The Juan Williams debacle

Folks, I’m a bit out of pocket — I’m in Memphis for a wedding, and my Internet access where I’m staying is limited (I may stop by a Starbucks later) — but to give y’all a little something to chew on, I share this email from a reader:

What did you think about Juan Williams being fired from NPR?

I thought that was about as low class as it gets.

1) His boss didn’t have the guts to fire him in person.  Got an underling to call him on the phone.

2)  Juan didn’t say anything that tens of millions of people in American don’t feel when they get on a plane- that if they see a group of Muslims on the plane, they feel uncomfortable- at least a little bit.

3) Juan didn’t say he liked that feeling. He wasn’t say other people should feel that way.  He didn’t say he was proud of it.  He was being honest about his feelings.

This country is becoming a place I don’t recognize.  You can’t even be honest with your own feelings- in a honest and forthright manner without getting screwed.


Thank you,

So what do y’all think about all that? Me, I think it’s a ridiculous overreaction by NPR. The explanation of how a rule has been applied here doesn’t seem to add up. The upshot is that NPR has handed FoxNews a propaganda coup in its ideological war with other media — one for which it was willing to pay $2 million.

Which makes me wonder — what do I have to say to get Fox to pay ME that kind of change?

41 thoughts on “The Juan Williams debacle

  1. Kathryn Braun Fenner (Mrs. Stephen A.)

    NPR overreacted, and before y’all pile on the lib’ruls, plenty of liberal journalists have decried it, too. Let’s hope NPR will back down.

    Of course, now Emperor DeMint has piled on and sees an opportunity to block their funding–because one mistake by an otherwise excellent medium, in a world of dwindling excellence, is worthy of the death penalty. Fox News, which has no pretensions of being actually fair and balanced, can get away with all manner of outrages–if you’re backed by a gazillionaire, you get to do whatever you want, regardless of what it does to the quality of national discourse.

    I agree with the notion that Vic Rawl’s poorly-run campaign beget Alvin Greene, which meant no meaningful opposition to Demint, which beget his over-weaning grandstanding and ability to go out and stump for Tea Partyers. On the other hand, reading in today’s paper about the Tea Party candidate in TX who says violent overthrow of the government is an option if the Tea Party can’t get what it wants using ordinary political means–I got to thinking about the dialectic of it all. The newbies of the Tea Party and DeMint will go too far and the pendulum will swing back towards the center.

    When is the question.

  2. Mark Stewart

    I can’t comment on the way he was fired; but there is usually a lot more under the surface when things like that happen.

    However, the fact that he made those comments on FOX and not on NPR is telling. They weren’t meant as an honest airing of feelings he had trouble coming to terms with – they were a bigoted rant. He’s scared of someone’s clothing? Cultural dress is not an antagonism to any right-thinking individual.

    I would bet that he has felt the sting of that “fear” himself before. So to me he is just perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

    FOX may pay him for the PR value, but its clear the guy is not worth paying attention to – in any media forum.

    Real American values are the freedoms he denegrates with his timidity and fear.

  3. Doug T

    Not the first person to use this analogy, but if someone said they were frightened if a black man approached them that would be considered racist and stereotyping, which is exactly what Williams did to Muslims.

    Let Williams take his $2mm to be O’Reilly’s straw man. NPR has higher standards.

    But you’re correct Brad. The Right will use this as much as they can. DeMint’s already pushing for public de-funding of NPR.

  4. Phillip

    Far and away, the best take I’ve seen on the whole thing can be found here:

    Of course it was a terrible overreaction by NPR. But while it’s hard to blame a guy for accepting big piles of cash, Williams should have had the integrity to say to Fox: “You know what guys? It’s true that this was an example of liberal PC-ism taken too far. I shouldn’t have been fired for it. But neither should I be rewarded for it to the tune of two million dollars. In fact, the glee with which you have embraced me after this episode has been just a little, too, um, gleeful. And so I’ll stay with your network but I am publicly declining your bonus offer.”

