NPR's PC Taliban axes Juan Williams

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Frank Lockwood

Juan Williams has been fired by NPR for saying that he’s nervous when he flies on an airplane with people wearing traditional Islamic garb.

But don’t feel too sorry for Mr. Williams. Hours after getting a pink slip from NPR, he got a $2-million-dollar, three-year deal from FOX News.

Lost in the uproar was Mr. Williams’ key point, that Osama bin Laden is as representative of Islam as Fred Phelps is of Christianity.

I met Mr. Williams at a GOP presidential debate in Iowa in 2007 and he was very gracious when I visited with him. Seemed like a real class act.

A lot of Americans have fears when they fly. Most of those fears are irrational. But fear isn’t rational. It’s primal. It’s instinctual. And it can be overcome.

Fortunately for Mr. Williams, he won’t have to fear unemployment.

No Responses to “NPR's PC Taliban axes Juan Williams”

  1. cheese

    Taliban? Really? You’re gonna compare a public radio network that trying to protect its journalistic integrity with people who throw acid in the faces of children?

  2. This PC stuff has got to stop. It is now a parody of itself.

  3. LeftOfTheMississippi

    Cheese: Public TV icon Bill Moyers uses the ‘Taliban’ label to refer to Republicans — and nobody in public television land bats an eye. Clearly, there’s a double standard.

  4. Julian Malakar

    Journalist is mirror image of people’s conscious. If their freedom of expression is not secured by society, how people could expect unbiased truth from them. I find firing of Juan Williams equals to stabbing from back by a terrorist whose interest has been hampered by his statement, like Swedish journalist. A Muslim professor was shown in TV openly encouraging his Muslim brothers to fight against Israel to wipe out from the map without any reparation. Is this fair in freedom of expression America stands for? Or is this irrational fear of back fire from terrorist group? What happening now in America and around the world singling out a specific group is not unjustifiable? Truth can not be covered by sugar coating.

  5. Thank you, Julian, you hit the nail right on the head. These “politically correct” liberals think problems will just go away if they pretend they are not there.

    They use strong-armed tactics of firing people, to prevent them from opening a discourse about taboo topics. It is an irony that the politically correct are the most intolerant people out there.

    Their agenda appears to be the destruction of traditional, Christian America. Why else would they be so keen to import so many potentially dangerous people?

    They are more than happy to sacrifice real lives, to literally cause deaths, to advance their agenda.

  6. José

    “…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.”
    –Juan Williams

    So according to Williams it is reasonable to fear anyone who puts religious belief ahead of any other affiliation. It is reasonable to fear someone who dresses according to a religious and cultural norm that may be a minority. Just imagine the complaints if an NPR newscaster said that we should be nervous around anyone who takes their Christian faith seriously. Really, send a reporter to some local church and ask the congregation “Can I trust you, or do you put your God first?” I would like to see THOSE responses!

    Untold thousands of airline passengers in the US wear the modest clothing of Muslim faithful, yet none of them have hijacked airplanes and crashed them into our cities. The 9/11 terrorists, as I recall, did not dress like stereotypical Middle Eastern Muslim warriors. They wore regular American street clothes. Maybe TSA ought to be more careful to screen passengers wearing button-down Oxfords and chinos.

  7. José

    Frank, like our friend cheese I question your use of the term “Taliban” in reference to NPR. Would you care to justify it?

    The Taliban is best known for imposing its strict interpretation of religious and cultural law through means of violence and terror. Their rule is “obey or die”. Now, if the Taliban behaved like the execs at NPR then dissenters would be escorted to the doors of the mosques and madrassas and advised in most severe language not to return.

    Juan Williams was neither killed, nor was he injured except perhaps his pride. He was not forced to recant his beliefs at the threat of a sword. His property was not confiscated, and he was not evicted from his homeland. Nope, he simply lost one of his part time jobs because his employer no longer believed that he upheld the standards of journalistic integrity. You and I could lose our fulltime jobs tomorrow, and for a lot less reason. Williams is still free to voice his beliefs, though he may have chosen to give up that right by signing the multimillion dollar contract with Fox.

