Should Juan Williams have been fired?


Should Juan Williams have been fired by NPR?

Longtime NPR commentator Juan Williams was fired today for comments he made on the O’Reilly Factor about being made nervous by Muslims on airplanes.


During an appearance on the conservative Fox network, Williams said the following:

“I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don’t address reality,” Williams said to Bill O’Reilly during the Monday appearance.

Williams continued: “I mean, 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 has written a number of books, including a couple I’ve read.  His  companion to Eyes on the Prize, the  landmark documentary series produced by the late Henry Hampton, is both accessible and helpful.  He’s also written a useful biography of legendary civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice.

NPR responded by saying that Williams’ comments violated its editorial policy, which reads as follows, according to a post by Lucy Madison:

‘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 electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

NPR’s decision has unleashed a torrent of criticism, including calls from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee for the federal government to defund NPR.

I must admit that the decision surprised on a number of levels.  To begin, Williams’ comments were to me an honest statement about his reaction.  While taking action or making policy based on these responses certainly is not desirable, Williams, I believe, was not advocating that.

Of course, all kinds of negative things can be rationalized as being uttered in a spirit of “honesty,” and Williams’ comments did not appear to me to be offered in that spirit.

More basically, I have trouble finding the distinction between the opinions he stated on air and the argument he made throughout his most recent book, he Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It.

As the title suggests, the book built off a conversation started by Bill Cosby to provide a highly critical look at black leadership and the black community at large.  The network might say that Williams would offer the same opinions in his role as an NPR journalist, and that his analysis was fact-based, and he did appear on a number of shows and did offer opinions based on his analysis.

What do you think? Should Williams have been fired?  Is this a form of censorship?  Was NPR within its rights to terminate an employee with a history of similar statements?

Let the conversation begin.


2 responses to “Should Juan Williams have been fired?

  1. Firing never solves any problems. He’ll just get another job somewhere else. Prejudice needs to be addressed. JW should have to watch Chimamanda Adichi’s TED talk on the danger of the single story. Then he should spend time in Muslim communities getting to know “people in their garb”.

  2. jeffkellylowenstein3

    I agree with you, Amina. I’ve not yet watched the TED talks, but have heard that they are terrific. Hope to see both of you soon!


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