By Michael Calderone
NPR terminated the contract of Juan Williams last Wednesday after comments the veteran journalist and news analyst made about Muslims on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly stirred up controversy last week on “The View” after making the blanket statement that “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” a comment that led to co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walking off the set.
On Monday, O’Reilly asked Williams if there is a “Muslim dilemma” in the United States. The NPR analyst and longtime Fox News contributor agreed with O’Reilly that such a thing exists, and added that “political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality.”
“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams continued. “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.”
Some commentators and a leading Muslim civil rights organization took issue with Williams’ comments.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan wrote Wednesday morning that Williams’ statement about fearing Muslims on planes is an example of bigotry. “What if someone said that they saw a Black man walking down the street in classic thug get-up,” Sullivan wrote. “Would a white person be a bigot [if] he assumed he was going to mug him?’
The Council for American-Islamic Relations sent out a press release Wednesday afternoon calling on NPR to address the matter. Nihad Awad, the organization’s national executive director, called the comments “irresponsible and inflammatory” and said they “should not pass without action by NPR.”
They certainly didn’t. NPR took action Wednesday night and put out a statement regarding the severing of Williams’ contract: “His remarks on ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
Williams often appears on Fox as the liberal counterpart to one of the network’s conservative hosts or guests. But some NPR listeners — an audience certainly more left-leaning than Fox’s conservative one — don’t see Williams as an advocate for progressive politics when he appears on the cable news network.
Last year, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote that Williams had become a “lightning rod” among NPR’s staff and noted many complaints from listeners after an appearance on O’Reilly’s show.
Williams had described First Lady Michelle Obama as having a “Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going,” a reference to the militant African American activist. After those comments, NPR executives asked that NPR’s logo be removed when he appears on Fox News.
It can be expected that Fox hosts, especially O’Reilly, will have something to say about NPR’s decision.
Bernie Goldberg, a Fox News contributor and author of several books on what he describes as liberal media bias, offered his take Thursday morning in an email to The Upshot.
“So Juan Williams is fired for saying something the liberals at NPR find controversial?” Goldberg said. “One more piece of evidence that liberals have forgotten how to be liberal.”
Goldberg continued: “These are the kind of people who brag about how open-minded they are — as long as you agree with them. And here’s the dirty little secret: lots and lots of liberals feel the same way Juan does when they get on an airplane. And a lot of those liberals work at NPR. Juan’s ‘crime’ was saying it out loud.”
Weekly Standard Editor and Fox contributor Bill Kristol also had some choice words for NPR, which he dubbed “National Politically-correct Radio.” Kristol concluded a post about the firing by saying: “NPR — unfair, unbalanced … and afraid.”