    If the whole episode, by the attention it’s gathered, sparks a genuine discussion about the topic, maybe it will be worth it. But I doubt it. To Barry, I would say that while NPR certainly was wrong, Fox is not interested in having people be “honest with their feelings” in order to work through a productive national discussion of our relationship with Muslim-Americans. Fox is only interested in anything that can whip up irrational prejudice against law-abiding citizens of our nation who happen to be of the Islamic faith. They have this interest because it is, for them, a huge ratings and cash cow. I hope Mr. Williams will spend at least some of his time on Fox, if they let him, discussing the part of his statements that, as Barry puts it, he “didn’t say he was proud of.”

  5. Barry

    NPR knows they screwed up as well.

    Watching Morning Joe on Friday – everyone on the panel when the show came on at 6am thought NPR was off their rocker in this decision – including Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post.

  6. Nick Nielsen

    Political correctness has descended to the ultimate low when you can be fired for describing your feelings.

    If NPR wants their correspondents to adhere to the rule described in the linked article, they need to ban ALL outside appearances and interviews.

  7. scout (Mrs. William E.)

    So y’all really see NPR’s code of ethics business as an attempt at political correctness? To me it seems more like an attempt to maintain objectivity, which I would think would be a respectable thing to do in the news business. Williams working for Fox at all made NPR uneasy because Fox is the poster child for not being objective. I can understand this. Williams got sucked into the Fox vortex which bends your sensibilities until you say stupid things and don’t even realize they’re stupid. It’s very sad for Juan. He can’t even tell he’s being used. Maybe NPR over-reacted, but I still have more respect for them than I do for Williams.

  8. Dave Dean

    The same left wing rant. You people are amusing and frightening. The same left wing ranters. Radical Islamic terrorist committed the terrorist acts; not Baptist or AME. Remember the Radical Islamic terrorist at Fort Hood? When the Islamic terrorist strike again (and they will) maybe it will a left wing convention. Talk about poetic justice.

  9. Ralph Hightower

    It was a classless way to fire him.

    I’ll share another classless way to announce a layoff. On a Friday, the team that I worked on was called into the break room for a conference call. During the conference call, the person announced that the board of directors killed the product that we were working on. One of the developers asked “Why can’t you tell us face to face instead of using a phone?” The director said that he was in a Colorado hospital bed recovering from a “broken back” that he suffered from a skiing accident. Gone: the entire team, including the CEO!

    The following Monday, we went in to be processed and lo and behold, the director was in Columbia!

    He must have had a miraculous recovery!

    Then I realized that jellyfish don’t have spines!

  10. James Ronan

    “He’s scared of someone’s clothing? Cultural dress is not an antagonism to any right-thinking individual.”

    Incorrect perspective, Mark. Williams wasn’t scared, merely concerned that some people who dress as Muslims espouse the destuction of Western Civilization in general and our Nation in particular. He was up front in avoiding blanket condemnation.

    And “denegrate” (actually denigrate)? That means to blacken. Aren’t you a subliminal racisct.?

    James B. Ronan II

  11. The Right Indignant Kathryn Braun Fenner (Mrs. Stephen A.)

    Ah, but Nick, if the feelings you are describing reveal you to be an unsuitable commentator–say, that you feel aroused when young people are about, or that you have this uncontrollable urge to hit a category of people when they speak, or that you feel the violent overthrow of the government is needed, say–well, where do you draw the line? I agree that NPR over-reacted, but as Phillip so brilliantly states, Williams has hardly taken the high road since then!

  12. Norm Ivey

    From a PR standpoint, NPR mangled this. If they were determined to dismiss him (which I suspect was the case), there were other, quieter ways to handle it. In this article, Alicia Shepard reveals that NPR had some other concerns with Williams, at one point changing his role from journalist to that of news analyst.

    The NPR Code of Ethics says 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. Seems like weak support, especially considering he was not officially a journalist, but an analyst.

    Perhaps a better response would have been to prevent Williams from appearing on Fox again, and then not renew his contract.

    From another viewpoint: Since NPR receives federal funding, do they even have the right to dismiss Williams for expressing his personal point of view?

  13. Doug Ross

    Brad – would you have fired one of your staff at The State if they made the same comment on a radio program?

  14. Barry


    Could not disagree more.

