Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 21, 2010

JUAN WILLIAMS BOOTED FROM NPR.... NPR has never seemed entirely comfortable with Juan Williams' propensity for nonsense when he appears on Fox News. Last year, for example, less than a week after President Obama's inauguration, Williams lashed out at First Lady Michelle Obama, calling her an "albatross" with a "Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going."

Soon after, NPR insisted that Williams no longer identify himself on Fox News as a "senior correspondent for NPR," though that was his title.

This week, that discomfort reached a new level, to the point that NPR chose to sever the relationship altogether.

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

NPR said in a statement that it gave Mr. Williams notice of his termination on Wednesday night. [...]

NPR said in its statement that the remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."

At issue is Monday night's episode of Bill O'Reilly's Fox News episode. The host went on yet another anti-Muslim tirade, insisting there's "a Muslim problem in the world," and the "Muslim threat to the world is not isolated." He sought Williams' approval, and received it.

Williams told O'Reilly he's "right," adding "political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality." Williams went on to say, "I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot.... 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."

In candor, this kind of talk seems so routine on Fox News, I didn't really expect Williams to face any punishment. I hope reasonable people can agree his remarks were ugly and narrow-minded, but this is Fox News. Williams' anti-Muslim sentiment is expressed in various forms throughout the day, every day, on the network. There are no consequences because it's expected -- intolerance and prejudice from Fox News personalities are just par for the course.

The difference with Williams, though, is that he wears more than one hat. On Fox News, he's a token "liberal" who isn't liberal, free to make ridiculous on-air observations. On NPR, he's a less contentious political analyst, who strives for some degree of credibility.

But the tension was always problematic. When Williams was back at his NPR home, the audience was supposed to simply forget that this was the same guy they heard earlier on making offensive remarks on television. It was an untenable relationship.

And so Williams joins Rick Sanchez in the recently-ousted-for-ugly-intolerance club. The group would be larger if Fox News executive cared about such things, but bigotry goes unpunished at the Republican cable news network.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

Finally.
Now can Mara Liasson and Scott Simon also be told to clear out their desks? Maybe then I can start to recognize the NPR I loved to listen to prior to the Bush infusion of conservatards.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on October 21, 2010 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

I hope it was the mail they got. I sent them an on-line message the other day, after Williams' latest "gaffe." And it wasn't the first time I had written to complain.

Posted by: karen marie on October 21, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

I haven't turned NPR on since 2008 when the shilled non-stop for John McCaine. Firing Williams is a start, but they haven't won me back.

Posted by: SaintZak on October 21, 2010 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

The only really objectionable there there is insisting that it's not bigotry. If he'd only said, "I mean, look, Bill, I'm a bigot about this, too.... 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."

Posted by: gussie on October 21, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

I am curious to know what happened to Chuck Todd ( I never cared for him) he was the White House reporter for MSNBC, now he does not seem to be.
He keeps coming up on MSNBC making snarky comments about the president - I feel like he has been caught out in something and we have not been told!

Posted by: js on October 21, 2010 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Mara Liasson is also pretty bad - her NPR reports always always inject Republican spin. What's wrong with Scott Simon? I like his weekend edition.

Posted by: Noordijk on October 21, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

ditto Mara Liasson. NPR ditches her and I will "pledge" again - generously.

Posted by: scott on October 21, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

There is no accountability on MSNBC for Pat Buchanan. When he ran for President, his views were considered over the top, beyond the pale. Now his comments are mild compared to Fox. And no one blinks an eye.

Posted by: Vickijean on October 21, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

Cant he be arrested for a hate crime?

Posted by: JOe on October 21, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Two things:

1] When ANYONE starts a statement with "Now, I'm not a bigot, but..." there be undeniable bigotry ahead!

2] There was a time — long ago in a galaxy far, far away — when Juan Williams at least appeared to know what he was talking about. His migration to FOX News is a splendid example of what happens when reasonable news people flirt with — and then are sucked in by — the dark side.

Posted by: chrenson on October 21, 2010 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

The group would be larger if Fox News executive cared about such things, but bigotry goes unpunished at the Republican cable news network.

Punished? It's a requirement over there.

I just hope Juan enjoys his new full-time job as token black over @ Southern Strategy News.

Posted by: SWENXOF on October 21, 2010 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Good. But NPR still stands for Nice Polite Republicans.

