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. Anna

    I think it is very scary for reporters to give their own opinions when they are representing a radio channel especially when their opinion is a generalization. In literature it is stated that it is a big mistake to generalize. A reporter's job is to state facts and leave it to the audience to draw conclusions.
    The USA attacked an innocent Muslim nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. The US attacked Iraq destroying one of the biggest cradle of civilization. There were over 2 million causalities all based on false premises. This to me is a genocide. I never heard that the Iraqi nation or the Muslim world called the Christians terrorist. I never heard a Muslim wanting to burn the bible. I did not hear that if an Iraqi sees a person with a cross on his chest that he shivers in fear.
    We are talking about killing over 2 million muslims for God's sake. Muslims happen to be human beings too.
    The Israeli committed horrible massacres against the Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila 1982 in Lebanon. in Gaza in 2006 and many other places. I have not heard anyone saying that they shiver when they see a person with the star of david on their chest.

    It is high time for the American to realize that what caused 9/11 is driven by a double standard foreign policy that turns the cheeks on massacres that get committed against Arabs and against Arab children using American weapons. 9/11 has nothing to do with religions. Wake up America and do not let the zionist rule you while you are sleeping.

    Islamophobia is a concept created by zionism to defeat the Arabs betting that most Arabs are Muslims, therefore if we create the fear of Islam then most people will hate Arabs as a consequence.
    Remember that "no justice, no peace". When the Palestinians are treated equally and get their Palestine, peace will rule earth and prosperity will nourish the US.

    Peace always,

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

      Anna,

      There is a great deal of Zionist influence in American politics that goes undiscussed. I have seen the injection of Zionist rants into right wing talking points. Please tell me your thoughts on what I've heard from my right wing ex-hunting partners; that the Koran says it's OK to lie to unbelievers before killing them. Is that true?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jackie

    Juan is nuts. Truly nuts! This morning at NPR we are feeling so happy that he is gone. We do not care if the funding will stop, as long as Juan is gone. We were truly afraid of this man. He talks about good Muslims as bad, but he is no different that those ugly killers of 911. I hope the bosses at NPR will make sure his security badge is revoked very soon so we will not see his ugly face again. We truly were afraid of him. I would buy donuts, and bring him coffee hoping he will not shoot me one day when he explodes.

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

      Careful "Jackie" these words on a public forum amount to slander.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jim

    Regarding the media in general, at least O'Reilly and Hannity routinely have people on that disagree with them. Olberman and Maddow are cowards. They have these obsecure liberal bobble heads that talk about issues with little facts – MSNBC has no ethics. You may not agree with FOX and there ideology, but at least they have liberals and moderates on.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  4. john

    To Brian.W
    Dammit,when we comment and use language that shows our racist nature(islamic nutjobs) just goes to show what hipocrites you are. Trying to act righteous and defend juan especially fox who are racist and anti islam justs fuels hatred against us americans .that's why we are targets.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Well seeing as I didn't say anything racist, and that you are saying Fox News is racist with now proof of that. It is clearly impossible to have an intelligent conversation with you. If you are going to try and say that America is racist or bigoted against Islam, then look at Europe. In France, women are not allowed to legally wear burqas. In Germany, the woman in charge said that multiculturalism with muslim immigrants is a failure (multiculturalism is always a failure)

      October 22, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Along with Williams leaving NPR, so will any contributions from me in the future. They stand right next to FOX with their narrow mindedness. One previously got my support. Now neither will.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mercfan

    Wake people. He wasn't fired because he spoke his mind on his own time. It's not a Free Speech issue. He was paid to report, not to do commentary. NPR said his reports kept slipping into commentary which is not what he was hired to do. If he worked in a supermarket and was paid to stock shelves and kept going to a cash register to ring up customers, he would have been fired for that too.

