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Did NPR Do the Right Thing by Firing Juan Williams?

Gil Kaufman 2010/10/23 16:00:00
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I’ve always liked Juan Williams. If nothing else, I was forever impressed with how he was able to ride the seemingly impossible media see-saw: working as a talking head for right wing Fox News and left-leaning National Public Radio at the same time.

It was a nearly impossible feat of literal left brain/right brain tap dancing that few had ever attempted … and this week we found out why.

Like the jocks on “Glee” who are forced to act tough and put down the sissified singers while on the field, but search for that elusive falsetto sweet spot in Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” while on stage, the gig forced him to be two different people while remaining true to his essential self.

That split personality was publicly torn in half Monday when Williams told Fox's Bill O’Reilly that he gets “nervous” when sitting on planes with people who appear to be Muslim. In the comfy confines of Fox News, this was like saying President Obama hates white people or is a secret Muslim, i.e. no big deal.

But for NPR it was a major incident and longtime contributor Williams was axed without even a phone call to warn him. Williams, not to mention O’Reilly, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the rest of the tub-thumping right were outraged! Outraged! They called for NPR, which derives less than two percent ($3.3 million) of its annual budget ($166 million) from federal sources, to be immediately defunded, disbanded, neutered and yanked off the air!

Half-term Alaska governor and Fox News contributor Sarah Palin also weighed in, of course, writing on her Facebook page, “If NPR is unable to tolerate an honest debate about an issue as important as Islamic terrorism, then it's time for 'National Public Radio' to become 'National Private Radio,’” also calling for the Congress to “defund” NPR.

NPR said Williams' comments on O’Reilly’s show were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.” In other words, he made a poor choice to appear on shows that “encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

Frankly, Williams began his statement to O’Reilly with the kind of caveat that is the lay-up of the closet bigot: “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” said Williams, who has written extensively on the civil rights era.

In his defense, Williams did stress there are “good Muslims” and that the focus should be on extremists and not Muslims as a whole and that we need to find a way to rise above our knee-jerk anti-Muslim sentiment.

"We don't want, in America, people to have their rights violated," Williams added, "to be attacked on the street because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly” and they act crazy."

But the die had already been cast.

What if it had been a white liberal saying they crossed the street every time they saw someone “in a doorag and saggy jeans” during a discussion about black-on-black crime? Would NPR have fired that person? Absolutely.

You need look no further than former CNN talker Rick Sanchez, who recently lost his gig for calling Jon Stewart a “bigot” and trotting out the age-old “Jews run the media” race card. Or famed White House reporter Helen Thomas, who was canned this summer after five decades of covering Washington politics over her comments that Jews should go “home” and leave Israel to the Palestinians. News reporters and anchors are paid to deliver the straight news, analysts are paid for their opinions, but as anyone who watches CNN or Fox News knows, that line often blurs.

NPR has drawn fire from the right and the left for the ham-fisted way it handled the matter, with the network’s Chief Executive Vivian Schiller taking the fiercest condemnation for her quip that Williams should have kept his comments between him and his therapist. And the firestorm couldn’t have come at a worse time, since it coincided with a $1.8 million grant from avowed left-wing philanthropist George Soros earmarked to hire 100 new reporters.

The bottom line is that Williams spoke his mind honestly, which is what he’s paid to do and he’ll be fine, since he got a $2 million contract from Fox News this week. As The Daily Beast pointed out, Williams has long toed an odd line as an African-American who sometimes criticizes blacks and who took serious heat in 1991 when he was a Washington Post columnist and he defended Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas against claims by Anita Hill.

He’s also been called out by NPR in the past, including last year, when he referred to First Lady Michelle Obama having a “Stokley Carmichael in a designer dress thing going on,” later apologizing for comparing her to the civil rights rabble rouser when, in fact, he said he was just trying to point out a potential political blindspot.

