Juan Williams Should Have Been Removed As NPR News Analyst–But Not For These Remarks

Juan Williams was fired as a news analyst by NPR for comments taken as anti-Muslim while appearing on Bill O’Reilly’s show:

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.

There has already been considerable debate on line over these comments. Taken by themselves there is a lot of room for discussion and disagreement, but if we are solely looking at these comments alone I personally do not believe they were sufficient to fire Mr. Williams.

Things get more complicated when looking at the specific duties of Williams’ position and the long history of problems. Williams really should have been removed as a news analyst long ago. If he had an show where it was more appropriate for a host to express their own opinions it would be a different matter, but a news analyst should be held to a higher standard. I believe Williams should have been removed as a news analyst long ago, just as I agreed with NBC in removing Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews as anchors of debate and election coverage. Williams should not appear on Fox for the same reasons other NPR correspondents have been instructed that they should not attend Jon Stewart’s upcoming rally.

At best Williams is a second rate journalist and his removal will be to NPR’s benefit. Williams cannot reliably serve as an objective news analyst if he also works for Fox. Fox has repeatedly been exposed as an operation formed to promote extremist right wing views and support the Republican Party and is not a legitimate news outfit. Williams’ work at Fox has long been an issue at NPR. It was naive to think that Williams could fill his roles at both networks. Williams was moved from correspondent to analyst due to the credibility problems raised by his work at Fox but such bias is not appropriate for either position. NPR should have given Williams the choice long ago of either discontinuing his work at Fox or leaving his role as a new analyst at NPR.

It was a mistake to fire Williams over specific comments as opposed to the overall problems created by Williams working for both a legitimate news organization and a right wing propaganda outfit. I might feel  sorry for Williams if his career and livelihood had been ruined over these comments alone but his income will actually increase tremendously from both an expanded role at Fox and potentially elsewhere in the right wing noise machine.

Unfortunately most of the discussion has centered on Williams’ latest comments as opposed to his overall suitability to remain at NPR. The reasons are better clarified in this memo to the stations:

Sent: Thursday, October 21, 2010 12:05 PM Subject: Juan WilliamsDear AREPS,

Thank you for all of your varying feedback on the Juan Williams situation. Let me offer some further clarification about why we terminated his contract early.

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.”

More fundamentally, “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.

We’re profoundly sorry that this happened during fundraising week. Juan’s comments were made Monday night and we did not feel it would be responsible to delay this action.

This was a tough decision and we appreciate your support.

Thanks,

Vivian

Vivian Schiller
President & CEO, NPR

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Judi says:

    What if his remarks were choreographed to cause the firing from NPR so that he was able to get a lucrative contract with FOX, ala Sarah Palin??

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    I doubt this is what happened, but if it was then Williams played this very well. It would be ideal for him in that the remarks were enough to get him fired but not bad enough that they would make him look terrible.

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