News analyst Juan Williams fired by NPR

It’s all over the MSM, blogosphere and twittersphere today. MPR’s News Cut blog has a good overview: Should Juan Williams have been fired?

The story of the day today seems to be NPR’s firing of Juan Williams, who exercised the poor judgment to go on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox to admit to being concerned when he sees Muslims on an airplane, but cautioned O’Reilly not to brand Muslims as terrorists.

Lots of Fox and NPR fans in Northfield so this should be a good discussion.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    Jesse Jackson’s statement (mid 90s?) was the first thing I thought of when I read what Juan Williams said.

    "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved…. After all we have been through. Just to think we can’t walk down our own streets, how humiliating." – Jesse Jackson

    October 21, 2010
  2. David Ludescher said:


    I read NPR’s explanation, and I don’t get it.

    October 21, 2010
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    I don’t either, David. Plus, I don’t quite get it that “NPR News analysts have a … very different role than that of a commentator or columnist.” I thought all three implied ‘opinion.’

    October 21, 2010
  4. I think he should have been given a chance to talk more about it. I didn’t feel he said this statement out of hatred, but out of human nature to fear that which we
    do not know in an honest attempt to give the situation some airing out…at least that is how I took it. To fire him for it, is overreaction.

    October 21, 2010
  5. Jane McWilliams said:

    As an NPR addict, I am disappointed with the haste of this decision. Williams seems to have (innocently?) crossed a line between reporting and commenting in NPR’s view.

    An article in the Christian Science Monitor suggests this quandry: The Williams firing shows that NPR, in many ways, is an example of a news organization trying to navigate new media without muddying the role of journalism in society, says Jen Reeves, an associate journalism professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
    “It’s confusing to the general public what journalism is anymore,” says Ms. Reeves. “Our job as journalists is to question the culture and present it to the general public to think about. But instead we’re constantly [playing up people’s fears].”
    She adds, “The way Williams presented himself was at a level of personal opinion that, as a journalist, is not appropriate.”

    October 21, 2010
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    An email from journalist and social media consultant Simon Owens:

    Hey Griff,

    I read your post today about Juan Williams’ firing from NPR. I recently went through the archives of major online news sites expressing outrage at Williams’ termination and compared them to responses those same outlets made when other prominent journalists were fired for expressing their opinions:

    Anyway, I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting.

    Take care,

    October 22, 2010
  7. Patrick Enders said:

    TPM has covered this pretty well:

    The Right On Juan Williams: Don’t Diss The Jews! But Muslims? Eh, No Problem.

    If there’s one outcome of the Juan Williams firing that should surprise no one, it’s that the right has jumped to his defense and condemned the desecration of his first amendment rights by the evil left-wing NPR, (which, by the way, should be investigated for something or other, and who even cares what he said about Muslims because everyone was thinking it anyway).

    But what many of these conservative pundits have forgotten is how they sang a slightly different tune when certain other journalists were let go for making comments that offended the right.

    Let’s take a look back…

    I do recommend reading the compare-and-contrast comments quoted in the linked article.

    And as a follow-up, we now have the news that Juan is free to work full-time for Fox:

    Everybody Wins!

    When I wrote last night it seemed like the Juan Williams saga was one in which no one came out very well. But the light of a new day has changed the picture dramatically. Bagging the lucrative new contract with Fox News is only part of it. It’s also become a moment where Williams can come out of the closet as a full-on wingnut cartoon character. No more living a lie as a one-time journalist playing a fake liberal on Fox News.

    I’m feeling an “It Gets Better” video coming soon.

    Here’s Juan from this morning on the events of recent days: “This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.”

    One-party rule? The Gulag? The gulag of Fox News chat millionaires. Like I said, a cartoon character. About all we need now is to hear Juan go into truth teller mode about the scourge of vote fraud in the inner city. I told you last night, I think Tomasky pretty much has Juan’s number.

    But really, everyone wins. Juan can stop living a lie. Tongues untied, baby.

    October 22, 2010
  8. Phil Poyner said:

    Griff, I believe I may know the difference. Let’s say you have a meteorological journal article, and you want my opinion of the validity of the conclusions presented. If I were acting in the same capacity as a news analyst I would read the article, then use my education and experience to render a professional opinion of whether the argument was properly supported and what sort of impact the conclusions might have on other areas of research. If I was acting as a commentator or columnist I might read the article, then proceed to tell you how I don’t “believe” in the research because it doesn’t fit my meteorological “world view”…oh, and that I knew the author in grad school and he was a complete idiot…and did I ever mention he was a mean drunk? There’s a difference between profession opinion and opinion. I think that’s the point they’re driving at.

    October 22, 2010
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    LoGro colleague Len Witt has this video in his blog today:

    I attended the speech that Vivian Schiller, NPR CEO, gave at the Atlanta Press Club today and afterward got a nice video of her explaining why NPR terminated Juan Williams’ contract.

    October 22, 2010
  10. David Ludescher said:


    That doesn’t explain it.

    Williams was making the point that the fear of a Muslim on an airplane is natural, but acting on it is wrong.

    The first part of the point is his personal experience; the second part is his opinion on how to react.

    It seems to me that he was fired for recognizing and admitting that he has a bias. Further, I think NPR feared all kinds of feigned slight from its (non-Islamic) listeners.

