NPR Fires Juan Williams
NPR has fired Juan Williams over controversial comments about Muslims.
The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O’Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.” Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.”
Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.
He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Mr. Williams also made reference to the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square. “He said the war with Muslims, America’s war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don’t think there’s any way to get away from these facts,” Mr. Williams said.
NPR said in its statement that the remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
I’ve always liked and respected Williams, even though he’s generally to the left of me on the issues. And, while I agree with Andrew Sullivan that harboring fear towards 1.2 billion Muslims because a relative handful of them are terrorists “is the working definition of bigotry,” it’s in the same class as Jesse Jackson’s lament a few years back that he was momentarily afraid when he saw a group of young black males approaching him at night — born of conditioned irrationality rather than venom.
Still, I disagree with Michelle Malkin here. This isn’t NPR “capitulating” to “political correctness” in order to appease the HuffPo and Think Progress gang. Rather, it’s an organization whose raison detre is reasonable conversation protecting its brand. Recall that, just last week, NPR told employees not to attend the Jon Stewart rally lest they give “the appearance of favoritism.”
They sent Williams a clear warning in February 2009 when they told him to quit identifying himself with the network when appearing as a commenter on Fox. They reasoned that Williams “tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.” Given how distinct the two audiences are, it was possible to get away with that for years. But not in the age of YouTube and blogs constantly calling attention to these things.
via Johnny Dollar
UPDATE: After reading Doug Mataconis‘ “What Juan Williams Has In Common With Shirley Sherrod” and viewing the quote in context, it’s rather clear that NPR overreacted. The quote is an introduction to an entirely different point: Lots of intelligent and decent people, Williams included, have irrational fears but we need to get past them and deal with the broader realities. That’s not only a completely defensible conversation but a very NPR-esque point of view.
UPDATE 2: Teresa Kopec notes that NPR’s letter to its affiliates couched the firing in terms of a pattern of controversial statements he’s made on Fox over the years, rather in reaction to this specific incident, including some ugly comments about Michelle Obama.
First, a critical distinction has been lost in this debate. NPR News analysts have a distinctive role and set of responsibilities. This is a very different role than that of a commentator or columnist. News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation. As you all well know, we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview – not our reporters and analysts.
Second, this isn’t the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments. Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan has continued to violate this principal.
Third, these specific comments (and others made in the past), are inconsistent with NPR’s ethics code, which applies to all journalists (including contracted analysts):
“In appearing on TV or other media . . . NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows . . . that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”
As noted in the original post, NPR sent a shot across the bow last year when they told Williams not to identify himself with the network when doing political commentary elsewhere. Clearly, Williams was skating on thin ice.
Then again, Williams has been a Fox News analyst since the network launched in 1996 — when he was still working for the Washington Post and before NPR lured him over. It’s possible that Williams has gotten more fiery over the years — as I’ve noted countless times, I hardly ever watch these shows these days — but otherwise it’s odd to change the rules on him now.