    There is nothing “American” about hiding your personal thoughts in civil discussions about such matters. Hiding in the sand isn’t “American” nor is it helpful.

    I think – as Kathleen Parker said in her column about this that was printed in The State yesterday

    “I’d happily wager that Williams said nothing that 99 percent of Americans haven’t thought to themselves.”

    I have. Soon after 9/11 I boarded a plane at Dulles. As I was waiting, I observed 3 Muslim men, all in what appeared to be their mid 20’s, waiting for the same plane I was waiting for (or so I thought). There were 50-60 other folks waiting at the same time. From the looks on everyone’s faces and the conversations I overheard, I’d guess 90% of the folks were thinking the same thing I was at that exact moment.

    As Juan went on to say after his remark about his personal feelings, it still doesn’t mean you lump everyone into the same category – which Juan clearly wasn’t doing. In fact, he was doing the exact opposite.

  15. Barry

    @ Phillip

    You are a dime late.

    Juan already has said he wasn’t proud of it on Fox.

    (Sometimes I wonder if people actually read and follow things before they comment on them – I think the answer is obviously “no”)

  16. Barry

    @ Phillip

    I laughed at the article you linked saying it was “by far the best take” that you had seen. That writer has a lot of guts calling any statement a “bigoted” statement.

    Not even 1/4 through that article the guy says that Juan is a respected “BLACK” journalist.

    Brad- are you a respected “White” journalist?”

    Phillip? Are you a respected White blog poster or a respected Black one? Indian?

    I sometimes get a laugh at folks calling other people bigoted when they use such talk themselves.

    It’s similiar to NPR’s President firing Juan for his statement, and then herself getting up in front of the press and suggesting Juan needs to seek professional mental health – then had to apologize.

  17. Brad

    Something I haven’t seen anyone address directly…

    Aside from the fact that other NPR figures express opinions regularly with impunity, what about the fact that this did not really fit in to the category of expressing opinion? It was more in the realm of a momentary personal confession, not the expression of a considered political view.

    A person who says “I get nervous” could have ANY opinion on the matter, and his opinion is neither betrayed nor implied by that confession of a personal quirk.

    He said, “I get worried. I get nervous.” He didn’t say, “People who dress in Muslim garb are dangerous, and we should pass laws to treat them differently.” The latter would be an opinion.

  18. bud

    Does NPR have the right to fire anyone they please for any reason they please? If so then a good case could be made that Juan Williams just was not a very good news analyst. On those grounds alone I believe Juan Williams should have been let go. It should have been done diplomatically and at the end of his current contract. But it should have happened. Juan Williams just is not a very good news analyst.

    Yet the whole ham-handed approach by the NPR leadership is simply astounding. Didn’t they know a dismissal on something as flimsy as a frank discussion about one’s feeling on an airplane would draw the ire of the wacky conservatives? They are hypocritical of course having defended the firing of journalists for poorly worded criticisms of Isreal (Helen Thomas in particular).

    But really NPR, this was pretty bad and I have a difficult time defending the manner in which it was done.

  19. Maude Lebowski

    @ Barry

    Noting someone’s ethnic race is not bigotry.

    The folks at NPR must also be confused about what constitutes bigotry to have had this ludicrous reaction. I agree that this is an example of political correctness gone too far.

  20. Mark Stewart

    I don’t condone what NPR did; though I do condemn Mr. Williams for being such a mamby pamby. Man-up seems to be the political phrase of the season. It fits here.

    I’ll repeat for those who have trouble removing there own personal ideological tremors from the discussion: The man confessed he was “afraid” of someone wearing clothing that was different from his own. He was not threatened; he was afraid. Jeez.

    At least I have a brain that sits atop my spine. Apparently, Mr. Williams has neither.

  21. Phillip

    @Barry: I think you and I actually agree on most of this. My main point, and the one I felt the Gawker writer was making (whether or not I would endorse every word of that post) is that Mr. Williams, a veteran and well-respected journalist, has been made a pawn in a larger game. NPR felt it wanted to make some kind of statement, I suppose, and so took this action, if unwarranted as you and I evidently agree. But now Fox is clearly trying to use Williams and this whole episode as cover, or even justification, for the truly offensive, inaccurate, and demagogic anti-Muslim rhetoric they regularly spout. So what I liked about the article was simply that the writer hopes (as I do) that Williams carves out some truly independent ground between these extremes and advances us all in working through these kinds of issues. He’s in a unique position to do so, but he can never accomplish that on Fox, simply because it’s not in Fox’s interest to facilitate that.