    It has been observed that Fox Williams and NPR Williams seemed like two people with different and incompatible views. If so then NPR would have yet another reason to part ways with Williams, unless you think that a radio network has no right to expect its commentators to believe what they say.

  8. I don’t think Juan Williams said that his fear was “reasonable” or “rational.” Fear, by its very nature, frequently isn’t reasonable or rational.

  9. Julian Malakar

    Justin, as you said in your posting, another irony is that when NPR executive visit Islamic state, they would not mind wear “Burqa” (body cover for woman) to adjust culture but when Islamic people come to America they could not make them open up their buqa to adjust with open society of America. It is funny.

  10. Caleb Powers

    One of two things is happening here, and I have no way of knowing which. Either Juan Williams truly didn’t understand before he said what he did the impact it would have on public opinion, or he did.

    If he did, and said it anyway, this whole affair has been seeded and manipulated for his gain, because he’d have to know that anyone fired by NPR for any reason having to do with politics would be welcomed by Fox with open arms and wallets. It is not beyond reason that he had already decided that since he was getting paid so much more by Fox than by NPR (those limousine liberals), he’d probably have to chuck NPR anyway, so he could open up and say the type of inflammatory things that Fox pays black people to say. And by manipulating NPR into firing him, he becomes King of the News Cycle for a day, people who have never read is insipid columns know his name, and gets a million dollar bonus from Fox.

    If, on the other hand, he truly didn’t understand the impact that what he said would make, and was the Most Surprised Man in America to be fired, then he’s an idiot and NPR doesn’t need him, and he’ll feel right at home at Fox.

  11. Caleb, it might help to watch Mr. Williams on Fox News on occasion, if your stomach can handle it. He is what some might call Fox’s “token liberal.” He was very emotionally torn up about being fired from NPR. He felt he only expressed a common fear many of us may have. I’ve watched the interview in question and it is quite obvious it was unpremeditated. Was it stupid? I don’t really think so. I would be nervous if a guy in a turban got on a plane too. Not frightened really, just wary. It may be illogical. I certainly don’t get nervous when I see a Catholic priest on a plane, even though the Catholics did some despicable things back in the day.

    When I was at BYU we had a few Sik students from India. Their religion required them to carry a “sword” (really a sort of dagger) with them at all times along with wearing a turban. I was never nervous around them. But that was pre-9/11. I’m pretty sure there would be nervous people around them now, and it would be understandable if BYU decided not to allow the swords. It is all a matter of context.

    And like flockwood said, fear is irrational, but that doesn’t make it any less real. If Juan Williams thought about it, he might have rephrased his response, but listening to him since then I don’t think so. He was just being honest. It must be exhausting to always try to be inoffensive to everyone on a live news commentary show. That’s why I certainly don’t ever bother. :)

    Bottom line: Juan Williams was fired because NPR didn’t like him appearing on Fox. They were just waiting for an excuse. They jumped the gun. They should have waited for a better opportunity. They blew it. They showed their hand and it backfired. I can only pray that this incident will result in them not being able to continue to do it with my money.

    Funny, if I don’t like Fox News I can turn it off and it doesn’t cost me anything. Not so with NPR and they know it. You better tow the liberal line on NPR ’cause that’s the way you get your public funding. Most people won’t pay for their product and those that will or do are the liberals that want to make me pay for it as well. They were only protecting their business model in firing Juan, but like all business, they occasionally misjudge. Hopefully it is to their downfall as a publicly-funded entity, but probably not.

  12. José

    I believe that Williams violated the terms of his contract with NPR, repeatedly, and that he was terminated for that reason. Maybe he seemed surprised but you have to wonder why since this was an ongoing problem. You may argue that NPR was intolerant or hasty, but you should also ask why Williams signed such a contract in the first place or stayed for so long if he disagreed with it. Williams would have shown more character if he had resigned much earlier, once he found NPR’s standards too chafing.