    It doesn't surprise me that FOX News can't tell the difference between reporting and commentary.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jermiah

      He wasn't doing a news report on NPR he was having a conversation with someone on another station. Please correct your analogy, your stock boy got fired because he had a night job as a cashier at a different store.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bubinski

    I listen to NPR all the time. Some of their contributors routinely say things that many people who are right leaning might take as offensive but they don't fire them. I've listened to Juan Williams both on NPR and Fox for years. He's a stand-up guy. He's pretty much middle of the road and isn't afraid to take on anyone left or right when he thinks they're wrong. He said what many Americans think on O'Reilly's show but made it pretty clear that he also felt that this way of thinking was wrong. NPR obviously was waiting for any little thing for him to do that they thought they could hang him with simply because they cannot stand the fact that he often appeared on Fox, who NPR considered their idealogical enemy, and demanded that he terminate his appearances on Fox last year. Now I'm sure they have Mara Liasson in their gunsights since she also works on both NPR and Fox and was told by NPR to quit appearing on Fox last year but also refused to comply. What a sad commentary about NPR's so called dedication to diversity of thought.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • david

      Did you bother to research the negative comments he made on the air about Michelle Obama over a year ago? He received a warning from his boss then. This guy should have been fired.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  8. bill

    i guess this the only way for fox to get publicity

    October 22, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      Fox is the number 1 watched cable news network, i don't think they need publicity. CNN does

      October 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kevin R. McKinley

    Brian W.

    For a journalist to do it, it"s stupid. But he landed on his feet, he'll fit in right in well at Fox.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      So then what about the guy on NPR who said that if 4 million Christians were to evaporate it would be a good thing? Why didn't he get fired?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. david

    NPR did the right thing in firing Williams. Most viewers and listeners have no interest whatsoever in hearing Williams express his own personal biases. Does Williams also get nervous whenever he see a group of young black men, wearing baggy clothing, standing near his car or walking through his neighborhood? Does he get nervous when a Catholic Priest sits on a plan next to his 12 year old son and strikes up a conversation? These are personal feelings and bias that one should not express through the media.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian W

      and what major media outlet do you know of that is not biased?

      October 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Eliot McLaughlin Is Not a "Journalist"

    Does anyone else find it ironic that, according to the writer, Williams blames his departure on the fact that he is black and did not live up to the stereotype at NPR about the political leanings of blacks–ie "liberal" in his words–when he was fired for making stereotypes about muslims? In other words, Williams thinks it is okay to pass stereotypes about other groups, but thinks he is a victim of stereotyping as well.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chancey

      I'll bet that NPR has some regret on this specific decision, as it displays the fact that they canned their only black online personality, and they did that under conditions that the left and the right are both having a field day over. Not exactly a clean break. Maybe it had to do with the new funding provided by George Soros. Bad news, NPR.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • zack

      Isn't it funny how his biggest defenders are on the right? It just goes to show that the FAR left will eat their own when they don't fit their mold. Juan is a well spoken and open minded liberal... but he is a liberal.... I have no problem with that even though I may not share his views. I think if more folks on the FAR left and the FAR right were like Juan, this country would be a much better place.
      Again, I just find it amusing that folks on the right are this man's biggest defenders and are the most upset about his getting axed. Just goes to show that the right believes in freedom of speech for all whereas the far left believes in freedom of speech only for like minded individuals.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nurse Lisa

      very well said; I do not find it surprising at all that the right applauds his fear and is momentarily pretending it is a case of free speech being squashed rather than an employee breaching a contract and suffering the consequences. The gullible will be fooled, the guilty will make more money.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lawguy

      Um, he was not making any stereotypes. He was simply expressing his own anxiety. I'm pretty sure he vocalized what many people feel. It's unfortunate that a very small group of Muslim extremists have had a negative effect on other Muslims, but don't blame non-Muslims for that; blame the Muslims who brought shame upon their own people, and try to understand why Juan and many, many others feel the way they do..