Posted by: KLG on October 21, 2010 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

@ Noordijk:
what's wrong with scott simon? he's a cubs fan.
go, go, white sox.
(that said, i like weekend edition, too.) (and i miss daniel schoor.)

Posted by: mellowjohn on October 21, 2010 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Mara Liasson is a joke, then so is Cokie Roberts. Oh well, NPR is a great gig for Cokie, she doesn't even have to get out of her pajamas to phone in her poorly thought out conventional wisdom. In Cokie's case it does take a village to create an idiot.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 21, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

The host went on yet another anti-Muslim tirade, insisting there's "a Muslim problem

A Muslim Problem? That sounds a bit 1939 to me, although the religion has changed.

Posted by: Danp on October 21, 2010 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

Steve wrote, "On NPR, he's a less contentious political analyst, who strives for some degree of credibility."

Really? When did Juan Williams ever strive for a single degree of credibility? And I agree with every comment about Mara Liasson, the RWNJ spokesperson on NPR.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on October 21, 2010 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Good.

Posted by: Okie on October 21, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot.... 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."

________________________

Yes, because the 9/11 hijackers were dressed in the traditional "Muslim Garb" of Brooks Brothers shirts and pleated trousers.

http://imgur.com/eLRxd.jpg

Posted by: victory on October 21, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I sent NPR and my local PBS stations a note early this year to say I would not be contributing until they got Juan Williams and Mara Liasson off the air. NPR totally ruins it's credibility by having FOX contributors as correspondents. I agree with the other comments on Cokie Roberts and Scott Simon. Sometimes the bias is so thick, I can't believe I'm listening to NPR.

Posted by: IndigoJoe on October 21, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Hmm, so the problem isn't really his remarks but the "Fox News tension"?? What B.S.

P.S. I never watch Fox (it's a cesspool), but firing here seems overdone and probably wouldn't have happend sans the Fox angle (which makes it B.S.)

Posted by: Tosk59 on October 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Juan lost his credibility long ago. My guess is that they were looking for him to go a little too far over the line and he finally did it.

Posted by: Rich on October 21, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

The Juan Williams controversy reminds me of the Doonesbury segment when Mike gets on an airplane after the 9/11 attacks and finds himself seated next to a muslim man. Mike felt nervous in that situation and he struggled to reconcile his values of religious freedom with his gut feelings of fear. Did anyone come away from that with the feeling that Mike was a bigot? Williams may have been foolish to be so candid about his feelings (especially in the context of a show on Fox) but his statement doesn't seem particularly damning. It's just the sort of left-brain/right-brain struggle we all go through.

Posted by: Oregonian on October 21, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Oregonian - the point of that cartoon was specifically to highlight the struggle that a thoughtful person might feel in that situation. Juan Williams doesn't remotely fit into the category of a thoughtful person. He may have, once. At the moment, he's one of a hundred glib, thoughtless pundits who give a particular kind of slick, valueless, inside-the-beltway view on all current events. It's a very well-paying gig -- especially if you can be identified as a liberal on-air while saying entirely right-wing or reactionary things. Fox pays handsomely for the quislings.

And again, the Muslim comment is only the most recent really stupid thing that Juan has said. I utterly loathe the man, and this is terrific news.

Posted by: Rathskeller on October 21, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I was out of the loop on the Mara Liasson gig. Why are they allowed to pull so many gigs? But turf Kookie Roberts and we can talk contributions .... I have figured out the pattern of stories in the morning, and know when to turn it off for the lame analyses, and esp. Roberts' lazy, simple minded views.

Posted by: bigutah on October 21, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Good.

But far too late.

And sorry, Steve, but this: NPR has never seemed entirely comfortable with Juan Williams' propensity for nonsense when he appears on Fox News

is nonsense. Williams has been bolstering right-wing frames on Fox and NPR for years now, and NPR has been comfortable enough to let him do it.

Posted by: Gregory on October 21, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Oregonian, when you are seated next to a priest on a plane, do you get nervous you will be molested? The percentage of priests who've molested people is far higher than the percentage of Muslims who've taken out airplanes. Think about it.

NPR was far too slow getting rid of Williams. He's like the cat who ran through all of his nine lives. Stokely Carmichael in a dress, anyone?

That said, he wasn't nearly as obnoxious as Mara Liasson. (And thank God Scott Simon's main job is not talking politics!)

