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. eddo

    Juan Williams lost my confidence a while ago when he interviewed George W Bush and said: "You know, people are praying for you; people – the American people want to be with you, Mr. President, but you just spoke about the polls and they indicate the public – and you know about 'hat's going up on Capitol Hill with the Congress, some in the military."
    I wasn't praying for Bush, and this American didn't want to be with him. Good riddance.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Noble

      I wasn't a big fan of Bush, but your comments are inappropiate. Everyone has a right to their opinion, including yours.

      Did ever consider that Mr. William's might being considerate. It is something you might think about doing.

      He was our President whether you thought he was the worst or the best, just as Clinton was our President.

      Those of you that have not had positions of responsibility or authority have no idea how it feels and should learn to hold your tongue.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • eddo

      My comments are inappropriate, but everyone has a right to their opinion? Which is it?
      Williams wasn't being considerate of me when he said the American people wanted to be with Bush, I didn't. Bush got us into an unnecessary war in Iraq, which killed some of my family and friends in the military.
      You have no idea if I've been in a position of responsibility or authority (but I have, for many years), and now you tell me to hold my tongue. I see, everyone has a right to their opinion, but they just can't express it.
      If I was a newscaster and said I cross the street every time I see a group of young black men walking towards me, I should be fired. If I said I'm afraid every time a Christian gets on my plane because Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was Christian, I should be fired. Good riddance to Williams.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NPR Public Code of Ethics

    This is the only thing that matters:

    10. 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.

    Did Williams violate this or not???? You tell me?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Entertained

      The way companies write their ethics and guidelines is unrealistic. What sort of journalist or human for that matter is going to never have an opinion, feeling or emotion that cannot be expressed? Bottom line is that NPR just couldn't deal with Juan appearing on Fox News. This was handled very badly and really makes NPR look no better than Fox. One of the few black voices on NPR gets terminated and the CEO makes a thoughtless and stupid snide remark in the media. Very dark day for NPR in the midst of their fund raising season....

      October 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      so then all of NPR's journalists should be fired

      October 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Actually, Juan Williams was the ONLY black news analyst for NPR

      October 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Did he violate it? Hard to tell. He did state an opinion that was also a fact. And we don't know if this is something he would not say in his role as an NPR analyst. If his topic was analyzing the impact that Muslims have on the behavior of passengers in an airliner, this is entirely pertinent information to include in the report. I do not think he violated ANY ethics in his comment. But his boss Shiller certainly DID violate the public code of ethics with her attack of Williams. To defend her terminating his employment she has slandered him.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Entertained

      The more I think about it, NPR really screwed this up. Obviously NPR new that Juan had been appearing on Faux News (I love it!) for some time. This is the only NPR associated person that I know who was doing this. There is obviously some key folks at NPR that decided enough is enough. Either you are a loyal liberal or you don't work @ NPR. This country is so divided idealogically at the moment between left and right. The media has traditionally been always left of center no matter how "unbiased" the reporting (hey, I'm actually a liberal democrat saying this!). The days of Walter Cronkite and the Dragnet style sterile delivery of the news is over; hello Rachel Maddow, Haggerty, and the Fox characters. Between Sarrah Palin's "I can see whatever from my house" tweets to the out of control Tea Party candidates comedy clips , we are in the era of News as Entertainment. The firing of Juan and all the smoke is just a glipse into the birth of yet another celebrity to the scene. Just sit back, enjoy the show and good luck finding the unbiased news in this mess. I would suggest the BBC as one good source.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John

    My wife and I took a flight from JFK to London Heathrow on the first day transatlantic flights resumed after 9/11. A 30-ish Middle East man travelling with no checked luggage (told to us by airline personnel who searched his seat after he was asked to leave his seat for a personal interview with the pilot) was seated in the row ahead of us. Were we nervous? Of course, as was every member of the flight crew and every one of the passengers (there were very few people on the flight) with whom we talked. Anyone who says he/she would not be nervous in a similar situation is either lying or a fool. Mr. Williams was telling the truth about his personal feelings; he was fired for making a "politically incorrect" statement...a clear violation of free speech.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Austinite

    Where was all this outrage after Rick Sanchez? Where were the people crying about his 1st amendment rights? Where was Sarah Palin? Same exact situation right? Such a bunch of hypocrites.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cindy

      Yep, where was the outrage with Rick Sanchez, where was the outrage when Helen Thomas was forced out her job. Even sports commentators are fired for inappropriate comments. Are there some places where it is OK for journalists to put aside their ethics and other places where it is not? Or are there just some groups that it is OK to stereotype?

      October 22, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    The First Amendment protects your right to freedom of speech. It does not protect you from your employer firing you. Especially when guidelines specifically detailing your offense existing in the employee handbook (which it did at NPR).

    You are allowed to say what you want, you just better be prepared for the consequences.

    Remember which side all of the right-wing screamers supporting Williams were during the Helen Thomas gaffe. They were calling for her head. Same situation – a person speaks their mind and their employer cans them. They don't get arrested (which is what the First Amendment protects) but they lose their job.

