparently signed with NPR, I don't think his statement would have been appropriate on that channel either.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Ken, you are saying MSNBC usually runs more on truth than Fox? Are you talking about that portion MSNBC did on the Tea Partiers being racist when showed people dressed in Hateful clothing? Because they edited out the part of the video that shows all the Members who are there asking them to leave. MSNBC is a joke and very rarely reports real news at all

      October 22, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nkelly

    I find every opinion of Mr. Williams to be candidly refreshing . . .which is a change from most reportage. The fact that he was an NPR employee made me quite proud to have NPR as a flagship radio station supported by our government. At least until recently.

    October 22, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Brian W

    Funny how nobody got fired after an NPR analyst wished that Jessie Helms and his family would contract AIDS

    October 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken K

      That was never said, LIAR.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      again, why don't you look into the facts instead of claiming me a liar. O, I forgot, when you liberals run out of facts you just lie! http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5920144/nprs_nina_totenberg_jesse_helms_or.html?cat=62

      October 22, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Ken K, if you want any more proof that I am right and you are an idiot, just let me know, I'm sure that me and every other person on here can find more articles or videos on the internet

      October 22, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Brian W

    Funny how nobody got fired after an NPR analyst said the country would be better off if 4 million Christians were to just evaporate

    October 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken K

      Yet another lie. FOX is your station, the station of Liars and Racists.

      October 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Why don't you look it up instead of being such a sheep? http://www.current.org/people/peop601.html

      October 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Ken K, you are a classic example of an idiotic liberal (unlike a somewhat unidiotic one like Juan Williams). You cry racist and liar without any evidence of your own, even though there is TONS of evidence of what I said being true. Maybe you should watch Fox News, they obviously have more truth to them than you do (probably an MSNBC viewer)

      October 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jorge Tomas Marra dos santos

      In my opinion Williams is a weak analyst/journalist in the classical sense. My guess is that this has been told to him by this boss and that his firing was imminent. He is not a stupid man and Fox told him they want him to be part of the team and that were ready to "acquire" with a $2M salary. Not a bad career move Juan. Every one has their price.

      October 23, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Yonas

    I think the fieried him because he was not worth 2mill they were paying him. Jus like how CNN fired Rick Sanchez . Look it's not about the comments he made it's about being "a money maker" for NPR CNN fox news msnbc or anyother network. His comments on NPR wasn't worth 2 mill so they find a resson to let him go. If they liked him if he was helping them get more audience they will tell him to apologize or simply ignore the comments he made about it. Think about it. The bottom line is making revenue.

    October 22, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      He raised Talk Of The Nation to it's highest ratings ever

      October 22, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      He was also an Emmy winner and a contributor to magazines like Fortune, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Ebony magazine, TIME and GQ. He is also a contributor to ABC's Nightline, Washington Week on PBS, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and a few Fox News Shows

      October 22, 2010 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MikeH

    Why do any of you even care? Most of you probably don't even listen to NPR. The ones that don't are probably anti-union. It is an NPR issue. The right to hire and the right to fire, that meets your criteria. You conservatives can pull NPR funding from the Fed (not going to happen). Keep watching Fox and their idiots, Williams is now one of them. Williams said words that his main employeer did not like nor do they support as an organization. It happens, so let it go. Oh by the way, the President nor the left control the content of NPR programming. You had a conservative in the WH for 8 years along with a conservative congress for 4 of those years and they still ran the same programming that they do today. Go figure.

    October 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dom youngross

    I don't watch TV – via cable, satellite, or internet. Not even free TV, over the now-digital airwaves. So what's on TV is of no concern to me. How what is on TV is financed is of interest to me, particularly if there is taxpayer funding involved. The upshot of the Vivian Schiller/Juan Williams event is that I now support any and all efforts to completely eliminate taxpayer financing of NPR and CPB. Both can sink or swim in the completely-private market.

    October 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. travel777

    .
    I am African American and I object to his statement. Prejudiced white people have had and still do at times have this type of mind set toward us
    2) NPR receives Gov't funds so it is unlawful for them to accept or promote a journalist bigoted point of view.
    #3) I was an Intern'l Purser for for 39 years. We employees suffer when we hear comments like this by the media. We want passengers to be comfortable during their trip. We don't want them getting on our Airplanes stating that (at the last minute they want to change seats because they don't want to sit next to a Muslim or a black person. We simply don't have time or energyfor these kinds of irrational responses to others which can cause delays when someone gets kicked off the plane. The baggage handlers have to pull their luggage and at least 100 other passengers are going to miss their connecting flight. Agents have to scramble.

    All passengers on the plane have cleared security so Juan's comments were unprofessional, stereotypical and inflammatory. He has succeeded in making the daily Airlines operation more tedious for all concerned. After 911 white Americans who weren't used to flying did this and accused Mid easterners unjustly. It was bad for us and awful for the passenger that was accused unjustly. Juan knew what he was doing when he made this statement so he must have wanted to leave NPR. The media has gone the way of the National Enquirer. Too many people are being harmed or committing suicide because of irresponsible comments from the media. Furthermore why would an American persecute another American because of the way he/she dresses? I have served thousands of American Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. American Muslims have never caused me any problems but Christians and Jews and caused major problems.
    I am thankful that NPR still has integrity I don't like Juan Wiliiamls's perspective. He says what he gets paid to say. In my opinion he is not a black American and he is a weasel..

    October 22, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • SarahKate

      Were the planes that crashed on 9/11 cleared by securtiy before take off?
      Please argue with points that make sense for the arguement you are taking on.

      October 25, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Don Pierson

    Wether you like or dislike his comment does not matter. I thought we lived in a country of free speech. I am white and have many African American friends but I am still afraid if I am walking down the street in the later evening and see a group of young men in gangs wether they are white black or mexican. Does that make me a bigot. I also have black friends who get scared when they see a group of young black gang members in their area. Does that make them a bigot. He was just expressing his feelings and if that makes him a bigot then I don't understand because we have all made those same types of remarks at one time or another in our lives.

    October 23, 2010 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. DANNY EDWARDS

    HELL SHOOTEM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT!

    October 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
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