NPR analyst Juan Williams’ contract was terminated two days after he made an inflammatory remark on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor.
Controversy arose after Williams said, “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.”
His statements inspired discussion and debate all over the country. Some say NPR was justified in its decision and had a responsibility to fire Williams because his comments were bigoted. Others are outraged at how NPR handled the situation and demand Williams job be returned.
NPR said the decision to fire Williams was justified, providing valid points that support its stance.
In 2008 NPR changed Williams’ contract from news correspondent to news analyst. As an analyst, his role was to not only report facts, but also analyze the situation. However, he was to choose his words carefully. During his interview with Bill O’Reilly, NPR claimed Williams was not analyzing the situation but stating his personal feelings on the issue, undermining his credibility.
NPR released a statement claiming Williams’ remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices.”
When asked for a more detailed explanation, Vivian Schiller, president of NPR, said, “We terminated Juan’s contract because there was a series of violations of our news ethics code. We had talked to him about it, nothing changed, this was the latest in a series of incidents.”
NPR’s arguments are valid, and it is well within its right to terminate Williams – but we believe it shouldn’t have.
First of all, Williams’ statement was a small portion of a much longer conversation on The O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly and Williams were discussing problems with Muslim assimilation around the globe, not just in America. In the segment, both men clarified that the overwhelmingly vast majority of Muslims in the world are not radical or extremist. Williams also claimed that a small portion of the Muslim population is giving Islam a bad name and fostering those feelings. He later explained that his statement was directed at exploring the root of why so many people hold a similar view to the one he articulated.
Williams did not say Islamic expansion is inherently bad, nor did he say all Muslims are radical. He was being candid about feelings he believes many people hold in an effort to encourage discussion about the issue and ideas about how to remedy the situation – the situation being worry and nervousness, not Islam itself.
If that’s not enough, NPR requested Williams not identify himself with NPR when appearing on Fox. He complied, with statements that were personal and in no way connected to NPR except to say he was an employee.
Furthermore, if national spokesmen have to walk on egg shells to avoid offending anyone, how can we begin to talk openly about issues facing our country? There comes a point when being politically correct all the time is detrimental to the country’s well-being. Sometimes we do need to be candid in our speech.
Finally, NPR’s handling of the firing was simply distasteful.
Williams reported speaking with Ellen Weiss, NPR Vice President for News, who dismissed him over the phone. But having worked with NPR since 2000, Williams should have been given the decency of a face-to-face termination.
So no, Williams should not have been fired for his statement. If there were other contributing factors, they should be publicized. If NPR had waited till the end of Williams’ contract and not extended it or fired him after a performance review, we doubt this would be such a major issue. As it is, though, NPR appears to have acted prematurely.
On a side note: KACU is an NPR station, but it was not part of the decision to terminate Williams. So if you’re considering withdrawing your membership or not continuing your contributions to KACU, do keep that in mind.