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. Nurse Lisa

    I think his contract as disclosed by NPR was clear -he breached it and wants to blame NPR for holding him to the contract. I'm sure folks who railed against Imus (when Imus unfortunately called atheletes nappy headed Hos) so much so that even after his apology was accepted he was fired; and when Helen Thomas was finally retired after her remarks about wanting jews to leave Palestine, will agree that this unapologetic reporter's aired comments about being afraid of Muslims wearing traditional garb on an airplane are both inflammatory and discriminatory. Shame on Fox for again trying to defend indefensible racism.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. socceforguns

    Williams was candidly expressing what most of us feel, whether its right or wrong and that is the truth. Its the great unspoken, we're perhaps ashamed to feel it, but that doesnt mean we dont. If you are telling me that you dont briefly think twice or do a double take when you see someone who is not dressed in western conventional garb on a plane, you're a liar or a saint.

    Williams very clearly stated repeatedly that is a wrong feeling to have, but still its a knee jerk feeling most of us do have for a least a second. Sorry, but thats human nature

    Williams made a gaffe. The rest of the interview he defended tolerance vigilant, but at that one moment he made a bad decision

    The CEO has made a rash bad decision now. So by her standards, of one rash bad decision == grounds for firing, then the CEO should be fired, right?

    Heck, even the defamation league representative who called out Williams couldnt soundly support the NPR decision to fire Williams, and this was the guy who called Williams out!

    NPR has made a terrible blunder, and now confirms the right's propaganda that NPR advocates censorhip and reverse bigotry

    October 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ron Raney

      Take out Muslim and put black. I think he should have been fired. Hello Don Imus.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cynthia Zirlott

    The statement issued today by NPR does not pass the smell test. Journalistic standards must apply across the board and should not be targeted to only one and only one kind of speech. The whole content of Juan's speech was a challenge to push through the emotions to rationality. Thus making obvious that is Shiller and management at NPR who has the problem prejudice in news coverage. Juan's voice was always unpredictable and made me think and why I listened. Agree or disagreed, that is why I like him. I dearly love my favorite NPR shows (20 yr listener) but I love justice more; so until this is made right I must leave these behind for a greater principle - free speech and a free press.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. tet1953

    You know, I don't think this is really about what bosses at NPR think of what Williams said. I think that they are just worried about offending benefactors. It's always about money anyway.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Citizen Tom

    Since NPR is getting grief from the right and left, it must have been the correct decision to fire Juan Williams.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • tet1953

      Or a universally incorrect one.

      October 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Bobby

    I am not sure what is happening with all the defense and excitment over muslims. They have been in the US for centuries and basically melted in with everyone else. Even after 9/11, the talk of muslims was fairly quite here in the US. Now, you would think they are the second coming of Christ. Don't say a bad word of any type whatsoever about them. All religious groups have the good, the bad, and the ugly. I will be leary of them all and there is no reason for all not to be.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kate

    Fox News is as far right as NPR is far left. Mr. O'Reilly is clearly a far right wing nut. But, the NPR "This Gay Jewish American Life" program is as far left as you can possibly get. And, NPR's "Tell Me More" about why white people suck and try to oppress black people is clearly racist. Apparently, NPR has become that which it hates – Fox News.

    NPR, in the statement it published on its website, said that it never liked that Mr. Williams was a commentator on Fox News. Rather than be honest, NPR blew Mr. Williams comments about Muslim garb way out of proportion as the pretext for firing him.

    When Mr. Obama was running for office he said that when he was walking down the street at night and saw black guys wearing gang garb that it made him afraid. But, NPR never said anything about that remark. NPR never condemned Mr. Obama as being racist or bigoted. Why the double standard? Clearly, NPR is using taxpayer money to play politics – that is not their role and we need to demand that the government stop using our taxes to fund NPR's political agenda.

