Juan Williams fired after anti-Muslim comments on 'The O'Reilly Factor.'

Oct 21, 2010

Veteran journalist Juan Williams was fired from his job as senior news analyst for National Public Radio late Wednesday because of comments he made about Muslims and terrorism on "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News Channel.

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi will be online Thursday, Oct. 21, at Noon ET to discuss the firing.

Do you think it was appropriate for reporters such as Juan Williams to take employment from such an adversarial organization owned by Murdoch when it might be done for the purpose of providing a coating of respectability from the NPR organization? Should other NPR correspondents continue to take the coin from Murdoch?

Hi, folks, and thanks for coming by for this chat...Let's get straight to it: Williams is a pundit, a paid opinion slinger, not a reporter. He's obviously free to express himself whereever he wants, as long as his employer(s) don't mind. I know that NPR hasn't always been happy with him being employed by Fox, but they didn't stop him (Mara Liasson, an NPR reporter, also has done regular appearances on Fox, too, btw)...

While many of us may feel the same as Juan Williams, he, like other commentators, cannot say these things and not expect blowback. Now, he can become a full-time employee with Fox.

I won't endorse or criticize NPR's response to Williams' comments, but I will agree with you. Free speech does have consequences. Getting fired for saying something your employer doesn't like is one of them. Just ask Rick Sanchez.

NPR fires Juan Williams over anti-Muslim remarks

Is it possible that his comments were just an excuse for his firing? The real reason being that NPR did not approve of his working for Fox News also.

NPR hasn't said anything to that effect. It HAS called him out on his comments on the O'Reilly program. Again, I will note that NPR has not always been comfortable with Williams' work for Fox, but there is no indication that it played a role in this instance.

Just a comment -- my initial reaction was that NPR had a knee-jerk reaction that appears to be very common these days. However, even though Juan Williams has a right to his own opinion and is free to voice that opinion under the First Amendment, he compromised his position as a supposedly impartial and neutral news analyst by giving voice to that opinion in a public arena.

Yes, some things are not fit for public discourse. We can argue over what those things are, including this business, but there are limits to what some employers (even news organizations, and maybe particularly news organizations) are willing to tolerate.

VIDEO (scroll down): Juan Williams fired from NPR for comments about Muslims

Paul, I don't know whether NPR was justified in firing Williams, but his comment about "Muslim garb" sounded not only bigoted but also clueless. Suppose there was a terrorist from an extremist Muslim faction on Williams's plane. Does Williams really believe that the terrorist would seek to draw attention to himself by wearing "Muslim garb," whatever that is? (Williams probably meant Arabic clothing, even though Arabs are a minority among Muslims.) That would be almost as dumb as if the terrorist walked through Dulles security openly carring box cutters and wearing a bin Laden T-shirt.

That was my initial reaction, too. For the record:  All the 9-11 hijackers wore western-style clothing.

How come we hardly ever hear anything about those who support liberal causes being hypocritical when they decide to bash Christians, caucasians or conservatives? How come there are no firings for those instances?

Well, slow down here. I don't like anyone picking on/stereotyping ANY racial, ethnic, religious or sexual group. But "bashing" conservatives or liberals? Isn't that just political rhetoric, war of ideas, marketplace of ideas stuff? Isn't there some difference between "hate" speech and simple political differences? The latter is  debate; the former is just ugly and demeaning.

I may be wrong, but our First Amendment rights protect us from being imprisoned for saying what we want. They don't guarantee us keeping our jobs.

You're not wrong. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from enacting laws abridging freedom of speech. It doesn't dictate what an employer can do, or limit anyone's ability to criticize another.

I was astonished to learn about Williams' sexual harassment past, and that he wasn't more strongly punished. While I've found some of his commentary interesting over the years, I think it's completely appropriate to refuse to employ a journalist who doesn't think it's shameful to stereotype all Muslims who dress traditionally as terrorists. I think a lot of people have fleeting anxieties around those stereotypes, sure -- but honorable people remind themselves that those kinds of thoughts are unfair and paranoid. And I agree with the writer I saw who said if you have to start a sentence "I'm not a bigot, but..." you're probably saying something you're going to regret.

I wonder: Would this flap have been less of a flap if Williams had followed up his comments by saying, "Of course, Bill, these are irrational fears and prejudices. I guilty of the kind of stereotyping that I would criticize if others had said it. It's wrong, I know, but this is the kind of paranoid and suspicious environment we live in now and I am unfortunately a part of it."