I have to admit to finally reaching acceptance about Cokie Roberts, though. In a way, it's nice to know that every week I can tune in for a pure, distilled sample of what official Beltway Opinion is now. As long as you realize she's not actually talking about reality, but about what the members of the DC social register believe reality to be, it's quite informative, actually.

Posted by: biggerbox on October 21, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Williams' was a pale comparison to Suarez on Talk of the Nation... and he only got worse.

Liasson was -at one time- a member of the Republican party.

Posted by: Brian on October 21, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Oregonian, when you are seated next to a priest on a plane, do you get nervous you will be molested? The percentage of priests who've molested people is far higher than the percentage of Muslims who've taken out airplanes."

Seated next to a priest? No. But I would get nervous if a priest tried spend some alone time with my 4-year old son.

Posted by: Laura on October 21, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Man this website is awesome! Arrest Juan Williams. Clear out all those who have independent thoughts at NPR. Can't we also have re-education camps? I get giddy just knowing there are so many other fascists out there. Is there a WM annual event or something? Please let me know

Posted by: wtlf555 on October 21, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

My first thought upon reading this was "Will they dump Mara Liasson now, too?" One can only hope.

At least with Cokie Roberts, you know what you're getting upfront; she's no less a dolt on NPR than on ABC.

As for Simon, I listen to him less so I'm out of the loop on what's taking place with him.

Posted by: Breeze on October 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

very nice

Posted by: newspopularity on October 21, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

When the second Bush administration invaded Iraq, Scott Simon started doing monologues where he waxed poetic about the war - as if it was uncontroversially justified. I lost all respect for him over that.

Posted by: John on October 21, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

It's about time they got rid of Juan Williams. But really, shouldn't the next one out (okay, maybe after Cokie Roberts) be Renee Montagne? Shouldn't a radio host be able to speak without a bunch of ers and ums?

Posted by: R on October 21, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I remember when Williams took over Talk of the Nation from Ray Suarez, whose work I admired. It was a happy day when Williams was replaced. He just wasn't a good host.

There are several issues here -- first, the practice of "journalists" appearing on several different media outlets. It's true -- You can't serve more than one master. There will always be conflicts. It's one way the Village reinforces itself, by tying together money, prestige, and access.

Also, though, Williams' firing, as does CNN's firings of Rick Sanchez and a Middle East correspondent (sorry, I can't recall her name at the moment) who said something nice about a Hezbollah leader who died, brings up that old specter of "political correctness." Should expressing a single wonky opinion be grounds for firing? I'd like to think these incidents were "last straw" sorts of events -- especially in cases of Sanchez and Williams -- but for people who believe in free flow of opinion, it's troubling.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on October 21, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

does not liking juan williams make one a racist similar to not liking obama make one a racist? just an observation.
the ultra-conservative thought has permeated our media so much that i wonder about those who say it is too liberal. just what do they want??? i would love to see one unabashed liberal on the lame stream media. (the only thing i agree with sara palin about is her description of it - for different reasons though.) puh-leez!!! we get two opposing views on the major networks including npr the corporate news network - forget cnn - npr beats them with their corporate sponsorships. we get the conservative viewpoint and we get the ultra-right wing reactionary view point. please show me by example where there is any real liberal views expressed. when one tries to rear its head they shut them down pretty quickly.

Posted by: Andrew L'Amour on October 21, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "NPR has never seemed entirely comfortable with Juan Williams' propensity for nonsense when he appears on Fox News."

Which is why NPR has never, ever, EVER identified Juan Williams or Mara Liasson as what they are -- Rupert Murdoch's paid, partisan Republican propagandists -- when they appear on NPR as "analysts".

NPR's "insistence" that Juan Williams not honestly, correctly, and accurately identify himself as a "senior correspondent for NPR", which as Steve notes is in fact his job title there, is despicable hypocrisy.

Steve Benen quoted the New York Times: "NPR said in its statement that the remarks 'were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR'."

More stinking hypocrisy from NPR. The ONLY reason that Juan Williams is even on NPR as an "analyst" is so that he can legitimize the right-wing extremist propaganda that he is paid by Rupert Murdoch to spew on Fox to make it palatable for NPR's "liberal" audience.

NPR's Morning Edition is little more than a steady stream of corporate-sponsored, partisan Republican propaganda, mixed with unctuous, cutesy, dumbed-down pop-culture drivel. It's Fox News for white, well-off, suburban "liberals".

Posted by: SecularAnimist on October 21, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

It sure took NPR long enough to get rid if that useless hack.

