Video: Who determines what’s OK for journalists to say?

TODAY staff and wire
updated 10/21/2010 6:29:10 PM ET 2010-10-21T22:29:10

NPR has fired veteran analyst Juan Williams over remarks he made about Muslims on the Fox News Channel program, "The O’Reilly Factor."

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The national radio network said in a statement Wednesday that the remarks, in which Williams said he gets nervous flying with people in Muslim garb, were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

Williams’ dismissal followed comments on the Fox News prime time show, where he also serves as an analyst.

Video: Outrage over Williams' dismissal (on this page)

During the show, O’Reilly asked Williams to comment on the idea that the United States was facing a “Muslim dilemma.”  It followed a controversy over O’Reilly’s own appearance on the afternoon show, The View,’ where two hosts walked out after he said that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.”

His argument, which moderator Whoopi Goldberg declared to be "bull----," inspired both Goldberg and co-host Joy Behar to leave their own set.

Story: Williams signs new contract with Fox News

On Monday, Williams said he concurred with O’Reilly about the threats faced by the United States.

He added, "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."

He also said, amid a heated debate with O'Reilly, that people shouldn’t blame Muslims for “extremists,” same as Christians couldn’t be blamed for the Oklahoma City bombing. O'Reilly, for his part, said he refused to qualify everything he said about Muslims.

On Thursday, Williams appeared on Fox News to talk about his dismissal.

"Wednesday afternoon I got a message on my cell phone from Ellen Weiss who's the head of news at NPR asking me to call," Williams said Thursday on Fox News. "When I called back, she said, 'What did you say? What did you mean to say?' and I said, 'I said what I meant to say 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 the reality.' And, she went on to say that crosses the line and I said what line is that? And she went on to somehow suggest that I had made a bigoted statement. I said that's not a bigoted statement.

His side of the story
Juan Williams appeared on Fox News on Thursday morning to discuss his dismissal from NPR.

"...And, then she said, 'This has been decided.' I don't even get a chance to come in and we do this eye ball to eye ball, person to person, we have a conversation," Williams said. "I've been there for more than 10 years. We don't have that chance to have a conversation about this? And she said, 'There is nothing you can say that will change my mind. This has been decided above me and we're terminating your contract.'

Criticism and support
In a statement Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said such commentary from a journalist about other racial, ethnic or religious minority groups would not be tolerated.

"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

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NPR, which receives most of its funding from listener-supported member stations, has been uncomfortable for some time with Williams’ role on Fox. After he became a regular on the mostly conservative network, NPR asked that he no longer be identified as an NPR correspondent.

The radio network, in a news story on the site, reported that Williams said he wasn't ready to comment on his dismissal and was conferring with his wife.

Paid Fox News contributors Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee didn't shy from commenting on the subject, Politico is reporting.

"NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it," Palin tweeted. "Juan Williams: u got taste of Left's hypocrisy, they screwed up firing you."

Politico reports that Huckabee went further in his criticism, calling on Congress to pull funding from NPR.

Video: Who determines what’s OK for journalists to say? (on this page)

“NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left,” Huckabee said. “It is time for the taxpayers to start making cuts to federal spending, and I encourage the new Congress to start with NPR,” he added.

Conservative bloggers also defended Williams on Thursday, blasting NPR's decision.

"All Juan Williams did is say both exactly how he feels and how many, many other Americans feel on this subject," wrote Erick Erickson on his "Red State" blog. "The man's body of work makes clear he is no bigot. But we sure can't offend Muslims can we?"

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also weighed in, telling Fox News that Congress should investigate NPR for censorship and consider cutting off its public funding. Only a small part of NPR's budget is provided by Congress through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. O'Reilly also called Thursday for an immediate suspension of taxpayer funding for NPR and said that Williams reflected the views of many Americans.

Williams' appearances on Fox have been an issue for NPR in the past, including his remarks about Michelle Obama on a 2009 episode of "The O'Reilly Factor."

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"Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going. ... her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim," Williams said, according to an account by NPR's Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. Carmichael was a civil rights activist.

At the time, Shepard wrote that Williams was the network's biggest "lightning rod," drawing hundreds of complaints. NPR executives then asked Williams to stop using the NPR name when he appears on O'Reilly's show.

On Monday, he was identified as a Fox News contributor.

Williams was previously a longtime reporter, columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Post. He has written extensively on the Civil Rights movement, including a book on the African American religious experience and a biography on Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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