    Frank’s assertion that fear is irrational is a bit glib. Maybe he will reconsider the rationality of fear when confronting a wild bear in the woods or when hearing the screech of tires as he’s crossing the street! Fear is reflexive, to be sure, but it’s purposeful.

  13. José, as I understand it, Mr. Williams’ previous “infractions” were all borderline or disputed. It could be argued that none of them actually violated his contract. Nothing on the scale of NPR’s Nina Totenburg who wished Jesse Helms would get AIDS on ABC a few years back. As far as anyone knows she was never reprimanded for that and if anything is a violation of supposed neutrality that would be it.

    One could argue for the “cumulative effect” of Juan Williams’ statements in question, but NPR should have picked a better (and quieter) time to take care of him. They simply showed their hand too blatantly doing it this way.

    Incidentally, all but one of NPR’s new analysts, which Juan Williams was, is well to the left, so no one is really shocked at all this, except maybe Juan. I don’t agree with him, usually, but I feel for the man. I’m happy he’s got a solid gig now on Fox.

  14. José

    John, I looked up the Nina Totenburg quote and found out that (1) it was 15 years ago, (2) Totenburg did NOT wish that Sen. Helms would contract AIDS (though she speculated about what justice from a harsh deity might look like), and (3) Totenburg later apologized for her “stupid remark”. What she said was impolite and unnecessarily personal. Maybe NPR would have have punished her if this occurred today, especially if she had the same clause in her contract and had been warned several times. Neither one of us can know for sure. Do you know if Juan Williams apologized yet?

    The NPR execs admit that they handled the matter poorly but maintain that they were right to sever ties with Williams given the circumstances. You are certainly right that NPR is taking a lot of heat for its actions. Standing up for principle isn’t always easy.

  15. I don’t see that Juan Williams needs to apologize for anything. It’s good to know Totenburg apologized, but she still gave it away that she is capable of extreme bias. She lost all real credibility with that statement and should have been let go as a news analyst.

    Juan stated his true feelings and fears. There was nothing personal or vindictive about his statement. Not so with Nina.

    Incidentally, I knew she said it in 1995, but whether it was last year, 15 years ago or 100 years ago, it was still wrong and a few notches higher on the “What did she/he just say?!” scale that Juan’s. I didn’t even blink an eye at what Juan said. It never occurred to me that it was remotely offensive, until extensive reflection. But then I’m a cold-hearted, racist, bigoted, homophobic conservative who votes to reduce AIDS funding, because, I don’t know, maybe because it’s a virtually entirely avoidable disease and there are so many others that are not.

  16. cheese

    Entirely avoidable? Tell that to rape victims or children who are born with it. High-minded Christian hypocrisy at its best, ladies and gentlemen.

  17. Caleb Powers

    Most of the Sikhs I’ve known (I used to represent most of the Sikh community in Lexington — and yes, there is one) carried little representations of the dagger on their hair comb — which, as I recall, had to be made of wood. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Sikh with an actual dagger. I guess out West, people really are tougher.

  18. Caleb Powers

    John, you might not get worried about having a Catholic priest on a plane; after all, their many sins generally didn’t include suicide bombing (or suicide anything, for that matter), but I bet you wouldn’t let one share a tent with your son at a campout. It’s all in what we’re worried about people doing. Many white people might well be scared of a black man walking down a dark street, and yet not bat an eye if the same person walked onto an airplane in broad daylight in the middle of a crowd.

  19. Great point about the the Catholic Priest at a camp out!!! It’s all a matter of context. That’s why I don’t think what Juan Williams said was all that bad. Maybe a little insensitive, but at least honest.

    The Sikhs at BYU must have been of the more fundamental variety. As I remember, they were short daggers worn on their belt, not much bigger than a large pocket knife and were of metal. One gave a presentation about Sikh beliefs at an interfaith symposium (yes we had them at BYU) and gave us the story while showing us the “sword.” That was nigh unto 20 years ago though. My memory may be faulty. I remember seeing him and another one or two Sikhs around campus and never thought much about it, though they did tend to stick out.

