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. Andrew

    Williams is justified in feeling threatened by Muslims. Muslims believe in Sharia Law and they define peace as all the world being under Sharia law. So what is a peaceful Muslim? Non existent until they have conquered the world. In addition they believe in Taqyhiah Law which allows and even encourages them to lie to non Muslims in order to get their own was. Be careful everyone these are not people with the same background of morals that most of us here in the US are accustomed to. Way to go Juan! Why doesn't NPR run a series on exactly the beliefs of Muslims or would that be too inflammatory and not pc?

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

      Are you really that ignorant of Islam or are you just trolling for responces like mine?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKJ

      I'm sorry you feel that way, Andrew, because you are shutting yourself off to so many of your fellow citizens. I'm an American born Muslim convert who does follow the shari'ah in every way I can–what I eat, how I eat, how I dress, how my husband and I married and raised our children, how we financed our home and our children's education, etc. If you passed by one of my sons you wouldn't know he was a shari'ah-following Muslim because in many ways he is not that different than you. But he won't go drinking with you or out to the casino because he follows the shari'ah. Do you find that threatening?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Charles

    If Juan or any other reporter had said "I feel uncomfortable when I'm in an elevator with Black people" would he have been fired- of course. NPR needs people who don't let their prejudices get in the way of "objective" reporting.

    For you wingnuts who want to see NPR destroyed over this bring it on!!!!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • tet1953

      Charles, black people have not vowed to destroy America. It wasn't all Muslims of course, but the people who vowed it are Muslim. Enough to give me pause, yes.

      I put this reply in the wrong place before, sorry.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • MSD

      When rick Sanchez made his silly remarks about Jews. the whole world was against him and no one came to his defense as free speech. Now that Juan is bashing Muslims, it is all about his rights to free speech. Hypocrisy at its finest to say the least.

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

      Juan Williams was expressing and honest emotion. He did not condemn Muslims, he simply said he had a second of apprehension. If you can't have this type of open dialogue then we will never be able to discuss the difficult issues that still divide this nation. The really tough issues are going to require discussing emotions that we currently repress and some of those conversations are, by necessity, are going to be uncomfortable.

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

      Charles, if you're going to contribute to this forum, please at least pretend to have some intelligence and a grasp of the issue.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • david

      tet1953 should be very thankful that black people, as a whole, have not vowed to destroy America. Black people are by far the most wronged people on this planet by America. Count your blessings tet1953.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kam

      Charles is correct. If any other newscaster said "Blacks" , he would have been fired immediately. Also if a minority said something like "I feel uncomfortable in an elevator with whites" the right would be foaming at the mouth about "the hypocrisy of the left."

      October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • p53

      Charles: The diff between saying something stereotypical of "blacks", and, say any other race...is, the one making the racist statement of blacks is rewarded, and promoted to a higher paying job (ie: Juan, Mark Furman, Limbaugh, Hannity, Oreilly, Don Imus, etc..) and, the one making racist statements of asians, caucasians, etc, are run out of town, prevented from having a tv show, not invited to speak at colleges, colliseums, churches, or the white house (ie: Minister Louis Farakan, Rev. Wright, etc.)

      October 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • LKJ

      You are completely right, Charles. And to those who contend that black people haven't vowed to destroy America, I want to say this: There are approsimately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, and at least 8 to 10 million Muslims living in the U.S. Out of all those people, only a handful, a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, have committed any type of violence against Americans. How can you stereotype an entire type of people based on the actions of so very few? And do you know why you don't hear more about the rest of us and our condemnation of terrorism? It's because the media doesn't report it. We're here and we'd like some recognition, but terrorists are more newsworthy.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakirk2010

      Hey Charles,
      I could care less about NPR. I just don't want my tax dollars (which NPR gets a part of) to go to an organization that practices censorship. They can report anything they want to, just not on my dime!

      October 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom

    What's an NPR?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      National Public Racists.

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

      Go back to sleep Tom.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      Also known as Radio Havana and National Socialist Radio.

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

      I bet you know what kkk is though.. dont you tom?

      October 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tet1953

    This was not a just firing. I do not consider myself a bigot, but I too think twice when I see people in Muslim clothing. Did they learn nothing from the Shirley Sherrod debacle?

    October 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Although I am considered liberal I do not understand the firing. Yes perhaps the remark by Mr. Williams was a bit brazen and without the appropriate thought but this knee jerk reaction is why liberals and what we/they believe in is castigated on a daily basis. Just too sensitive and paranoid. The fear in general of terrorists should have nothing to do with what political view you have. It would be a safe assumption to think that a lot of us are a little more anxious post 9/11 about flying. That is just a fact of current life unfortunately.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Updownin2

    6% of NPR is owned by a Saudi Prince. That's why he was fired. I feel the same way evertime I see a muslim in a grocery store, mall, taxi cab, airports and specialy on an airplane. Except for muslims Juan just said how all of us feel.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • sorry to burst the bubble

      Fox news has a significant percentage owned by the same Arabic personality that is funding the Islamic Culture Center in New York. With your logic FOX shouldn't hire him either.l

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

      In 2005 7% of America's economy was owned buy teh royal Saudi Family, you better know who your bosses are.