Maybe, as he claimed on “Good Morning America” Friday, his former bosses were just looking for an excuse to fire him because they didn’t like his Fox gig. And maybe he really just said what was on his mind.

But this isn’t Williams’ first rodeo and he clearly knew the rules at NPR and the fact that he was already on the bubble. Making this about funding NPR is a distraction from the real issue and an easy dodge for the right to bash NPR with the righteous stick of mock moral indignation over xenophobic comments that hardly raise an eyebrow in the Fox News universe.
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Top Opinion

  • Lynn 2010/10/23 18:35:52
    No
    Lynn
    +18
    Let me get this straight... Its okay to say that you wish certain persons would get AIDS and die, but its NOT okay to say that getting on a plane with a handful of Muslims in garb makes you a little nervous?

    WTF?

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  • ihavewebfeet 2010/11/15 01:24:05
    No
    ihavewebfeet
    Juan was not on the show representing NPR in any way, shape, or form. He was not offering an analysis of the news. He was stating a personal opinion only. The folks at NPR likely would not have reacted in such a manner had he been on CNN or a network news show. This reaction is evidence they have no room for varying points of view and, in my opinion, is reason to pull their public funding.
  • Ellen 2010/10/26 00:03:18
    Undecided
    Ellen
    +1
    At first I was very upset about the firering of juan Williams, as I am a big listener of NPR and welcome various points of view. What he said were his thoughts and he did also clarify them.

    But then as time went by and I saw what FOX did with the whole story etc, I came to think---Hmmmm , boy this was a very good way for Juan to gain sympathy and even better, a $2,000,000 raise. And laugh at us all , all the way to the bank !!!
  • Bee 2010/10/25 15:49:42
    No
    Bee
    Juan was a good man regardless of his left leaning ideas.
  • Andi 2010/10/25 15:37:02
    No
    Andi
    +1
    NPR should be DE-funded.
  • WankerBait 2010/10/25 15:15:17
    Undecided
    WankerBait
    +1
    There's too much ideological vitriol being propagated to make an informed decision on this. If Juan was indeed "on the bubble" for past journalistic lapses, then yes NPR did the correct thing and Juan (with his $2 million Fox deal) and NPR will both be better for it...
  • Montana Miles 2010/10/25 15:12:02
    No
    Montana Miles
    +1
    NPR, No Personal Rights, pseudo objective news has a disdain for freedom of speech!
  • Denny 2010/10/25 15:11:49
    No
    Denny
    +1
    Typical left wing media outlet, similar to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Headline News. Decisions being made by government control. Since he was on FOXNEWS, they fired him. It is not what he said, they have had many poeple on there programs that say worse and nothing happened to them.
  • DAVY 2010/10/25 14:41:16
    No
    DAVY
    It is an eye -opener for him. Charity begins at home for most people.Taste of things to come if the political correct nonsense is not thrown out. The Europeans are regretting for their stupidity over their 7th century throwbacks
  • Lanikai 2010/10/25 14:14:44
    No
    Lanikai
    +1
    No, they did not. His statements on another show were WAY less controversial then MANY other statements made ont he air at NPR, and he got the axe, I think there is a personal vendetta against him, largely because he is a Fox contributor,
  • GG 2010/10/25 13:23:31
    No
    GG
    +2
    NPR is a far left ideological station, not a news organization! To pretend otherwise is extremely dishonest of them! Especially when they had a commentator who said that she hoped Jesse Helms and his grandchildren got AIDS, and wasn't fired for that. In fact she still works there! Another employee said that the world would be better off without all the Bible thumping Christians! NPR had no problem with that either!
    Hopefully now they will lose all listeners who don't share their far left ideology!
  • Uncle Joe 2010/10/25 12:57:56
    Yes
    Uncle Joe
    +1
    He was the paid moderator of a public forum, hence he can't contribute freely (his speech is NOT free); therefore he's not entitled to free speech (as a paid moderator). If he wants to exercise free speech he can stand on the street corner.
  • GG Uncle Joe 2010/10/25 13:25:45
    GG
    +2
    Are you ok with the employee who works there who said she hoped Jesse Helms' grandchildren got Aids? What about the one who said the world would be a better place without Bible thumping Christians? Why is it that NPR allows those employees to make far more insidious statements and doesn't fire them?
  • Uncle Joe GG 2010/10/25 14:06:04
    Uncle Joe
    In my response I cited the moral and ethical bounds of why Juan Williams should have been fired. NPR has a business plan in place and if it's different now than it was 10 years ago then it is maturing. At the present I feel that letting Williams go was the correct call for the reasons I stated. It should be noted that many 'saints' were persecuted and murdered by the Catholic Church but the Church has changed its approach as time goes on.
  • GG Uncle Joe 2010/10/25 14:45:28
    GG
    If they have changed their moral codes, why have they allowed all the derogatory remarks about the tea party?
  • Uncle Joe GG 2010/10/25 14:49:31
    Uncle Joe
    specifically? were these comments made by presentors or reported as comments made by others?
  • Kinetic Uncle Joe 2010/10/25 13:47:37
    Kinetic
    +3
    NPR receives taxpayer funds and has no place selecting what speech they permit and what speech they promote.

