Juan Williams Fired Over Muslim Comment: Honest Analyst or Bigoted Commentator?

Wednesday night, National Public Radio fired their long-time senior news analyst Juan Williams after his recent comments about Muslims on Fox News, for whom he also works as an analyst. On Monday, Williams appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor,” and in responding to O’Reilly’s own controversial remarks made last week on “The View,” Williams added fuel to the fire and burned himself in the process.

At O’Reilly’s request, Williams analyzed the politically-charged news made by O’Reilly and “The View’s” co-hosts as they discussed the political climate in America, during which O’Reilly stated “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” His use of “Muslims” rather than “extremists” or “terrorists” caused a firestorm regarding political correctness, to which Williams offered this observation: “Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.” To support his analysis, he noted his own unadvertised reality that while he is not a bigot, he now has, as a result of 9/11, a nervous inner response on airplanes to Muslims– (identified by their “garb”). Williams is an example of the many who have this same unspoken reality – a reality that, when O'Reilly shared it on “The View,” blew up in his face. On Thursday afternoon’s Special Report with Bret Baier’s “Text to Vote” poll, over 42,000 responded to the question:  “Do you worry if people in Muslim clothing get on your flight?” 88% of the responders said yes.

Williams shared with Fox News today that when Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president, asked him to clarify his Monday comments, he said his new reaction to Muslims since 9/11 is “just a reality.” “There’s a reality. You cannot ignore what happened on 9/11, and you cannot ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism, and you can’t ignore the fact of what has even recently been said in court (by Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad) with regard to this as the first drop of blood in a Muslim war on America.” The reality of an existing concern over Muslim relations is confirmed even by President Obama’s decision to send the Ground Zero Mosque Imam on a mission trip to Islamic nations to promote tolerance and understanding. It is also confirmed by the many accusations from the left that the right suffers from “Islamaphobia.”

It is reality that many in America have a different feeling toward Muslims and even toward the word “Muslim” as a result of 9/11. Because Williams boldly stated this reality in this forum, his political incorrectness cost him his job. Sadly, his termination helped to prove Williams’ point – that we live in a world that values political correctness over truth. His analysis of the given news item was right on target, unfortunately for him.

Fact or Opinion? We face a vague landscape in the world of journalism. The lines between the opinion column and the news article are permanently blurred. Purely objective news reporting was never a reality, but it is more obvious now than ever before with our culture of political correctness and challenges to free speech. The way we see the world impacts everything we do, from how we relate to people in the grocery store to how we respond to the daily news. In reporting the most basic news, every choice of word is a decision regarding the communication of a particular message, even if this occurs at the subconscious level.

Take for example, NPR President Vivian Schiller’s comments about the firing of Juan Williams. On the one hand, Schiller defended the decision, saying that Williams had violated NPR's guidelines barring its analysts from taking “personal public positions on controversial issues.” This communicates her belief that Williams took a position rather than simply stating a reality. Furthermore, she claimed she was not there to judge Williams feelings, but said his feelings were “between him and his psychiatrist or his publicist.” What message does that communicate? Whether she intended to or not, Schiller communicated that she believes Williams has mental issues. If NPR wants its analysts to stick to the facts and avoid personal positions, offenses and controversy, its leadership should mind its own policy. But the truth is: Sticking to the facts apart from any personal influence is all but impossible to do.

The real reason? Williams’ firing comes after the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) relayed this message: “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,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “Such irresponsible and inflammatory comments would not be tolerated if they targeted any other racial, ethnic or religious minority, and they should not pass without action by NPR.”

Were Williams comments really irresponsible and inflammatory? How does one measure that? Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe Williams’ comments as valid and thought-provoking. If so, then Williams did his job. He’s a news analyst. He just didn't analyze the news the way NPR or CAIR would have liked, as proven by Schiller’s written response. “In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.” “Unfortunately, Juan’s comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so.”

The evidence suggests this reality: NPR values political correctness over transparent analysis of the news. Williams values the opposite. Williams offended Muslims just as O’Reilly did, but CAIR knew full well Fox News would not make “an example” out of O’Reilly, but trusted that NPR would make an example out of Williams.

Postscript: Thursday afternoon, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller released a public apology to Juan Williams for suggesting his feelings about Muslims should remain between him and his psychiatrist. I’m sure Schiller expects her apology for her “thoughtless remark” to be sufficient. But perhaps her own termination is in order for “violating (NPR's) standards as well as (their) values” and offending Juan.

Schiller’s apology followed a statement by NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepherd on Talk of the Nation suggesting that instead of terminating Williams' contract, “probably the better thing for NPR to have done is to have said 'Juan the situation is not working.'” Then, she explained, Williams could have been given a choice to stay at NPR and give up FOX, or stay with FOX and give up NPR. In other words, Williams would have needed to agree to speak only NPR’s poliically correct words instead of his truthful conclusions of reality, forfeiting free speech and honest analysis altogether.

Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. -Jeremiah 9:5

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  1. This is a case where both Williams and NPR are correct. He should state his opinion and did so, even though he was naive to think there wouldn’t be blowback. NPR has the right to hire and fire whom it chooses just as any employer, including Fox News. Did it go about it the wrong way? Without question. How long would, well, anyone on Fox keep their job if they said they said saw value in health care reform legislation or the stimulus bill? Beyond the ad nauseum debate about political correctness, what this underscores is the continuation on long-term sociological trends. Every society needs to identify its enemy to bolster its political legitimacy, whether its the United States, Great Britain or any number or developing countries. After the fall of Communism, our enemy had been defeated. The results for Europe in particular have been great because of that, recent developments in Greece’s economy not withstanding. Part of the prosperity of the ’90s was due to the fact we could concentrate on ourselves. Obviously, that changed on 9/11. The enemy, for many has now become Islam. Would you naturally assume someone who wears a head scarf is about to blow up your plane any more than a white male with a crew cut driving a Ryder truck is on his way to blow up a federal building? That is something more important to consider.

    October 22, 2010
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