      October 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas Golden

      Eliot McLaughlin, it seems your problem is the same as NPRs. Williams did not say he believes all Muslims are terrorists. He did not say he thinks all Muslims are going to dressed in traditional attire are terrorists and are going to blow up a plane. What he did say is he feels nervous when he seems someone dressed that way. The two are totally different statemetns. One is a bigotted generalization. The other is an acknowlegment of an irrational fear, but founded in the fact that some Muslims did fly planes into buildings in the US and a not insignificant number of Muslims openly state they want to destroy the US. If it is true that NPR fired him because he does not fit their "black man" idea, that would be clear racism. You can argue that Williams' comment was rascist but it simply wasn't. Perhaps his general feeling of unease demonstrates an irrational fear, but you are stretching to claim he was making racist comments. In fact, the rest of his comments showed that was not the case.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • p53

      Juan was simply putting in his resume to faux news when he read his pre-scripted racially biased statement. Either Oreilly is a smart interviewer, in getting williams to divulge his prejudices, or williams is a complete imbosile in getting duped. I believe, as I stated, that juan, and faux news orchestrated this whole thing, to get juan out of his contract with NPR, and on the payroll of faux news. Having been at NPR for over 10 yrs, juan knew the rammifications of his words. Juan is simply an uncle tom, that has lost his usefulness in true journalism, and is looking to make a fast, last, buck, trashing his own people on the podium of prejudice with faux news.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas Golden

      David, Is Obama really black? After all, his Mom was white, he was largely raised by his white grand parents and he had minimal contact from his black father. I guess it is political views that define your race now, eh? The left pushes race because it helps them at the polls. The facts demonstrably show that the policies of the democratic party have significantly harmed black americans resulting in educational declines and higher unemployment. I guess you would suggest that all of those "black" kids in inner cities begging to get a slot at a private or charter school but can't because of democratic party policies limiting charters and vouchers aren't really black either because they don't want to go to a crappy school with lousy union teachers. You suggest that to be black you have to be liberal. I guess there means ther are a lot of "white/asian" people that can qualify for minority hiring practices and scholarships and grants aimed at blacks because they are on the left. They will be happy to hear this news.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • JayV

      when the Republicans take over in November they will have NPR tax payer funding on one of the first targets they shoot at...the funny thing is NPR just caused this. Whoops...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron Raney

      Don Imus got fired for less. Imus should have been fired. Williams is saying he got fired 'cause he black. Not true. He got fired because he said something stupid. Maybe he's not so dumb. $2,000,000 say's it all!!

      October 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Myriam

      I'm 63 and a minority, and when I first heard Juan Williams' comment I was surprised and disappointed in him. I thought: God...sounds like a white man getting on a bus for the first time in 1958 and feeling afraid because there were black people on the bus he was getting on.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom Hurd

    The firing was a very poor decision made by NPR. I appreciate Juan's approach for telling it like it is. For NPR to fire him over the phone is both cowardly and pathetic.

    Nice job NPR executive team for the poor demonstration in professionalism and integrity!

    October 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      Totally disagree with you, Turd...I mean...Hurd. Williams' comment went beyond journalism and NPR had every right to fire him. Besides, he's a crappy analyst. In ten years of listening to him, I've NEVER heard any original piece of analysis or insight from him. He just reads the papers in the morning and then paraphrases the issues on the air later in the day.

      Good Riddance to this worthless, non-analyst, non-journalist.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • capcity

      I have no problem with him telling it like it is, certainly his right, but sorry but you're wrong just like Juan was.