    Cheese: Good point. There are a lot of innocent victims of AIDS, especially in Africa. But it is still totally preventable if people would just live by some higher moral standards. There is a reason adultery is one of the ten. I’m not against AIDS funding altogether, but there are other diseases, like malaria, that I think should take precedence. I don’t know exactly what Jesse Helms’ beef was, but I can see a legitimate reason for having one and therefore it does not excuse Nina Totenburg’s comments.

  20. José

    John, you are very clear with your opinion about which journalist should apologize (the liberal who did NOT wish that Sen. Helms would contract AIDS) and which journalist has no reason to apologize (the conservative who rationalized his fear of Muslims, while appearing on a network that makes a profit from making fear seem reasonable and rational). Here’s one more, and I humbly and sincerely ask that you answer “yes” or “no”. Do you think a journalist should apologize for saying that the NPR executives are comparable to an internationally notorious gang of murderous and repressive thugs, just because NPR didn’t want to be associated with him any longer and therefore set him free?

  21. José: It would depend on whether or not he is right. Yes, he should apologize if they are NOT murderous repressive thugs. No, if they are. I listen to NPR almost daily on my way to and from work (might as well get some use out of the $1.25 a year I am FORCED to pay for it), and there have been a few times I’ve had to turn it off in disgust. People in traffic probably wonder why I’m ranting to no one. I’ve occasionally wondered if behind that soft-spoken voice is a soul of angst ready to unleash Armageddon. I KNOW that Diane Reams is an ax murderer just itching for a jihadist blood bath! :)

  22. One more thing: Nina may not have personally wished for Jesse to go down with AIDS, but smilingly wondered about a just God that would give it to him or his grandchildren. Point is, she had to apologize. She knew she did wrong. I don’t think what Juan said was inherently wrong.

    And fear is reasonable at times. If your great grandfather to the nth degree did not have it, he would have got eaten by that saber-tooth tiger and you wouldn’t be here. Now that I think about it, maybe it IS unreasonable. Why don’t you go pet a tiger? :)

  23. José

    “Yes, he should apologize if they are NOT murderous repressive thugs.”
    That is truly a cowardly answer, John. There is no integrity in showing phony outrage when it’s politically favorable and then slinking away with attempted humor to avoid facing hypocrisy. I was expecting a mature reply, not smiley faces.

    I also listen to NPR on my commute, Morning Edition in the a.m. and All Things Considered in the afternoon, and do not ever recall hearing a news report or interview that could be considered more than minimally biased at most. I do remember one time when a co-worker slammed NPR with no real justification (like you) and later that same day heard an interview with then Vice President Cheney. In typical NPR fashion, the reporter greeted Mr. Cheney cordially and respectfully, asked substantive questions, and allowed the VP to answer completely and without interruption. Afterwards the reporter thanked him. (For the record Mr. Cheney was similarly polite.) It was pretty much the exact opposite of what Bill O’Reilly does. You should also contrast that with the Bret Baier interview of President Obama earlier this year on Fox News when Mr. Obama had to ask Baier not to interrupt him, not once but three times. NPR’s All Things Considered has an occasional segment where the anchor speaks with the moderately liberal E. J. Dionne and the moderately conservative David Brooks. It’s an interesting and entertaining piece, and the participants manage to remain civil when they disagree. This is what you call disgusting?

    If there’s something specific that bugs you about NPR then please share so that we can all see for ourselves– let’s see some examples, quotes, facts. If you won’t bother to explain why NPR is so doggoned bad then maybe you shouldn’t bother to raise such a fuss.

  24. cheese

    I interpreted her comment to mean that Jesse Helms might vote differently if someone he really cared about suffered from the disease. Granted, she didn’t say it that clearly. I also wasn’t that offended by Juan Williams’ comments. NPR has the right to fire anyone they want, but they shouldn’t have been so hasty about it. They should have afforded him some opportunity for some due process, even if it were just for show. By the way, John, where did you get that $1.25 figure from?