    I kind of agree with you, too, about the labels, BTW, about “black” journalists, etc. The only defense for the writer I might suggest is that Williams’ blackness puts a particularly ironic spin on all this, since most African-Americans have a more acute sense of the effects of racial profiling than whites, and Williams has been critical of thinking not so unlike what he offered up in the controversial quote. Still, I too am uncomfortable with how automatic these labels appear in the media.

  22. Norm Ivey

    Mark said

    At least I have a brain that sits atop my spine. Apparently, Mr. Williams has neither.

    Nice line, Mark!

  23. Barry

    @ Maude

    Well, it might be evidence of bigotry. We really don’t know. It at least conveys a sense of “I see this man as a BLACK journalist” versus “I see this man as a journalist.”

    It gives you insight into how the writer of that article views someone else.

  24. Barry

    @ Brad

    You hit the nail on the head.

    Juan used his own personal “feeling” to make the point that despite somone’s own “feeling” on such an issue (which we all have), you can’t be lumping everyone into the same category.

    It is no different than what everyone on here feels from time to time- including Mark Stewart – that we all have our personal biases against folks- but Juan went the extra step and said that despite those we can’t let them influence our overall decision making as a society.

    and I have felt the exact same way getting on a plane before as Juan felt – and so has 99% of Americans.

  25. Barry

    Just heard Bob Beckel (Liberal talking head) say he agreed with Juan Williams then added

    “Anyone that sees Muslims dressed in traditional clothing on the plane with them gets nervous and if they say they they don’t they are lying.”

    I agree.

  26. Mark Stewart


    Well then I am happy to be a 1%er. And I make no bones about the fact that I am biased about bigotry. Remove the word “Muslim” and insert any other group and see how inappropriate that line of feeling or thinking really is. Of course we all have feelings that we need to rise above; the problem is when we express these and attempt to legitimize our fears without challenging ourselves to be more honest and open-minded. What is so scary about a society’s historical style of clothing? Does anyone really see the destruction of Western Civilization in another’s attire?

    When I board a plane, I am on the lookout for blabbers, babies, the morbidly obese, air marshalls and the the sick.

    By the way: None of the 9/11 terrorists wore the traditional garb of their native lands. So you can relax now.

    I’m not saying that there are not serious threats out there; but I am saying that such superficiality as fear of dress isn’t ever going to appropriately counteract them.

  27. Nervous Flyer

    ““Anyone that sees Muslims dressed in traditional clothing on the plane with them gets nervous and if they say they they don’t they are lying.”

    I agree.” –Barry

    As a seriously nervous flyer, I can say I am less nervous when I see Muslims in traditional garb, than when I see rule-breakers try to cram way more luggage and other items on the plane–weighing it down, possibly obstructing exit aisles, and so on. I am nervous when people between me and the exits don’t pay attention to the safety lecture–which has been shown to greatly increase chances of survival. I get nervous when I read about drunk pilots and passengers.

    Some pious Muslim makes me no more nervous than if I saw a Mennonite or Mormon missionary. Hey, they might have an “in” with the Big Guy!

  28. Barry

    @ Nervous Flyer –

    I don’t get nervous when I see obese folks on planes trying to take up 2 seats- 1 being mine – or folks cramming too much luggage into compartments – I get ticked off.

    @ Mark –

    then you are in the 1%. Like Juan, I don’t think there is anything necessarily rational about getting nervous about seeing people in traditional Muslim clothing (but feelings aren’t always 100% rational for most humans except maybe you). Like Juan, I have rose above it (as he said) and reminded myself that I can’t let a personal feeling that may be 100% incorrect influence my more rational decision making self.

    and hopefully I won’t be fired for stating such obviously hateful speech.

