Was Firing Juan Williams the Right Call?


National Public Radio's decision to fire Juan Williams for saying on Fox News earlier this week that he gets "worried" and "nervous" when he sees Muslims on planes has ignited yet another debate about prejudice, political correctness, and free speech. Is Williams simply being held to the same standard as Rick Sanchez, except for comments regarding Muslims instead of Jews? Is he the new Shirley Sherrod, being unjustly condemned for an unsavory snippet of dialogue taken out of a much more agreeable context? Or was NPR simply looking for an excuse to rid themselves of a man who, to their consternation, is also a pundit on Fox News? Commentators across the Internet (and Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee!) are debating what it all means. And so is Juan Williams.

Juan Williams, Fox News:

"She went on the say, 'Well, 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. And I said, 'That's not a bigoted statement. I, in fact, in the course of this conversation with Bill O'Reilly, said that we have, as Americans, an obligation to be careful to protect the Constitutional rights of everyone in the country, and to make sure we don't have any outbreak of bigotry. But that there's a reality, you can not ignore what happened on 9/11, and you can not ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism.'"

William Kristol, Weekly Standard:

Do the powers-that-be at NPR think Juan Williams is a bigot? Do they think a traveler who has a reaction (fair or unfair) like the one Juan describes, in our age of terror in the name of Islam, is a bigot? Of course the powers-that-be at NPR know he's not. In fact, I suspect the powers-that-be at NPR pretty much think what Juan thinks. But the standards of political correctness must be maintained. Pressure groups speaking for allegedly offended Muslims must be propitiated. And so Juan had to go.

Joe Scarborough, Twitter:

Juan Williams gets fired for telling Bill O'Reilly to not equate the Islamic faith with terrorism? Really, NPR? Are. You. Serious?

Glenn Greenwald, Salon:

I'm not someone who believes that journalists should lose their jobs over controversial remarks, especially isolated, one-time comments. But if that's going to be the prevailing standard, then I want to see it applied equally. Those who cheered on the firing of Octavia Nasr, Helen Thomas and Rick Sanchez — and that will include many, probably most, of the right-wing polemicists predictably rushing to transform Juan Williams into some sort of free speech martyr sacrificed on the altar of sharia censorship — have no ground for complaining here.

Howard Kurtz, Twitter:

Seems to me that NPR firing Juan Williams over Muslim remarks has much to do with him working for Fox.

William Saletan, Slate:

[A]dmitting such fears doesn't make you a bigot. Sometimes, to work through your fears, you have to face them honestly. You have to think through the perils of acting on those fears. And you have to explain to others why they, too, should transcend their anxieties or resentments and treat people as individuals.

That's what Shirley Sherrod did in her speech to the NAACP. It's what Juan Williams did in his interview on Fox News. It was wrong of conservatives to take Sherrod's remarks out of context. It's just as wrong of liberals to do the same to Williams.

Michael Tomasky, Guardian:

It may be the case that those nervous nellies at NPR overreacted a bit. If they had been phrased another way, his comments might have been completely unremarkable. Even as they stand, they don't strike me on paper as being that far outside our established parameters (which may say something about our parameters, I guess). I doubt very much that they'd rank in the top 10 or even top 20 of the most revolting statements made on Fox that day. We are oversensitive about these things as a culture, as I was pointing out yesterday.

Sarah Palin, Twitter:

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

Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic:

Juan Williams misunderstands one crucial fact: Muslim terrorists who are attempting to commit acts of terror seldom if ever dress in "Muslim garb"; they dress, for obvious tactical reasons, in a manner meant to help them blend in with surroundings. So Williams is wrong, I think, to be particularly suspicious of traditionally-dressed Muslims. But is he wrong to worry about Islamist terrorism? Of course not.

Ed Morrissey, Hot Air:

Clearly, NPR only wants opinion journalists that agree with the opinions of NPR, and I mean totally agree. An NPR opinion journalist had better not admit to having a normal human reaction about potential for terrorism nine years after 3,000 Americans got killed by radical Muslims on commercial air flights, or else. The rest of NPR’s cast just got an object lesson about the range of opinion tolerated by management.

Steve Benen, Political Animal/Washington Monthly:

In candor, this kind of talk seems so routine on Fox News, I didn't really expect Williams to face any punishment. I hope reasonable people can agree his remarks were ugly and narrow-minded, but this is Fox News. Williams' anti-Muslim sentiment is expressed in various forms throughout the day, every day, on the network. There are no consequences because it's expected — intolerance and prejudice from Fox News personalities are just par for the course.

Jonah Goldberg, Corner/National Review:

Williams is clearly simply being honest while at the same time saying that these attitudes are problematic. It seems to me that falls squarely into the “honest liberal” category of discourse. But I’m also not surprised that NPR got rid of Juan (who is a terrifically nice guy in person, btw). This strikes me as one of these classic last-straw things. NPR was probably looking to drop him for years because of the Fox connection and they’re using this as an excuse. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, but it does make it less shocking, at least to me.

Michelle Malkin:

NPR has undermined whatever credibility it had left with this boneheaded capitulation. Your tax dollars at work.

Erick Erickson, Red State:

All Juan Williams did is say both exactly how he feels and how many, many other Americans feel on this subject. The man’s body of work makes clear he is no bigot. But we sure can’t offend muslims can we? This is disgusting. But then the official state run media cannot have anyone expressing anything that might reflect what actual Americans think regarding Islamofascists because there is officially no such thing according to the Obama Administration.

Glynnis MacNicol, Mediaite:

[I]t seems that, along with CNN’s dismissal of Octavia Nasr earlier this year for an ill-thought-out tweet, this is merely further proof that no matter how long and respectable your career all it takes is one idiotic soundbite to do you in.

Mark Thompson, Swampland/Time:

And you thought 1984 was 26 years ago.

Cliff May, Corner/National Review:

Bottom line: NPR has its own interpretation of sharia, and Juan violated it — and paid the price.

Conor Friedersdorf, Forbes:

These are wrongheaded remarks .... But I don’t think that Mr. Williams should be fired by NPR, or that it’s good practice in general to fire people based on a single remark, however offensive. (There are exceptions. This isn’t one of them.) I say this as someone who is glad that there is a strong social stigma against bigotry.

Mike Huckabee, HuckPAC:

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. While I have often enjoyed appearing on NPR programs and have been treated fairly and objectively, I will no longer accept interview requests from NPR as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship, and since NPR is funded with public funds, it IS a form of censorship. It is time for the taxpayers to start making cuts to federal spending, and I encourage the new Congress to start with NPR.