    Williams said nothing wrong or inaccurate and you are wrong.
  • Billysings 2010/10/25 08:19:56 (edited)
    No
    Billysings
    +2
    "...the right to bash NPR with the righteous stick of mock moral indignation over xenophobic comments that hardly raise an eyebrow in the Fox News universe."

    Such a good writer you try to be! To bad your misuse of the word "xenophobic" reveals a moral (and grammatical) hole big enough to fly a DC 10 into.

    Juan Williams highlighted his feelings about only ONE group. Xenophobia defines the fear of ALL strangers.

    So, while you failed miserably, embarrassingly, to stain what you call the "Fox News universe" with that bit of unveiled arrogance, it was, in fact, a real demonstration of your own blindness and "xenophobia" toward millions of people in your own country.

    Shame.
  • mickrussom 2010/10/25 07:17:25
    No
    mickrussom
    +1
    NPR, the god damned communist bill ayers radical america hating freedom hating liberty hating FREE SPEECH hating gang of communist rat vermin traitors.
  • Lanikai mickrussom 2010/10/25 14:17:06
    Lanikai
    +1
    Wow, while I agree with your comment, I would ask that you remove the G-D thing from your usage,.
  • Kinetic Lanikai 2010/10/25 14:24:57
    Kinetic
    +1
    Communists are evil, Totalitarians oppose Freedom, Marxists are Godless and using God to damn anyone is still wrong. You make a good point.
  • Lanikai Kinetic 2010/10/25 14:32:20
    Lanikai
    Thanks
  • urwutuis 2010/10/25 06:23:14
    Yes
    urwutuis
    +2
    They had little choice. It's a question of ethics. Something Conservatives know little about .
  • GG urwutuis 2010/10/25 13:27:08
    GG
    +2
    Really? Why did they not fire the commentator who said she hoped Jesse Helms' grandchildren got aids & the one who said the world would be a better place without Bible thumping Christians?
  • Kinetic urwutuis 2010/10/25 13:49:32 (edited)
    Kinetic
    +2
    Nonsense. The ethics in question concerns what Williams said and it shouldn't have offended anyone because it was not harmful. You are wrong, Political Correctness is wrong, and Democrat NPR should be defunded.
  • Lanikai Kinetic 2010/10/25 14:17:50
    Lanikai
    +1
    I guess it is only good free spech if it is free speech they agree with.
  • Kinetic Lanikai 2010/10/25 14:22:53
    Kinetic
    Exactly. For example, by all accounts Mohammedans attacked the World Trade Center multiple times but, it is Politically Incorrect to say this and actually tell the truth because, like the Leftist Democrats on The View, the Democrat NPR has an agenda that must not reveal anything that is anti-American, for whatever reason they have.
  • Mountai... urwutuis 2010/10/25 14:08:42
    MountainMan
    +2
    And so speaks the arrogant, condescending, self-righteous liberal.
  • Mike56 2010/10/25 05:13:20
    No
    Mike56
    +3
    Yeah, it was right thing to do if their goal is building an ultra totalitarian state.
  • cnav52 Mike56 2010/10/25 11:07:35
    cnav52
    You sound like an angry young man. NPR has high standards. He had been warned in the past about crossing the line. They have every right to let him go.
  • Mike56 cnav52 2010/10/25 12:17:53
    Mike56
    +1
    What is "crossing the line"? Being truthful? The "young" man grew up under the leftist propagandist eslavers and NPR smells very similar. Their humanities part is good - but politically they stink.
    My first employer in this country (a leftist golddigger) tortured me with the NPR crap in the basement I worked...
  • cnav52 Mike56 2010/10/25 13:02:40
    cnav52
    Propaganda of any sort is wrong. Unfortunately, the prevailing propaganda is from the right, not the left, though it does also exist on the left.