  25. Hi Cheese, I got the $1.25 by extrapolating out the $400 million given to NPR each year from the Federal Government with the roughly 310 million residents of the United States. I couldn’t tell you exactly where they extract it from my earnings, and neither could they, but since it all comes from the same pot of revenue anyway…. I do know this: If I decided to subtract the $1.25 from my tax remittence because I don’t believe I or anyone should have to pay for propaganda we don’t agree with, after possibly years of paperwork, threatening letters and such, it would all come down to the local sheriff knocking on my door, with his gun, to take me off to jail. And if I resisted? Well I would be a causality of the fight for freedom of speech—which includes not being forced to sponsor other people’s speech.

    José: As to specifics, oh where should I begin? First of all, what you might call “moderately bias” others may call “extremely bias.” Maybe even on a par with your take on Bill O’Reilly. (You should understand that that is Bill’s thing. That’s how the show is formatted and guests and commentators are fully aware of it before they choose to go on. And it is what the public and advertisers want, not what some liberal bureaucrat thinks they should want.)

    Anyway, back to NPR. Just a couple examples: Daniel Schorr openly criticized the Army for broadcasting images of Saddam Hussain in his disheveled state right after he was captured, saying it was against the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war to publicize unflattering images of them. Now, if Mr. Schorr’s biases can’t allow him to tell the difference between a prisoner of war and the whole object of the war, then I should not have to listen to him. And I stopped. Every time he came on after that I changed the station or turned him off. But I still had to help pay his salary, however minutely.

    Another time one of the news “analysts” called health care a fundamental “right.” Nothing can be a fundamental right that forces someone else to serve your needs. That’s just basic to anyone who has not gotten drunk on the liberal Kool-Aid.

    There are other instances as well, but you get the point. I do remember being so miffed one time I actually sent an e-mail of complaint to them, but I can’t remember what it was about. Listen to some of the viewer mail on “All Things Considered” sometime and occasionally they will let a zinger or two get through that calls them out.

    All that said, NPR is generally very professional and classy. (They play classical music, after all.) I am impressed with the exceptional quality of their reporting, and they do make an effort to get all viewpoints much of the time. I would say that 90% or more of their productions are alright. But it wouldn’t matter if all of it was flawless, I still should not be forced to pay for it. Especially on the federal level. Critical infrastructure, defense, protection and safety are all the national government should concern itself with. Education, health care, recreation and so forth must remain with the family and local community.

    I, personally, don’t have the power to MAKE you listen to what I have to say or to fund me in saying it. How can I give that power to others to do so? It’s not mine to give in the first place. That is the fundamental flaw in NPRs business model and why they will continue to advocate the acquiring of more power to cover up and desensitize us to the control they and many other government programs are unrightfully wielding.

  26. José

    John, your buck and a quarter figure is grossly in error. You and lot of other folks confuse NPR with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and its $400 million annual distribution. NPR gets very little of that, only about $3 million per year in grants from the CPB, about 2% of its budget. That, my friends, is what everyone complains about when talking about NPR being a government charity. It works out to a penny a year per American, or about what Fox News would spend on five Juan Williams. NPR is not– I repeat, NOT– a government entity but a private non-profit corporation. Wouldn’t you think that freedom loving citizens would fiercely protect the rights of a private company to handle its personnel issues? Apparently that’s not the case if the company is perceived to be liberal. Oh, the hypocrisy.

    And that brings us back to the subject of Political Correctness. Like you, cheese, I did not think that Williams’ comments were particularly controversial. Nor did I think it noteworthy that NPR terminated Mr. Williams’ contract for cause. But look who was outraged– the right wingers. This discussion thread was started not because of what Williams said but because of what NPR did afterwards. The ever vigilant NPR-haters are eager to pounce on any little thing that can be in any way construed as an insult. That, my friends, is the real PC problem here, the hypersensitive right wingers. John is ready to punish a liberal commentator, not even for what she said but for something that he IMAGINED THAT SHE WAS THINKING way back 15 years ago. And then he won’t stand up and give a straight answer as to whether someone should apologize for slandering the NPR executives by putting them in the same category as the Taliban, a ruthless pack of criminals who enslave, torture, maim, and murder civilians who just want to live in peace. John, should a journalist apologize for comparing the NPR to the Taliban, yes or no? It’s a simple question and you are welcome to explain your reasoning at length.