      Just because he's sees himself as an atypical black liberal does not make it ok to be typically ignorant and stereotype a group of people in a negative way, regardless of who did what on 9/11.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zephyrous

      Bill – Whatever your points are, when you resort to childish namecalling it makes you look like an imbecile and all of the rest of your statement is completely discredited.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      Billish,
      Do you take pleasure in your words? You calling someone a different name than his real name... If you are the personification of people who listen to NPR, then it just goes to show the character of those listeners... And if he was a "crappy" analyst, then why did you listen to him? Perhaps you could have found better use of your time by name calling other people...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. xwheels

    There's too much 24 hour news. Networks are searching for news, and if there isn't salacious news waiting to be reported, they will create conflict. The extremists in American politics are the liberals and conservatives, one wants to save the world, the other wants to inflict suffering. Rights & Responsibilities.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken Owen

      Which one is more important?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • mpouxesas

      ...agree...but, really, there is no such thing as left in this country...now as far as the right goes..yes, I would agree, they inflict pain to ALL the world, rake in the dough, and then they go shooting things in their montana ranches...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Urban Republican

    Look!....I have plenty of friends who are liberals. Most of them are articulate, and conduct themselves with dignity when they disscuss local, national, and world political veiws. When they want a conservative perspective, they seek me out or welcome my input. That's a normal American political discourse to want to hear other veiws and opinions. The problem that Juan Williams has is that as he put it, "I'm not a typical Black Liberal." NPR is famous for its liberal perspectives which PBS mandates a liberal doctrine promoting one veiw, one perspective, and that's the ultra-liberal veiw of the Democratic party.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eliot McLaughlin Is Not a "Journalist"

      So Juan was fired because he was black and not what he stereotyped to be? I guess it's cold comfort to the millions of muslims who Juan stereotyped on TV?

      Here's a question for Juan and everyone else who supports his view about muslims dressed in their religious garb–How many of the 9/11 terrorists where wearing collared shirts, tailored pants, and wingtip shoes on 9/11? All of them. How many were wearing "Muslim outifits"? None.

      Juan, and others like him, are not just paranoid, but simply stupid and naive.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      You're totally wrong. NPR is one of the very last bastions of professionally-produced, totally neutral, fact-based journalism. Basically, you have no idea what you're talking about.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • p53

      Urban Repub: You must think more of yourself, than other's. There is no way, anybody would seek the opinion of a self-absorbed nit wit like you. (and I know this by reading your boring comment) You must think repubs have the balls to be truthful, honest, responsible, and accountable to the American People?! Get real! The repubs are the sess-pool of government waste, and abuse of power. Like it or not, repubs RUINED the economy of the USA..and created the depression that I, and working class people like me live in TODAY. The dems are not much better... The independs are a complete circus act, complete with clowns. I dont care about the so-called "middle-class", cause my damned paycheck hasn't been worth elephant dung in the past 11 years. But dont you go getting any ideas about promoting the republican world order.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      Billish,
      WIth your comments so far on this topic, its clear you are clueless with reality. NPR is neutral?? Really? If you want to go on living in your little dream world, go right on...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • mpouxesas

      disagree...there's no such thing as liberal/leftist in this country...they all serve one purpose, rake in the dough any way they can. 2% of the people control 98% of the wealth, and they neither 'republican's nor libelars...they are ...green...as in dollars...

      October 22, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jim

    More people watch FOX than the other cable shows combined. Like I said before, MSNBC with Olberman and Maddow are cowards. They never have anyone that disagrees with them. They are now running with the Chamber of Commerce story that even the NYTimes said is absurd. They only receive 50 cents out of every 100 dollars from affiliates oversees. What about the AFLCIO, internet contributions for Obama in 2008 (millions with donors not provided).

    October 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billish

      You're totally wrong. Fox is the channel that NEVER invites any serious disagreement. In fact, there are audio tapes of Sean Hannity coaching guests on what to say in response to questions before appearances, and then congratulating them afterwards for promoting the right-wing point of view....which is amazing because Hannity lacks any formal higher education and was basically hired for his jawline. There is also VIDEO tape of a female Fox producer on the location of an early Tea Party rally coaching the crowd on what to say and to be louder for her cameras.

      So basically, you're totally out of your mind if you think NPR is the biased outlet here. Fox is a right-wing propaganda tool....the JANITOR at NPR knows more about neutral fact-based journalism than ANYONE at Fox.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • victor

      yeah except pat buchanan who is on all the time.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
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