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. Jerry

    It's obvious NPR sold its sold its soul to Mr. (Zorro) for handful of dollars. I don't agree with Juan Williams all the time, but he seems to a firm believer in journalistic objectivity.

    Most of the time he defended President NObama. Since Juan was unjustly dismissed, I wonder is President NObama is going to reciprocate. Don't hold your breath, though.

    Relating to public funding for NPR, take every penny away. See if Mr. (Zorro) continues buying and funding NPR. And of course, NPR's CEO is got to go!!! Lets give her a dose of her own medicine.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. shawn

    This is such a non story. Regardless if you agree with the reason for firing the guy was warned before...so he had to go.

    It's funny to me the right wingers call this a liberal news outlet but they keep giving all this press to Palin and the other righties where there is really no story worth discussing and thus it gets trumped up into an issue that defines the right vs. left argument...who cares. Just focus on our economy, jobs and health of this county and get the f&*(*Ok! out of wars!

    October 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Steve (the real one)

    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
    1%-2% of NPS's funding IS government funding! NPR has admitted as much! You may want to rethink calling anyone ignorant!

    October 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Arizona Ironman

    Partisans on the right and the left are purging their "non-pure" members reducing their ranks to just the fanatics. Juan Williams is yet another example of this process. All of you partisans are nothing but zombies being led by your elite masters. You drink your partisan kool-aid morning, noon and night. You are the real problems with America as you refuse to find common ground with your citizen brothers and sisters. Instead you choose to fight one another while the true enemies stand at the gate in mass – those who wish America harm (Iran, Venezuela, Russia, China, North Korea, etc.) regardless of the politics you spew. Rest assured, the chickens are coming home to roost and they don't care whether you are Democrat or Republican. You won't be able to blame the other guy when the real enemies come knocking at your door. When this happens, you must decide whether you are an American or not.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Melissa

    Let's just make sure no one can have an opinion or feelings anymore. Let's all think and feel the same way... It sure seems like that's where our country is headed. I applaud anyone who says what they think, whether I agree with it or not. We are human beings who will ALWAYS disagree. We will never all be on the same page. I thought out country was founded on the principles that we had freedoms other people in other countries didn't have. I feel like now, we are always being told that out opinions are wrong and that we all need to tiptoe around each other. Good for those who don't fall for this BS. Let's celebrate freedom of speech (and thought and opinion).

    October 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kevin R. McKinley

    Muslims aren't responsible for 911. Terrorist are responsible. It's ignorant to blame Muslims for 911. Should victims of the KKK blame Christianity for racist lynchings? The Klan proclaim they act on behalf of god and country

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

      No. Not ALL Muslims should be blamed for what happened. But it WAS a bunch of angry Muslims who attacked us in the name of their religion. So to say that Muslims and the faith of Islam were in no way involved is stupid

      October 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brian W

    Should NPR have fired the people who said or made these comments?

    Andrei Codrescu said that the "evaporation of 4 million [people] who believe" in the doctrine of Rapture "would leave the world a better place."

    In 2002, the head of NPR issued an apology six months after a report linking anthrax-laced letters to a Christian conservative organization.

    Also in 2002, during an interview with the Philadelphia City Paper, NPR host Tavis Smiley said he strived to do a show that is "authentically black," but not "too black."

    In 1995, Nina Totenberg, NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent, was allowed to keep her job after telling the host of PBS' "Inside Washington" that if there was "retributive justice" in the world, former North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms would "get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it."

    None of these people were fired

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

      I agree with you, Bryan, and NPR claims that the issues with Juan have been going on "for awhile". I hardly think that this opine from Nina Tottenberg was the only blatently garish thing she has said on or OFF the air with NPR. Juan Williams had been off his staff staus for some time as they did not like him for other things he has said. His salary had been cut and he (the only black employee) was relegated to contract status.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ted

    I'm glad he made the remark. It makes me feel better about myself for not going outside my apartment at night because there's a black neighborhood close by.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    Way to go NPR. I'm behind you. If this would have been a Muslim giving an opion on Blacks, Holy Crap! Can you imagine what would be going on in America right now. Everyone needs to learn sensitivity around such issues. Our kids sure aren't growing up with accountability or discretion. I'm glad NPR is trying to teach the lesson.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Your absolutely correct, we should care more about sensitivity than the truth and serious issues

      October 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Steve

    Besides looking around at who i think might be a threat, I figure out the best path to get at them if things start to go down.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mkarmali

    So why can that dude from CNN be fired for making comments about Jon Stewart and some anti Jewish statements and this Williams dude from NPR cannot be fired for what are obviously anti Muslim statements. Rampant hypocrisy.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. heresme

    Yeah, Jerry...don't wait for Obama to say something like, "NPR acted stupidly", because he won't! Even if he believed that, which I doubt, it's too close to election time to chime in on this I think. I always have and expect I always will respect Mr. Williams, though I don't agree with him very often. I think it's NPR's loss, and Fox's win and I wish him well. Glad I quit NPR all those years ago.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Asch

    If you get on a plane these days with someone dressed in 'Muslim' fashion and don't think just a little abot 911 then you are a bigger person than I. (Frankly, I also think you are lying) What is so wrong about someone making a comment about their fears? Not as an opinion but as a guest making a comment to a reporter.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Eliot McLaughlin Is Not a "Journalist"

    Is this an opinion piece? Love the writer's line about the NPR rep not drawing judgments, then providing his opinion that she is passing judgment. Did the writer leave his couch writing this, or did he just watch "The View" Thursday morning to get the "Left's" side of things? This does not qualify as journalism and should be identifed as being an opinion piece rather than a report.

    Whether you agree with the firing or not, you must agree that this is yet more evidence of CNN's fall from being the "Most Trusted Name in Journalism."

    October 22, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Bob

    If a white reporter had said "I get nervous when I see five black kids walking toward me" would that be ok?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
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