My take is that regardless of the arguments on either (any?) side, this entire event has been engineered primarily to both win Fox some more attention, and to ultimately win Williams some more face-time and probably a bigger paycheck at Fox.

Too cynical, I think. Engineered? Naw. I don't know, but if I had to guess, I bet Juan Williams regrets the whole thing now.

I wonder what standards NPR refers to for support of its firing of Juan Williams? Is it against the poilicy and standards of NPR for reporters to articulate their apprehensions about people in this age of jihad terrorism? Are NPR reporters to speak only in non opinionated terms so as never to offend? What value is there to news that is so neutral as to be not worth listening to?

Well, it wasn't "news," it was commentary, which is held to a different standard than news (which is supposed to be about facts and stuff). And again, we can argue about what's permissible when it comes to reasonable commentary. NPR decided that Williams' comments were  too strong for its tastes.

NPR has always displayed a liberal bias. You can disagree on what Juan said but his firing was not appropriate. Is there a viable reason NPR should continue receiving public funds when they do not represent the public.

Well, please define "public." There's a lot of public out there, and if, in fact, NPR has a liberal bias (I disagree about that, but that's another issue) some of its "public" will surely agree with its decision.

Funny how almost every bigoted comment starts out like Mr. Williams's. I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. His supports are the same ones who never have a thought for free speech when the person fired has some opinion they disagree with. Is this firing a sign that Islam is slowly moving into group with Israel, Jews and gays that you can get in trouble for bad mouthing?

I think Muslim-Americans certainly hope that's the case. Many of them see a complete double standard in the media--bash Israel and Jews in an unfair way and you pay a price (Mel Gibson, Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez). Bash Muslims and Islam, however, and you don't. Maybe now you do.

What was so contriversial about Juan Williams's comments. I think a lot of people are nervous getting on a plane with people dressed in religious clothes. Juan is a voice of reason, I hope he finds another venue where he can be heard.

A voice of reason? What's reasonable about stereotyping people by the way they dress?

What surprised me the most was that someone who's been on the receiving end of racial stereotyping and profiling would be so free to dish it out to others.

Well, I don't really think Juan Williams is some kind of hater. I mean, he has no track record of hateful comments.  But I also think his comments are part of the cultural climate, unfortunately. A lot of people feel the way he does, even if those feelings are based on a faulty premise.

I don't feel the same as Juan Williams. And I wonder how he'd feel if someone else said they get nervous when they see African Americans somewhere?

That's why I'm betting he regrets what he said last night.

NPR takes my tax money and puts things like Pacifica Radio on and little if any alternative to the left wing slant on issues. How long do you think it will take for NPR to issue the apology and back away from their obvious attack on Mr. Williams's right to free speech? And the call is already out for stopping further taxpayer funds for NPR. Do you think that damage control has already started?

NPR has nothing to do with Pacifica; they are separate organizations that just happen to be in the same business.  And again, free speech has consequences.

Rick's comments included a negative comment about CNN and they were looking for a reason to fire him over poor ratings. It is a different situation.

I'm not sure CNN would agree with you.

You are right - NPR was looking for a reason to fire him. This is the whole problem - certain news groups do take political sides. It is time for them to come clean.

I'm going to try to stick to the facts here. I don't know if NPR was looking for a reason to fire him. And neither do you.

All he said was that he would be nervous if he got on a plane and saw people in Muslim garb. I really don't see what is so terrible about this. Many people would be nervous in the same situation. Are they all bigots?

He is promoting an irrational and demeaning stereotype (Muslim "garb" = terrorist). I understand that he FEELS this way (and others do, too), but he needs to put these feelings into some reasonable context--i.e., we shouldn't be calling every Muslim a terrorist and it's wrong to do so.

Has the person who actually fired Williams come forward and said the actual reason for the firing? Who was it and what did they say?

Check with us later. As they like to say on Action News, we're going to get some answers!

Without endorsing Williams's *feelings* as expressed, I wonder if NPR would have fired Jesse Jackson when he said "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved...."? In both cases, a legitimate expression of a personal sentiment. I guess we now know the limits of NPR's commitment to free expression and free debate *on somebody else's network* for goodness sake. NPR has caved.