    Tell me how I'm wrong.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Your wrong because Helen Thomas told all the Jews to leave their homeland and go somewhere else! All Juan Williams did was express his feelings (in the middle of a conversation where all he did was defend Muslims the entire time) and the feelings the majority of Americans have felt post-9/11.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      To Brian W –

      Did NPR have the right to fire him or not?

      This is not a First Amendment issue. … The First Amendment does not guarantee you a paid job as a commentator to say what you want. Your employment as a person paid to speak is at the pleasure of your employer. In this case, it displeased Juan Williams’ employer, at least one of them, for him to have reassured the Fox News audience he too is afraid of Muslims on airplanes and that’s not a bigoted thing. … And so, Juan Williams lost that job. This is not a First Amendment issue. This is an issue of what your employer is OK with.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      HI Ryan,

      It seems there's two of us...

      October 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BP

    I get nervous when I walk towards a group of white teens on the street corner at dusk or later. Is that racist for me as a black man to feel that way? I know they mean no harm, at least I hope so, but I still get a bit jumpy..

    October 22, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Then by the liberal definition you are not a racist because you are black. If you were white and these were a bunch of black teens then you would be a racist, teabagger bigot

      October 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      It's not racist because your prejudice against white people does not affect their ability to advance in society on a larger level. While what you feel is prejudiced, it's not racist. This is not a liberal opinion, it's just the technical definition of what racism is. Let's talk about stuff like this instead of trying to silence the conversation!

      October 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John Geheran

    Fact: Over 95% of terrorists attacks are committed by Muslims. Such attacks are not "one-offs" but are more commponplace than not. What distinguishes attacks perpertrated by Muslims from similar "one-off" attacks by non-Muslims is not only their frequency but that they are almost always carried out in the name of "Allah". When was the last time you heard "Jesus is great" during an attack by a non-Muslim. Mr. Williams is completely rational in his concerns; he should be praised for his courage and honesty which is more than I can say for NPR

    October 22, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Actually many terrorist attacks go unnoticed in the mainstream media. For instance did you know that liberal eco-terrorist organizations are the biggest known terrorist organizations by the FBI in America?

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

    NPR should all funding pulled and the doors closed. This is a direct violation of Williams first amendment rights and only goes to show how far the liberals have come in taking over the media. If the liberals have their way, the terrorist won't have to hijack a plane, they will be invited to move on in and help take over. Time to take America back and that will not be done with the current Democrats and Republicans we have in office. The time of ignoring the common citizen and doing what ever they want in Washington has to end. There are better candidates than these two parties are presenting and it is time to bring them to the front and get rid of partisan politics.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • cndhawg

      NPR should "have" all etc...

      October 22, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • madmatt

      How ignorant are you to think NPR gets govt funding...they get the same amount as FOX does. The only difference is that FOX wants blatant racists on their channel and NPR= NO PARANOID RACISTS because once you have one you taint your entire channel.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • cndhawg

      It is better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to open ones mouth and remove all doubt. Take the hint.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jordan

    How about we just let people own their own feelings about things and dont fire them for their honesty. Left or right!
    Im sorry but I feel the same way and if it had been a bunch of 90 year old women with walkers taking those planes down I would be nervous in the airport when I saw a bunch of 90 year old women with walkers, even though I know most 90 year old women with walkers dont do such things.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Steve (the real one)

    NPR Public Code of Ethics
    Its stated clearly in public here:
    He violated those ethics guidelines, he got fired.
    Fair enough. HOWEVER Shiller expressed her OPINION in a PUBLIC FORUM when she said "His feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between his psychiatrist or his publicist". Slander anyone? I imagine she will be fired as well, right?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jamin0

    I am a long time listener to NPR and even contributed to their pledge drive. I felt good about that until now. Now I feel like I am supporting hypocrisy.

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

    From the information provided in this CNN article, it appears that the firing of Juan Williams was, at its core, simply a contractual matter. The NPR Ethics Code is part of the contract signed when agreeing to work at that network, and by voicing personal opinions he violated his contractual obligations as an analyst - he was not employed by NPR as a commentator. Since this is a free-market contractual issue, where are all the defenders from the left, right, or center of those free-market contractual principles, which apply to both employees and employers?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TomBombadil

    NPR great for the fact that they do not inject personal opinion into discussions but rather bring in interviewees on both sides of a topic and let them express their opinions. Mainstream news coverage and Fox worst of all no longer have a separation of opinion and fact. The nightly news is no longer facts but punditry. Thank you NPR for adhering to professional values.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TBates

    Why is NPR firing a black man for giving an opinion to a reporter?? Sure sounds like censoring a black man. Trying to silence him and keep him in his place. Black people are not supposed to have opinions and think.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob Kubit

    Osama declared a 'War of Civilizations' exists between the West and Islam. We are now fighting his small group of followers on the battlefield and more importantly, in the minds of all who practice the Islamic faith. Anyone, especially those with a public megaphone, who agrees with Osama that Muslims are out to destroy us is aiding the enemy in time of war. There is a word for that. Patriots take note.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
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