Fury over firing at NPR
You have to hand it to "The O'Reilly Factor," they've pretty much set the standard for controversial statements on air, or even off-camera for that matter. The latest to step up to the plate last week was former NPR analyst, political commentator and author of numerous civil rights themed books, Juan Williams.
After being prompted by host, Bill O'Reilly, to address the idea of a Muslim dilemma, which the US may or may not be facing, Williams responded, "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."
Williams' statement led NPR to end his contract and release him from the public radio network. According to NPR, Williams' statements were "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
Although his comments may have echoed ignorance and idiocy-I'm fairly certain that the last thing terrorists would attempt is to blend in rather than stand out in traditional, often fundamentalist-style garb- the real questionable action is not Williams' statements but rather the firing itself. Make no mistake, what he said was incredibly offensive, as well as remarkably void of common sense, for such an educated man. However, it seems questionable that a company with a vested interest in free speech would fire one of their analysts based solely on one borderline-bigoted comment.
Up until the O'Reilly incident, Williams had an impressive resume. In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize, while working for the Washington Post, Williams has also received Emmy Awards for several television documentaries, as well as honorary doctorates from a number of Universities.
In no way is Williams' character questionable, nor does he have any history of insensitive or inflammatory sentiments. If anything, perhaps Williams' not subscribing to the status quo shows a type of misguided integrity.
This wasn't the first disagreement between Williams and NPR prior to his termination. Williams had previously received negative feedback from the network for his appearances on Fox News, and NPR had requested that he not be introduced as a correspondent from NPR when appearing on Fox.
Essentially NPR was just waiting for a reason to fire Williams. Alicia Shepard, NPR's Ombudsman, stated in an interview that, "Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox." While that may be true the discrepancies likely lie in the set of questions and topics that are addressed on the very different programs.
Williams' comments on "The O'Reilly Factor" may very well have been taken out of context, after all Fox News thrives on shock factor. And while the demonization of Fox News is all too common, it is worth mentioning that Fox was only network that actually stood up and offered Williams a job after his merciless firing by his former network.
In the end NPR got exactly what they wanted, Juan Williams to drop his association with their network. Meanwhile Williams got a job with a network more than happy to air suspect statements. Perhaps each party can make their cases for freedom of speech, as long as it maintains their own views. With that said, we can now resume making, " I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written," jokes