Not sure the Jackson statement and Williams' comments are equivalent, for the following reason: It's one thing for a person who is a member of a group to criticize/demean that group. It's quite another for a person from outside the group to do the same. This has always been a double standard in terms of commentary.

I think in and off itself, NPR wasn't happy [with] Juan Williams for some time and this was their excuse to get rid of him. But the larger question that this fits into is whether the Beltway media is "too sensitive" or "not nearly sensitive enough" to Muslims which is a far more interesting question in my opinion.

Not sure I can answer that question, but there does seem to be a lot of free-floating anti-Muslim sentiment around these days. Almost as much as in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. Maybe it's just a media phenomenon--we report more on stories like this--and the total amount of anti-Muslim feeling is the same as it ever was. But it sure seems like there's more...

Paul, Williams's firing should be a lesson to all paid pundits: check your bigotry at the door when appearing on national TV. Worst of all, Williams had the audacity to promote O'Reilly's bigotry. I have no sympathy for him.

I think that's one possible lesson, yes.  Or maybe it will cut the other way, with pundits insisting on their right to say whatever they want, no matter who gets trampled in the process. Civility isn't always the highest value in Punditland...

This is a great story because it shows America's underlying racism. The irony of a black pundit who writes books on civil rights being caught in making racist statements is the ultimate definition of hubris. How did he know those people in "Muslim dress" were really Muslims? The dress style I assume he is talking about is used by Christians and Coptics in the Middle East, and is common for people of all faiths. Does his firing mean now that Williams is heading to the heap of forgotten pundits like Lou Dobbs, Rick Sanchez or Don Imus who also got involved in their own misstatements?

Not sure I'd put Lou Dobbs in that heap. Lou said some very strong things on the air, but he wasn't fired for 'em. His crime was low ratings.

As somebody who grew up in Northern Ireland during "The Troubles," British media was rentless in stereotyping all Irishmen and Irishwomen as secret I.R.A. bombers. Can only how Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity would feel about that...

The shoe, meeting the other foot. Thank you.

No, smart terrorists don't dress like stereotypes. The point was coming to grips with gut reactions that we know aren't intellectually or morally justified, like Jesse Jackson's comment years back about his relief that the footsteps behind him on a dark Washington street belonged to a white man.

Which I think is a legit thing to discuss--how our fears become irrational and exaggerated and what that does to human relationships. Unfortunately, that's the context that was missing from Williams' comments. He just put his fears out there, without saying, "This is wrong" or "This is what we've come to."

Williams is well aware of the Fox audience and obviously NPR.... preaching fear on one and understanding on the other revealed an individual that needs to choose. Obviously Fox entertainment pays better. My hope is NPR will hire a Muslim commentator to balance all the anti-Muslims trying to construct a Holy War.

I'd like to hear what more Muslims think. Not a lot of equal time for them, or from them, on the air.

Paul, Didn't 9/11 wear Western clothing? I am disturbed by the attack on Muslims. Can you be a Muslim and not follow Islam? I don't know, I was disgusted by O'Reilly's naked bigotry, for Williams to excuse it is at the core of what is wrong with our media personality. Good riddance by NPR, I just gave them a car for my donation and had they not fired him, would have demanded my car back.

Well, not to nitpick here, but you didn't donate your car to NPR because NPR doesn't take such donations; you probably donated it to a local public station affiliated with NPR. There's a distinction (NPR is separate from the stations, which can put on anything they want), although I guess it all blurs for a lot of people.

Saying that all terrorists look a certain way (wearing Arab-clothing, whatever that is?) is like saying all child predators look like creepy men hiding in bushes outside playgrounds. People didn't think abusers looked like soccer coaches or priests until years after the abuse took place and then we had to acknowledge we'd invited the danger in with open arms. If you say terrorists must look like 'X' you are missing the factual point that they don't - and they never have.

Good point. If you're really being vigilant about terrorism, you'd do well NOT to rely on stereotypes.

I say I'm uncomfortable around Muslims because they're terrorists and I'm a bigot. Someone else says they're uncomfortable having their children around Catholic priests because the priest could be a boy-toucher and the parrent is being prudent. Something doesn't add up.

Yes, unfair to priests, almost all of whom are decent people. But do the math here. How many Catholic priests are there in the world? Several thousand? Now, how many Muslims are there in the world? Maybe a billion? Just statistically, the anti-Muslim sentiment demeans a much larger group. Neither prejudice is fair or right or accurate, by the way.

