NPR Fires Juan Williams

NPR has fired Juan Williams over controversial comments about Muslims.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    The clip I saw this morning continued the discussion with Williams arguing that we can’t generalize about people. This seemed more like Williams saying we need to confront our fears and anxieties. It looks to me like he’s been Shirley Sherrod’ed.

  2. Idiot says:

    So did the local NPR affiliate fire the woman who wants(ed) Limbaugh dead?

  3. Craig says:

    My $0.02: Repackaging conventional wisdom, polls, and the occasional Twitter meme as “analysis” is going to blow back on you sooner or later. Surprised it’s taken so long. Williams isn’t so much offensive as he is uninteresting.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    William Salaten makes the Shirley Sherrod case, detailing what has been clipped from the segment:

  5. Rose says:

    Why is he a bigot simply because he got nervous around muslims? A woman who had been raped in the past may be fearful of men. Irrational perhaps, bigotry/ sexist/ whatever term? Certainly NOT!

  6. James Joyner says:

    A woman who had been raped in the past may be fearful of men. Irrational perhaps, bigotry/ sexist/ whatever term? Certainly NOT!

    Viewing all members of a gender, ethnicity, religion, or whathaveyou as “them,” especially in a negative sense, is the very definition of bigotry/sexism/whatever term. So, Certainly SO.

    But, yes, it’s of a more benign sort than others.

  7. TG Chicago says:

    @ Rose: Of course it’s bigotry. It’s blaming a whole group for the actions of non-representative individuals. What possible definition of bigotry can you be using to excuse this?

    Even moreso, he tarred people wearing Muslim garb. The 9/11 attackers were NOT wearing such clothing.

  8. melanerpes says:

    This will be remembered as a watershed moment in the decline of NPR; indeed, of the entire establishment media. A textbook of example of how ideological enthrallment can extinguish ordinary humanity.

  9. floyd says:

    As with other issues, the discussion is over and the problems begin when you are no longer allowed to state the obvious in public.

  10. TG Chicago says:

    As with other issues, the discussion is over and the problems begin when you are no longer allowed to state the obvious in public.

    What did Williams say that was “obvious”? That Muslims in Muslim garb should be feared?

    See, if he had said that he experienced the fear, but then realized it was irrational and that it was his responsibility to overcome it, that would have been stating the obvious. It would have been analogous to the Sherrod case.

    But he said nothing of the sort. What he said wasn’t “the obvious”. It was obvious bigotry.

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Joyner knows not the contents of the contract with Williams. Real lawyers seem to think Juan has grounds to sue NPR. William did not state an opinion. He expressed a feeling. The LAME comments either indicate some stupid bias or the lack of the ability to conprehend inforamtion. Wonder if Juan’s firing had anything to do with the donation from George Soros in the amount of 1.8 million dollars. Guess we will have to wait until after the November elections for anyone to actively investigate.