Posted by: cwolf on October 21, 2010 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I have yet to hear if Mr. Williams was fired in accordance with his contract. Surely he must have had one with NPR.

Does anyone have any details in regard to his contract?

Posted by: mikeyes on October 21, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Oregonian, Bat of Moon, and wtlf555 -- Just two examples:
1. Williams referred to the First Lady as "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress" in a conversation with Bill O'Reilly. (No evidence was offered for this assessment.)
2. Williams was forced, when working for the Washington Post, to apologize for (verbal) sexual harassment. Only then did his fierce defense of Clarence Thomas just a short time earlier make sense.

Posted by: R on October 21, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

In your mind, on Fox, Williams is a token liberal and wildly outspoken. On NPR he is Politically Correct and a 'Dear'. How hypocritical you are, NPR. Your Network, NPR, has high standards for your employees, especially for a "Public" Taxpayer funded entity. It's alright to take a conservative taxpayer's money but not alright to mention their viewpoint or anyone's viewpoint who doesn't get your so called 'ethics' For shame!!

Posted by: Tom Heroux on October 21, 2010 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I kind of hoped reasonable people might by now be prepared to let go the fiction that the expression of intolerance, prejudice and outright bigotry are not a big part what it means to BE a Fox News personality.

Posted by: My Yankee Mouth on October 21, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

The Real Lesson

Don't make racist comments if your name is "Juan" or "Sanchez."

If your name is "Limbaugh", "Imus", "Beck", or "O'Reilly," knock yourself out.

Posted by: Winkandanod on October 21, 2010 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Well, this is going to unpopular, so flame away.

I think he said the truth, at least for a lot of Americans. Sadly a lot of us identify Muslims in robes as the enemy. I don't pretend to understand all the reasons for it, but it exists. To throw rocks at someone for articulating that feeling is absurd. I wish it was different but it isn't.

Posted by: William Peterson on October 21, 2010 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

It seems like NPR and many listeners have much in common with Barbara Boxer when earlier this year thought she had all the 'negroes' and their opinions and votes herded into one tidy box. We continue to see who the real racists and true haters really represent. It's not news to many, but I hope the most defiant and close-minded sorts that have been throwing rocks at Juan Williams and others with courage will stop to reflect for a moment.

Posted by: scott on October 21, 2010 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

If I were running a Christian church and one of my deacons said at another church (say that of Rev Phelps) he was nervous because he thought all good looking guys were gay and were going to proposition him, I would probably ask him to step down from his post and get psychiatric help. Because his message was the product of a unbalanced mind he would not be a good influence on my members.

IF one of McCain's PR people happened to be consulting for a firm which ran liberal advertisements and that person was quoted as saying he feared Christians because some of them hallucinated talking with God and thus feared they might kill him on a whim. McCain might fire that PR Person.

This is the same situation. If Williams was that non-objective about Muslims in PUBLIC the likelihood of his reporting in an objective manner was compromised. Also the likelihood of his holding other odious opinions which would eventually slip out and compromise the integrity of his work.

By defending Williams Palin and Huckabee have just put themselves on the side of people who are afraid of Muslims under all circumstances.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on October 21, 2010 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

This is stupid! Juan was defending Muslim's saying we shouldn't discriminate. You know liberals do this little dance all the time, as a black conservative I've had to put up with the double standard. In Detroit Muslims were particularly prejudice and bigoted and we all knew it although no one said a thing. At least once a year a Muslim girl would get beaten for dating a black male. Juan wasn't fired because of a Stokely Charmichael crack or saying he gets somewhat nervous when he says traditionally garbed Muslims on plans. (I also feel the same way, I also wonder if Catholic Priests maybe gay, I wonder if the brother with his pants down following me at night may attempt to rob me) but I am not a bigot. These are natural tendencies which one can control and not make judgmental actions...

Posted by: Durmon on October 22, 2010 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

a wise observer posted:
NPR's Morning Edition is little more than a steady stream of corporate-sponsored, partisan Republican propaganda, mixed with unctuous, cutesy, dumbed-down pop-culture drivel. It's Fox News for white, well-off, suburban "liberals".

Thanks. I've thought this since bush's war. NPR is little more than a re-education camp for liberals who haven't realized their beloved media outlet has been co-oped. Edward R. Morrow is spinning. Terry Grose, get out now before they get you too.
-windwatcher

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