  29. Barry

    @ Mark

    “By the way: None of the 9/11 terrorists wore the traditional garb of their native lands. So you can relax now.”

    and no one said any differently. I know that it probably makes you feel smart to say that- but it’s not necessary.

    As has been said more times than I care to count now (unless you have ignored it) – personal thoughts aren’t always rational especially concerning emotional issues.

    That is why the 2nd part of what Juan Williams said in that now infamous appearance on Bill’s Fox show was equally – or more- important.

  30. Phillip

    To Nervous: exactly. Yes, I’m almost always a little nervous when I fly, but not over Muslims in traditional garb…I often fly the regional carriers, the small planes…so I worry about underpaid pilots who are moonlighting in other jobs or making outrageous commutes and not getting enough sleep, or slipshod maintenance like in the crash in Charlotte a few years ago.

    Then again, all of us should surely be WAY WAY WAY more nervous any time we step into our cars and drive out of our driveways, than over the sight of Muslims on our planes, in traditional garb or not.

  31. Kathryn Fenner

    Yikes, Phillip–I gotta drive to and from Chucktown tonight, and you’re right–after the major fatal crashes on I-26, I’m gonna keep a sharp eye peeled and a light foot on the accelerator.

    How many more people died in ordinary car wrecks on 9/11/2001 than in the terrorist events?

  32. Mark Stewart

    It’s a big world out there. And words matter.

    Words also trigger reactions.

    But all this talk of emotions and feelings is, too me, just a lot of dancing around the reality of the issue: Which is that what is attempting to be condoned (starting with Mr. Williams) is just straight up racism. What I saw in the FOX/NPR story that made me comment is that so many people’s anxiety about 9/11 seems to somehow give our society the belief that, as to Muslims or Islamic society, we have “rights” to express things that one would dare not state about any other group of people today. To me, that’s just wrong.

    I’m not under any delusion that I’ll change anyone’s opinion on this, but it did seem worth pointing out.

  33. Barry

    @ Mark

    words matter- but they matter the most in context.

    for example..

    I feel bad. (about not being able to watch my favorite tv show tonight)

    I feel bad (about so many children dying of hunger in our world).

    Now I said the same thing both times. But one is important. The other isn’t.

    It’s not that you won’t change my opinion. I simply don’t agree with the premise of your statement.

    I have no problem expressing that I don’t feel comfortable when I find myself in or around a group I am not use to – whether that be black people, Muslims, Mormons, wealthy people, women, or rednecks. I’m not proud of that. But it is the way it is and I am not afraid to express it within the right discussion and within context.

    Juan put his personal feelings in context and made the statement in a particular context. He didn’t throw it out there as some inflammatory hate speech. He admitted a personal failing.

  34. Kathryn "Blue" Fenner


    Just drove back from Chucktown on I-26, and there’s a huge billboard near O-burg about “Islam rising” with a man in “Muslim garb” and burning zombie eyes. I guess they’ve got a right to do it, but it made me sad.

  35. Mark Stewart


    Yeah, I’ve passed that one several times this month. It’s the kind of stupidity that reflects badly on everyone whether they agree with it or not.

    Kind of like the Confederate flag over the State House, no?


    You said it best: “Within the right discussion and within context.”

    FOX news was not the appropriate forum for Mr. Williams’ ruminations. The context was that he consciously reinforced the stereotyping that outlets such as FOX thrive on – even promote. The rest of his statement was just weasel words that he knew wouldn’t be what was remembered by the audience. The impression made was the impression intended.

  36. Brad

    You know, there’s a whole conversation I’d be interested to have here about the way a healthy human brain works that takes this out of the realm of political correctness-vs.-Angry White Males.

    But in the last week of an election, when I’m having trouble blogging at all, much less keeping up with all the election-related things I need to be writing about… I don’t have time to set out all my thoughts on the subject.

    But to sort of give a hint…

    What I’m thinking is this: There are certain things that we decry today, in the name of being a pluralistic society under the rule of law, that are really just commonsense survival strategies, things programmed into us by eons of evolution.

    For instance, we sneer at people for being uneasy in certain situations — say, among a group of young males of a different culture or subculture.