What did you think of William Saletan's piece in "Slate" essentially saying that the left did to Williams what the right did to Shirley Sherrod: snip a few lines out of context in order to make their target appear bigoted, even though the whole statement was in fact quite the opposite (i.e., overcoming one's prejudices)?

I don't know that the  "left" did anything to Juan Williams.  NPR did it. That's not "the left."

Watching the clip, it seems to me that if Bill O. did not keep yelling over, and cutting Juan off, that Juan might have been able to explain himself better and avoid this, don't you think?

Possibly. As I said earlier, Juan is not some hater or Muslim-baiter. But I don't know what he would have added. Fyi, I talked to him this morning, and he didn't want to comment. I hope to talk to him at some length later today.

Is WaPo going to drop Juan from the editorial pages?

He's not a regular there, but he has contributed. Have heard nothing about banning him. 

I believe that Williams used to be a "Senior Correspondent" at NPR and after he began doing commentary appearances on Fox, NPR expressed its concern of the subjective nature of that work and changed his title to "Analyst." Given that "analysts" are supposed to engage in rational analysis, not emotional and prejudicial thought, Williams undermined his credibility - and by extension NPR's -- and is now merely a pundit.

Well, you can split hairs about who's an "analyst" and who's a "pundit," but I'm not sure it makes any difference. A guy doing commentary is a guy doing commentary. Analysts and pundits should be held to the same standards.

I remember some years ago reading Mr Williams' pieces in the Wash Post Magazine. I was always impressed how well written and interesting they were. A shame this has happened.

I bet Juan feels the same way.

NPR also reminded their employees not to attend the upcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies unless they were covering the events to eliminate any perception of bias. So they have set a recent precedence of dictating their staff on ethics outside of the NPR station.

No surprise there. I mean, we can argue about whether "attending" a rally (any rally, including the Stewart/Colbert one) implies any sort of endorsement, but news organizations routinely police the conduct of their employees outside of the office. The Post does. Comes with the job.

Maybe I am wrong, but I have read several stories and do not see any apology from Williams. Has he been heard from? Sanchez was on top of his flap with an apology.

It's only been a few hours. Give it/him a little time.

Hold on there. People judge other people (fairly or not) based on the way they dress all the time. If anyone who does that is a bigot, we're in trouble.

Hmmm. This sounds suspiciously like, "She was dressed in a revealing manner. Therefore, she got what she asked for."

If, I as a white person, said that I fear black kids who wear too baggy clothes. That would be just as bad as what Mr. Williams said about Muslims. Stereotyping is wrong no matter who is doing the stereotyping and I am amazed a few of your readers do not see that...

It would be nice if we could acknowledge the unfairness of such a comment, yes.

Geez, I've walked through crowds of people wearing what one of your commenters here calls "religious" clothes, and nothing happened to me. The clothes are favored because they are cooler in the dry heat than our shirt and ties. Why the stereotypes for what people are wearing, and what is "Muslim" clothing since Muslims in Pakistan dress differently from those in neighboring Afghanistan, and those in Indonesia or Libya. Ignorant comments like this disturb me.

Sure. We can all stand to think a little more, especially in this context.

Not only that but this is someone who wrote a famous book about civil rights.

Thanks for pointing that out.

The comment about how the NPR spends his or her tax dollars. The government takes my tax dollars to TONS of stuff I personally disagree with whether its abstinence-only sex education or invading a sovereign nation under falsh pretence. I could go on and on. Heck, NRP paid Juan Williams for years and years which I disagreed with, but sucks to me. Get over it or move.

The feds give very little money to NPR--at least directly. The money goes to support the local stations. They kick it back to NPR in the form of "dues," which is pub-radio speak for "programming fees."

I think NPR was wrong to fire him, but I have to question his whole appearance on that show. I watched the 6 minute segment today and O'Reilly interrupts him and doesn't let him finish his thoughts. Williams probably should have exercised better judgment than to appear on there at all.

Naw. He's a regular on O'Reilly. He's been on the show dozens of times. He knows the drill.

Just for the record - some extremist right-wingers I know listen to NPR because they say it is the only place that they can get serious news about the world. Just saying. . .

With all due respect to my friends at WTOP, there is no substitute for what NPR does on the radio every day.

See what's being said at the Financial Times...