    I would think that most Muslims would welcome someone (especially a liberal) admitting to the reality of what happens every day.

    October 22, 2010
  11. Phil Poyner said:

    OK, now that I’ve stopped laughing…you do know that Juan Williams isn’t exactly known as a liberal, right? That he interned for Strom Thurmond and was a speachwriter for Norm Coleman? That he recently said to O’Reilly “I don’t fit in their box. I’m not predictable, black, liberal…”?

    Regarding the rest of it, it sounds to me that your assessment of his comment was that he was providing a personal opinion. If I’ve got that right, then I agree. But NPR pays Williams for his professional opinions. If they feel that the public’s knowledge of his personal opinions compromise the value of his professional opinions, then they will also conclude his value to NPR is lessened. And based on that they fired him. Now, do I personally agree with that decision? Not really; I think most people actually know Williams’ political world-view and account for it every time he speaks.

    I also disagree with the assertion that “fear of a Muslim on an airplane is natural”. The last thing a terrorist would want to do is draw attention to himself. The 9/11 terrorists were not (at least not to my knowledge) dressed in any way that would identify them as Muslims. I’d say that the LAST person anyone should worry about on a plane is the person most easily identifiable as a Muslim.

    October 22, 2010
  12. Phil Poyner said:

    Dang it, I meant his son was an intern and speachwriter.

    October 22, 2010
  13. Phil Poyner said:

    Well David, now I feel bad. Turns out there are quite a few people that see Juan Williams as a liberal, even if I don’t. So, your assessment of him as being a liberal is not without merit. My apologies.

    October 22, 2010
  14. Scott Oney said:

    Why would anyone be afraid of Muslims on an airplane?

    October 22, 2010
  15. David Ludescher said:


    See Jesse Jackson’s comments in 1. above.

    I think William’s point was that it was a fear based upon a remote fact, i.e. the fact the 19 people claiming to be Muslims were the 9/11 criminals.

    I understood Williams to suggest that the proper response to that fear was to address it and dismiss it.

    I just don’t get it, especially Fox hiring Williams. If I were a conspiracy theorist, which I am, I would suspect Fox News of orchestrating the event. Williams can be on Fox, just like Katherine Kersten is in the Strib.

    October 22, 2010
  16. kiffi summa said:

    Just having a little laughing fit over here in the corner, Dave… “Like Katherine Kersten is in the
    Strib” !!!

    The Strib has been supporting/promoting Kersten’s views for the 20 years I have lived in MN; 20 years is a long time to have a very conservative controversial columnist for the sake of ‘balance’…

    On Juan… well , I think it’s sad, and probably reactionary of NPR; doesn’t Mar Eliason (another NPR regular news analyst) also appear on Fox, for ‘Balance’?

    On Fox … as TPM says: “If you lie down with dogs, you take the chance of getting fleas…”

    October 22, 2010
  17. David Ludescher said:


    I still don’t get it.

    I understand the Strib keeping Kersten to give conservatives a reason to read the editorial page, but NPR is supposed to be apolitical. “No slant, no rant.”

    October 23, 2010
  18. Paul Zorn said:

    Here’s some stuff from NPR’s ethics code (pointed to by NPR’s ombudsman, Alice Shepherd) of which Juan Williams assertedly ran afoul:

    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. They should not participate in shows[sic] electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.

    IMO reasonable people can differ on JW’s guilt in the matter alluded to in the first sentence. Whether his utterance — however ill-chosen and illogical — really amounts to expressing some bigoted “view” seems debatable to me. Maybe his point was more self-deprecating, as in “I should know better, but I still sometimes think … .”

    In any event, and whatever “views” JW may hold on airborne Islam, he seems to me in deeper doo-doo with respect to the ethics code’s second sentence. Love O’Reilly or hate him, can anyone deny that his show (like some others) “encourage[s] punditry and speculation … “?

    Bottom line for me: JW said a dumb thing, but NPR’s ethics code is too vague and too sanctimonious. JW should have been scolded, not fired.

    October 23, 2010
  19. kiffi summa said:

    Precisely and perfectly said, Paul … somebody at NPR got their ‘undies in a bunch’…. and unfortunately, NPR just got a whole lot ‘whiter’ .

    Whether or not you agree with the progression of Juan William’s commentary, NPR has a definite need of more diversity… not in subject matter but from more diverse originating sources.

    October 23, 2010
  20. john george said:

    Kiffi- Just wondering why William’s race is of any significance? If he had been white instead of black, would this have had the same effect on NPR? I agree with Paul’s assessment in that I think that NPR’s reaction was pretty extreme for the crime. If his remarks had disparraged Christianity, would anyone other that those who viewed the program have even known about it or given a rip about what he said? What is so offensive about his comments being toward Muslims? Does this molify or exacerbate the divisions within our country?

    October 23, 2010
  21. David Ludescher said:


    I like the charity of your analysis.

    However, a critical reading of Shepherd’s statement leads me to believe that Williams didn’t get fired because of any journalistic breach of ethics, he got fired for thinking a bigoted thought.

    October 24, 2010
  22. kiffi summa said:

    No, John … I don’t think his race had anything to do with his firing: I was simply noting that for an organization which prides itself on diversity of opinion it is not very diverse in its personnel, at least as far as senior news analysts.

    October 24, 2010
  23. john george said:

    David- I guess that was downright thoughtless of him!

    October 25, 2010

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