    What conservatives failed to realize is when one is open minded and attempts to see both sides of the story and are open to change, they are liberals. Conservatives are disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.

    By definition conservatives want things the old way, regardless of whether the old way is good or bad.
  • GG cnav52 2010/10/25 13:41:38
    GG
    +2
    Let me quote Juan Williams on this. He said, "I used to think the left wing was the home of tolerance, open-mindedness, respect for all viewpoints, but now I've learned the truth the hard way."
    http://video.foxnews.com/v/43...
    Please watch it. This shows the truth!
  • cnav52 GG 2010/10/25 13:49:19
    cnav52
    Of course he would say something like that. He is trying to justifiy his comments.

    Look, what he said is close-minded. I try to look at all sides of an issue and try to understand the other person's point of view. But his comments were unprofessional. If he wants to be an analyst and say what he believes, then he does not need to be a journalist. They are not the same thing.
  • Kate cnav52 2010/10/25 14:36:32
    Kate
    AHHHH another "08 sock puppet appears to bash anyone who disagrees with the left on anything.
  • cnav52 Kate 2010/10/25 14:54:44
    cnav52
    You are confusing bashing with open discussion. Just because my comments do not coincide with your outlook does not translate to my bashing.

    This is one of the things wrong in politics today. Many people see the discussion as you against me. It is not that. It is a discussion.
  • Kate cnav52 2010/10/25 14:59:06
  • GG cnav52 2010/10/25 14:48:10
    GG
    Why did NPR not fire Nina Totenburg after she said that she hoped Jesse Helms and his grandkids got Aids? Why did they not fire the employee who said the world would be a better place without Christians? Why do they allow derogatory and tacky comments (sexual references) about tea party members?
  • Kinetic cnav52 2010/10/25 13:53:30
    Kinetic
    +1
    "By definition conservatives want things the old way, regardless of whether the old way is good or bad."

    Socialism is an old way and a failed old way. There is nothing new about controlling speech in Totalitarian states.

    I am a former Democrat and old-school Economic Liberal like a Humphrey or Jack Kennedy. The word Liberal has been hijacked by Socialists.
  • cnav52 Kinetic 2010/10/25 14:16:19
    cnav52
    +1
    What socialism? A honest discussion needs to occur. But it has to be honest. Using the socialism, fascism, communism and nazism words does not allow for this conversation to occur because it is almost impossible to get past the 'ism's.
  • GG cnav52 2010/10/25 13:28:49
    GG
    +1
    Are you serious, high standards? Are you aware that they have someone who still works there who said that she hoped Jesse Helms' grandchildren got Aids or that they have another who said that the world would be a better place without Bible thumping Christians?
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