    October 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      "Black guys wearing gang garb" sort of speaks to a predisposition towards violence, doesn't it? Not because of their gender or the color of their skin, but because of their attire. Caucasians or Hispanics in certain areas in that attire would probably result in the same response. In the same area, people in what we can regard as "normal" attire (in other words, not gang-related) wouldn't evoke that same reaction.

      Similarly, Muslims have "normal" attire as well, but they actually have a couple different "normals" – they have "normal Muslim garb" and "normal Americanized garb". Sources pointing out that the hijackers wore what we would consider "normal Americanized garb" are interesting because that information makes us more uneasy. I think we want to narrow down our stereotypes in an effort to protect ourselves, and an inability to narrow it down makes the irrational parts of our brain nervous. In reality, behavior is a much better predictor than attire, and I have to assume I would notice weird behavior in someone waiting to board and blow up a plane.

      I admit that when I'm waiting for a plane and I see a Muslim, I get nervous for a second. Then the rational part of my brain starts to laugh at the irrational portion, and I go back to my book.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Larry

    I wonder how many of you Anti Juan Williams pundits are actually being paid by Soros to sit on your computer and Attack this man when he is down. If you like what NPR stands for then take more money out of your pay and give it to them. Do not take it from our tax dollars! Last thing I want to say is something I have been saying for years and that is that the Far Left are and have been the biggots and racist in this country and many liberal thinkers are now starting to see this. Here is there Mantra, As long as you say what we want you to say and do what we want you to do you will be aloud to say whatever you want! Step over the line and we will take away your money and your liberty! Juan Williams is an American Patriot and I disagree with what he says more than I agree! Thank God for people like Juan who make us think rather than just act when told!

    October 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. aster

    Since the time I moved to this country I was shocked at the left's hypocrisy. They will shout down anyone who disagrees with their opinion until we all march in step. I don't doubt that if we, normal thinking people, don't stand up, they will take us straight to Iran or even North Korea kind of ideological desert.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  10. the_dude

    Juan it's your own fault. You didn't stick to the DNC talking points. Blacks are not supposed to do that because it makes other blacks and liberals look bad. He should have know what was going to happen. NPR will not deal with any conservative uppity blacks.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. willie

    Its funny that no one came to the defense of octavia nasser or rick sanchez or any one that simply state facts not opinion about jews................Tell me that the jews dont run the media what a joke

    October 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kate

      Obviously there are some media outlets NOT run by Jews...otherwise there wouldn't be this hyper defensiveness about Muslims.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Fallout

    It seems obvious that they wanted to get rid of him, because they did instead of taking other measures. He could have been reprimanded in a number of ways, but they chose to simply can him. They might have asked him to apologize, they didn't. Actions speak louder than words....

    October 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Scott

    As for Islamophobia, it is such a targeted item. People equate it with bigotry. But at least understand the facts.

    Before Islamic fanatics hi-jacked planes and used them as weapons to kill innocent people, we didn't have to take off our shoes and be searched and scanned going through airport security. The response to these attacks has led us to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are routinely told by our government to be vigilant, to sacrifice some of our freedoms, to submit to the patriot act to let our telephones be tapped and our library records be scrutinized behind our backs. We are told to BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID.
    Juan Williams said it makes him nervous. It could make a LOT of people nervous. Because there is a TRACK record. Heck, I'd be afraid of a huge guy in a hockey mask holding a machete too. His feelings are entirely justified, and his words are entirely justified. To be fired for that statement is absolutely wrong.
    NPR should be ashamed of itself. It's action of firing Juan Williams will have a chilling effect on any journalist in its employ, they will think twice before sharing anything. They will be mere automatons of the agenda set forth by its left leaning management, afraid to wander even close to objectivity.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Richard Miller

    if he spoke of someone in Priest robes or orthodox Jewish garb would we not condemn him?

    October 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bambam1

    It does not matter if you are Repulican or a Democrat, the fact of the matter is we are at war with islamic radical, and from all of the bombs that have been detonated, and the ones that have been prevented, i have the same concerns as Mr. Williams.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
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