  27. José, I would have to see the actual quote and/or video of Juan “comparing NPR execs to the Taliban.” If it was said in the manner you insinuate here, then yes, he should apologize.

    I don’t know where you get your numbers, but I was informed by Bill O’Reilly that it was $400 million a year going directly to NPR. He might have included PBS in the figure, I don’t remember, and it is only about 1% of their budget. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is just a sham for covering up government-sponsored entities, much on the same level as Fannie May and Freddie Mack.

    I don’t care if it was one-fourth of one penny that I have to spend on NPR, it’s the FORCE that bothers me. It’s the principle of the thing, not the severity. Roads, military, cops, public safety, etc. are one thing, but being forced to pay for someone to spout their opinions (weather I agree with them or not) is flat out morally wrong. But that’s me. Notice I don’t get upset about CNN or NBC spouting their opinions. That is their right since I can choose not to pay them. Get it?

  28. José

    For the Taliban reference please scroll to the top and read the title of this thread.

    Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, they are all wrong about what NPR is and how it is funded. It’s not that difficult to find the facts. Really. You owe it to yourself.

    Our great nation sees value in creating or preserving resources for the common good. Many of us Americans are happy to have parks, museums, schools, etc. As a democratic republic our citizens have the right to agree as a community to invest in such things for ourselves and for future generations. No one is forcing you to remain part of this community; you can accept living here under the laws that are fairly passed or you can leave, but you need to realize that it’s not a crime just because you didn’t get your way.

  29. cheese

    Hey, the comments are back! Woo hoo!

  30. Well, José, if the people vote to fund stripper clubs to “invest in cultural diversity” or some other such nonsense, would you support it? Unlike liberals, I believe in moral absolutes. I work at a newspaper. We don’t ask our community for a special tax to fund us. Subscribers and advertisers can choose to fund us or not. A park or museum is a different animal. It is a benefit and natural monopoly, if you will, and can be justified in using tax revenue since no other entity can profitably provide such a service that is needed. Newspapers and broadcast networks are very profitable and there are many willing to provide such services. It is not a natural monopoly or finite resource (like open land for parks within a city’s limits) and therefore it is morally wrong for the government to stick its nose into it with its taxing power.

    We have a public swimming pool in my town. That’s okay, since there were no private pools available. We didn’t have a bowling ally, so a private person asked for donations to help him build one. Those who donated got discounts for a short while. The argument was that if he didn’t do it, the city would. We all know how the pool and library are run and we didn’t want that for the bowling ally. We now have a profitable, great bowling ally that responds and changes according to the wishes of the people who use it. Not like the library that has the weirdest hours, lousy books, won’t accept most donations, grumpy staff and is closed to celebrate National Hangnail Awareness Day. You see, the power to tax is frightening, and should be scrutinized on every issue. NPR does not pass the test. If it were simply a means of disseminating objective information that is deemed needed and not readily available in the market, then I can see a justification. The facts of the Juan Williams case (and the fact that they even have news “analysts”), prove that they don’t meet this criteria.

    As to the Taliban reference, I believe that is Frank Lockwood’s headline. Where he got it from, or if he thought it up himself, I don’t know, but it gets the point across and is very creative. Don’t think he means it in any seriously derogatory way.

  31. Caleb Powers

    I guess I didn’t realize that newspapers were still profitable. When they lobbied Congress for special treatment under the antitrust laws (which was granted) they said they were all going broke.

  32. Well… we are anyway. At least for the moment. Most of the papers still alive are at least marginally profitable, I suppose, or they wouldn’t be around. But I do foresee the day when, just like Amtrak and Jazz radio stations, we’ll have be subsidized just for nostalgic purposes.

    Actually, just like trains went to planes, newspapers will all go to the iPad and Kindle. I imagine my grandkids going to community workshops to learn about the ancient art of the printed word. “I can’t believe they killed so many trees!,” they’ll say.


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