Juan Williams and the meaning of bigotry

Is it impermissible for any mainstream commentator or NPR employee to observe that nearly all known attempts to down American airliners in the past decade have been committed by Muslim terrorists? Few likely to don "Muslim garb," I'll grant, but most all subscribing to Muslim extremism. Can that not be said? Or must we all contextualize ad nauseam to the satisfaction of liberals? Juan Williams was unsubtle and even clumsy, but not bigoted by any reasonable stretch.

It's true that many terrorists have been Muslim extremists (by definition they're "extremists"). But is that a license to smear a billion or so people who aren't "extremists" or "terrorists"? Seems kinda overbroad, no?

So if a female journalist stated she is nervous for her safety when walking by a large group of men, does that constitute firing as well?

If she was implying that all men assault women, I think I'd have a problem with that, yes. But if she admitted that this was unfair to the 3 billion men who don't assault women, I'd understand.

Wasn't racist because he wasn't critizing those black kids for being black. He was critizing HIMSELF for fearing black youth more than white youth. He was critizing himself for having unfounded fears based on bigoted generalizations.

Yes, fair distinction. He was saying--I think--"Look how irrational we've become. I'm black and even I've bought into this stereotype."

NPR fires Juan Williams over anti-Muslim remarks

What Juan Williams and Bill O'Reilly were discussing was a straw man argument to begin with, no? The attempted bomber in Times Square had said at his sentencing something to the effect that "we" will be attacking again and the Muslim people would not put up with it. Though he was talking about all Muslim people I don't believe he speaks for all Muslims nor is he a credible source, but rather a convicted criminal. For O'Reilly and Williams to piggyback on that sentencing statement is crazy (like a fox).

O'Reilly was quite adamant on "The View" that "Muslims"  attacked on on 9-11. While that statement is, strictly speaking, true, it can also be read as a broad generalization, which is unfair. Precision please, people!

Check your clips. Dobbs left CNN after unraveling what critics called "racist conspiracy theories," including repeated demands President Obama prove he was born in Hawaii. How soon we forget the nature of these controveries.

Well, he quit. He wasn't fired. No question there was tension between him and CNN about his advocacy on certain issues, but no one fired him.

NPR allowed the publishing of a piece entitled "How to Speak Teabagger," which its ombudsman later criticized. Why would it not discipline, if not fire that author, but would fire Williams for what he said? To me, that's evidence of a double standard.

Yeah, and I think NPR regrets publishing that piece. In any case, it was unlike, and unworthy of, them.

Do you think NPR has done an assessment on how many contributions will go away for such a rigid, politically correct position? I know mine has!

Again, the nitpicker in me says NPR doesn't take contributions (unless you count corporate "underwriting," i.e., advertising). The contributions go to the local stations.

That is what Williams said, he didn't like that they are identifying themselves "first and foremost as Muslims." Is he equally concerned about people who identify themselves first and foremost as Jewish by wearing a yarmulke, or as Christians by wearing crosses around their necks?

But, see, he's not afraid of Jews or Christians. He directed his comments at Muslims only.

The comment that free speech does have "consequences" (i.e., your job), confirms the point that the media are, in fact, censors and not simply microphones for anyone to use to exercise First Amendment rights. If you agree, then why does NPR or any other network continue the fallacy that they are "objective" reporters simply "spreading the news"?

Oh, please. Censorship is what the government does (or might try to do). The news media EDITS. Yes, some ideas are kept out of the news, because an editor (or six) has decided that it's unworthy of being in the news. But that's what they get paid to do. You wouldn't want it any other way; part of the value of any news organization is the choices it makes, and should make, about what it thinks is fit for public consumption.

Do you agree with the following statement? Williams, Alan Colmes and other liberals who appear on Fox News and regularly contradict the right-wing Hannity or independent O'Reilly are what validates Fox's claim to be " Fair and Balanced" and why Fox dominates the 'Major Media'.

No. I don't. I'll make no claims about Fox News' NEWS reporting, but its commentary show (different from news) are plainly conservative in nature. Fox isn't hiding this fact, by the way.

I just heard he made a statement on Fox News about 45 minutes ago. Do hear about it?

No, I've been too wrapped up in this chat!

...and on that note, I should wind up this chat and get back to finding a fact or two. Very sorry I couldn't handle all the incoming (there was a lot). Thanks to everyone for stopping by....Paul

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