    But, if our ancestors weren’t uneasy and ready to fight or flee in such a situation, they wouldn’t have lived to reproduce, and we wouldn’t be here. Thousands of years ago, people who felt all warm and fuzzy and wanted to celebrate multiculturalism when in the company of a bunch of guys from the rival tribe got eaten for dinner, and those people are NOT our ancestors. We inherited our genes from the edgy, suspicious, cranky people — the racists and nativists of their day.

    Take that to the next level, and we recognize that such tendencies are atavistic, and that it’s actually advantageous in our modern market economy governed by liberal democracies to be at ease with folks from the other “tribes.” In fact, the more you can work constructively with people who are different, the more successful you will be at trade, etc.

    So quite rightly we sneer at those who haven’t made the socio-evolutionary adjustment. They are not going to get the best mates, etc., because chicks don’t dig a guy who’s always itching for a fight. So they’re on the way out, right?

    However… the world hasn’t entirely changed as much as we think it has. There are still certain dangers, and the key is to have the right senses to know when you need to be all cool and open and relaxed, and when you need to be suspicious as hell, and ready to take evasive or combative action.

    This requires an even higher state of sophistication. Someone who is always suspicious of people who are different is one kind of fool. Someone who is NEVER suspicious of people who are different (and I’m thinking more of people with radically different world views — not Democrats vs. Republicans, but REALLY different — more than I am people wearing funny robes) is another kind of fool.

    The key, ultimately, is not to be any kind of fool. The key is to be a thoughtful, flexible survivor who gets along great with the Middle-eastern-looking guy or the Spanish-speakers in the cereals aisle at Walmart, but who is ready to spring into action to deal with the Middle-eastern guy in seat 13A who’s doing something weird with the smoking sole of his shoe, or the Spanish-speaking guy wielding an AK-47 over a drug deal…

    This may seem common sense, but there are areas in which we will see conflicts between sound common sense and our notions of rigid fairness in a liberal democracy. For instance, I submit that an intelligent person who deals with the world as it is will engage in a certain amount of profiling. I mean, what is profiling, anyway, but a gestalten summation of what you’ve learned about the world in your life. The ability to generalize, and act upon generalizations — without overdoing it — are key life skills.

    There are certain traits that put you on guard and make you particularly vigilant under particular circumstances, or you are a fool. If you’re in an airport and you see a group of 20-something Mediterranean-looking males (and young males from ANY culture always bear more watching than anyone else — sorry, guys, but y’all have a long rap sheet) unaccompanied by women or children or old men, and they’re muttering and fidgeting with something in their bags… you’re not very bright if you don’t think, “This bears watching.”

    Now of course, knowing this, if I’m a terrorist organization, I’m going to break up that pattern as much as I can. (I’ll have them travel separately, wear western clothes, coach them not to seem furtive, etc. I’ll recruit middle-aged women if I can, although they generally have far too much sense.) So if you’re watching this scene, and you are intelligent, you’re bound to think, “These guys look SO suspicious that they must be innocent, because terrorists aren’t that stupid…” Well, yeah, they can be. Let me submit the evidence of the guy who set his underpants on fire… So there’s such a thing as overthinking the situation. I mean, how bright is a guy who wants to blow himself up to make a point? People who do that ALSO don’t reproduce, so evolution militates against it…

    Anyway, I’d go on and on about this, and examine all the implications, and endeavor to challenge the assumptions of people of all political persuasions… but I don’t have time this week.

  37. Kathryn Jean Braun Fenner

    @ Mark
    “The impression made was the impression intended.”

    Yes, and is attempts to conceal it detract from the stregth of any defense I might make of him, but if he had stood by it, instead of weaseling away from it, would it not be a valid point of view (if execrable to you and me)?

    I guess I am becoming wary of suppressing any non-inciting speech (inciting speech= shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre). Sticks and stones, blah blah blah–well, words do hurt a lot, and I would like a chance to try to convince the speaker to rethink. Stopping him or her from speaking doesn’t make the underlying thoughts go away.

    I read that NPR was unhappy with the quality of JW’s analyses for along time and just took this opportunity to whack him. It’s a shame, because it just adds to the endless grievances of the perpetually aggrieved.

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