      October 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tet1953

    Charles, black people have not vowed to destroy America. It wasn't all Muslims of course, but the people who vowed it are Muslim. Enough to give me pause, yes.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Medicine Man

    NPR did the right thing and Williams didn't – plain and simple.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • NealR2000

      What an incredibly inciteful comment.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • GT

      That's a very ignorant comment. Look...What this guy said is the truth for him. Freedom of speech. Just because he gives pause to a group of people (who in the American eye are MORE known to be affiliated as Terrorists than a people of a peace loving religion) doesn't mean that his comments were "HATE" related. Hell i was discussing this issue with co-workers today that I've been giving pause to anyone that looks middle eastern when i got on planes since i was 5 years old! I am 31 now! Let's face it, people who say that they don't give pause to certain groups of people or behaviors is sheer hypocracy. I went to Indonesia which has the largest population of muslims. When i was in town i had a middle eastern man come up to me in a TRENCH COAT AND BACK PACK when it was very hot outside. First thing in my mind was a clenched fist and a racing heart. WHY? DUH! If i have to explain it to you, you're either naive or you live under a rock.

      Even Bill O'Reilly's comments weren't completely unfounded. The women from the 'View' asked him why he thought that the mosque there is such a controversey. WELL DUH! Bill hit i on the head and I never usually agree with him. BECAUSE MUSLIMS KILLED OUR PEOPLE IN 9/11!!! TRUTH! Yeah sure Timothy McVieh (or however you spell it) was a christian, but he did not carry out the attack in the name of God.

      Bottom line is, that this country is going to fall apart under it's own hypocracy with this political correctness bull crap. Most basic of instincts in any human is survivalism and to deny that or pretend it doesn't exist is suicide on that individuals part.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. MSD

    When Rick Sanchez of CNN made his silly remarks about Jews. the whole world was against him and no one came to his defense as free speech. Now that Juan is bashing Muslims, it is all about his rights to free speech. Hypocrisy at its finest to say the least. Fox news fair and Balanced my foot

    October 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • NealR2000

      It's not about free speech. Williams made an entirely honest comment about his state of mind in a particular situation; a feeling that is shared my the majority. Sanchez's comment was ... I'm not sure what he meant.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. averageman

    NPR doesn't allow what??? Have you aver heard one of the fund raising drives??? NPR owe's it's existence to over the top opinions spoken very loudly. Funding from the government probably should stop. It's only two percent. I'm sure George Soros will come to the rescue.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MoseNewbell

    I’m not sure why everyone is angry with NPR. We should celebrate anytime a corporation wants to drop its facade and show its true face. I encourage all modern so called "news organization" should fire every journalist who says something they don’t like. That way we can see exactly what we are dealing with.

    “Evolution called. It wants the reins back.”

    October 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Eric of Reseda

    Here is some "...fact-based analysis". Of all the passenger planes blown out of the sky in the last 10-20 years, virtually all have been so at the hands of Muslim jihadists. I'm a Liberal, but sorry, truth is truth.

    James Woods, the actor, witnessed some of the 9/11 bombers casing the same flight from Boston to LA a month earlier. He was so shaken by what he saw – in his mind, these men were CLEARLY planning something – he reported it to the authorities. So, here's a case where Muslims on a plane caused a passenger anxiety. Turns out he had every reason to be nervous. And let's not forget the "Shoe Bomber" and the "Underwear Bomber" and....

    Firing Williams over this was a HUGE mistake.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Couldn't agree more.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kelly Martin

    are you kidding me.... Barbara Walters has no credibility whatsoever. That show is a joke. I don't agree with Juan politically but alway enjoy when he is on the Fox shows. When will they fire Nina Totenberg? she is a reportter... not paid for her opinion.... but frequently opines on the stories she reports? Double standard? He should sue them for discrimination. Get some of that Soros money. Whoopi...... heres some news for you. Muslims killed us... muslims blow up lots of things around the world. Most muslims support this behavior simply by not speaking out. Tell your muslim friends to organize and help put an end to this and most Americans won't think of muslims as terrorists first.... and people second.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. emma

    Good for Juan penning a two million dollar deal with FOX.

    Good for Juan penning a two million dollar deal with FOX.
    We dined with an ex-secret service man last night and he told us Soros, NPR's main stay contributor, spends over a million a year on around the clock body guards.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike, Dallas

    This is the silliest thing I've ever heard. Where is America going and why are we so thin skinned. His comment was not harmfull to anybody. As a matter of fact, if I got on a plane and saw that I'd most likely turn around and get the next flight. Americans have a right to be fearfull. We have this right. To be fired because of it makes no sense at all. Zero.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
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