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NPR fires Juan Williams over comments about Muslims

Posted by prof e on October 21, 2010

Last evening National Public Radio fired commentator Juan Williams for a comment he made on Fox News. Williams was being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly when he admitted to feeling “worried” and “nervous” when flying with people dressed in Muslim garb. For the remainder of the interview Williams defended the Muslim faith against those who failed to distinguish moderate Muslims from extremists.

You can watch a segment about the initial comment, and the aftermath, on YouTube.

Juan Williams responded to his firing in an essay posted at Fox News, his new employer. You can read it here.

Here’s a quote from his statement…

Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought.

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15 Responses to “NPR fires Juan Williams over comments about Muslims”

  1. Alex Timmons said

    This is a great issue to examine from a Media Management perspective. If you’re planning to become a professional who manages the talent within a media organization like Fox News or NPR, rather than just a journalist or paid commentator, there are many questions you’ll have to address when implementing organizational policy.

    Regardless of whether you feel Juan Williams was right or wrong in his statements, consider how the matter was handled by NPR’s management executives. If the decision was correct to terminate his contract, then was it done in a manner which would produce minimum or maximum backlash to the organization? Was there an opportunity or need to allow Williams to clarify or re-frame his statement in an NPR facilitated forum? If the decision to separate from Williams was justifiable from an organizational viewpoint, could or should this assessment have been made any sooner during the term of employment? How are the professional conduct and procedural standards communicated and upheld for employees like Williams at NPR? At Fox? Are they consistent, transparent? Is there a particular agenda each organization would like to further either openly or discretely?

    In my eyes, this was a grossly mismanaged personnel issue, and I would be looking to hold members of management accountable. NPR is facing serious scrutiny, which will likely lead to significant financial ramifications for an organization already facing uphill funding issues. Consider that the initial discourse Williams was perhaps in-artfully attempting to have is now mired in a convoluted scandal which places more emphasis on an alleged organizational “agenda” than the initial issue.

    Instead of picking a side like every other couch potato in America, decide how you would handle the issue as a member of management for either Fox News or NPR. Obviously, the debacle would allow Fox News’s executives to exploit the issue in a profitable manner, and arguably, NPR must manage the issue to reduce negative impact to it’s viability as a news medium.

  2. Corey Caves said

    I think there is many things right and wrong about this story. the rights are he has the right to speak his mind, even though his comments were a little over the top, he has the right to speak his thoughts. also that it was wrong to get fired because he was doing his job. the wrong is that on such a touchy subject there should be no felxibility to take it this far. but all and all i think that this whole situation could of been avoided.

  3. Alex Timmons said

    Wow, what a breathtakingly shallow and limited contemplation of the issue. Zero points for wit there, sir or madam. Since most people who examine this issue will meander around it and become fixated on the tabloid-ish nature of it, I’ll weigh in too.

    Juan Williams is a credentialed journalist, not simply a paid commentator or pundit. He’s not very bright, but that’s not the point. He’s been trained in traditional standards for the practice of journalism. That said, Williams could arguably be held to higher standards of discourse than say a Jon Stuart or Bill O’Reilly, who are not credentialed journalists. Williams has been a Fox News anchor and or panelist since about 1997. He Joined NPR in 2000-2001, or there about. Fox news, whether you agree or disagree with where the commentators and pundits typically land on popular news subjects is not regarded professionally as an organization which adheres to stringent journalistic ethics or standards — this is just a statistical reality when one analyzes the delivery style for the “information” presented on the network. It’s highest rated “news” programs are not hosted by journalists, and the network facilitates and emphasizes a largely conservative viewpoint on issues. It’s paid off for the network too. Fox News now earns the highest AD revenues year over year with CNN ranking second and MSNBC ranking a pathetically distant third. Interestingly, Fox news boasts the highest market share of staunchly conservative viewers, although CNN edges out FOX with higher overall viewership. Juan William’s employ with Fox News is an effort by the organization to represent a “fair and balanced” perspective. Williams identifies as a “liberal” and is often part of panel discussions like the one he participated in when the fateful comments were given on the O’Reilly factor.

    Williams along with the other so-called liberal journalists who regularly appear on Fox News programs are hand picked to be weaker in personality, character, and stature and are diabolically pitted against the far more domineering, brash, and narcissistic personalities of O’Really, Sean Hannity, and Glen Beck — again none of the former three are journalists. O’Reilly, Hannity, and Beck consistently shout down opposing voices during their shows if the opposition demonstrates any strength or persuasiveness in discussions, which Juan Williams, who if you’ve ever watched him speak, can seldom get his point across effectively. Williams often wilts under pressure from the arguably alpha-male behaviors of the more dominant Fox News commentators. This is unquestionably by design and a very clever management strategy. It makes for very titillating and volatile exchanges, and drives ratings for the network. Williams was yet again stifled during this conversation with O’Reilly, and you can see it if you watch entire segment.

    The mistake Williams made was in his delivery technique. He actually awkwardly qualifies his comments later in the discussion, but O’Reilly hand waives and shouts in his attention stealing manner, which makes Juan Williams simply look like just another liberal wussy. Williams shouldn’t have been fired for this incident alone; however, he arguably could have been fired by NPR much earlier to this incident, as he is easily cornered and does not speak learnedly or competently in high pressure environments. There are numerous examples of William’s performances on Fox News where a member of management from NPR could have discerned this and made a decision as to whether or not NPR needed to be associated with William’s level of professionalism. I suspect this is sort of how the decision was made, but it was made poorly and too close to this particular occurrence and in a manner which opened the door to pointless scrutiny.

    Williams wasn’t “wrong” about what he said, but it didn’t make much logical sense, and he admitted to the irrationality of his emotion when seeing traditionally dressed Muslims. He explained it so poorly that whiners from the left began to rail. NPR’s management seemingly over reacted and made a hasty decision. Then, lo and behold, sanctimonious right-wingers began to scream “liberal-totalitarianism” which is a term with words that do not work together. So, NPR’s management screwed-the-pooch, and Juan Williams is a dummy who got what he deserved but is now famous and will probably get his own show on Fox.

  4. AJ Dome said

    One would think that NPR would prevent the hiring of a dumbass, but stranger things have happened (i.e., Glenn Beck’s books). Please don’t feed the trolls.

  5. Alex Timmons said

    And that IS the best you could come up with. Never fear little one — trolls feed not on rancid flesh or empty domes.

  6. AJ Dome said

    I don’t need three paragraphs to prove how limited my vocabulary is.

  7. Alex Timmons said

    lol

  8. Janae Heiser said

    This issue seems to relate to the First Amendment: freedom of speech and press. Even though it was inappropriate for being descriminating against muslims, it still seems like the firing of his position relates to not allowing him to speak his mind and opinion.
    This can be related to many other things in the media today. Relating to radio, television, and movies. There is bad language and obscene clips from all of these. But do these producers from the various medias get fired for expressing their opinion or just having the freedom to say what they want?
    What is the difference between radio broadcast and a movie that is descriminating against others?
    I can see why they would get upset about the comment, but firing is contradicting the First Amendment.

    -Janae Heiser

  9. Athena Avalos said

    I can understand how Juan Williams felt he was being persecuted for freedom of speech. I think he forgot, however, that during his interview, he was not simply a citizen but a journalist. His opinions were going to count for more than the average citizen, and he should have noted that. I believe he forgot the values in American journalism, as discussed in the Media & Culture text. “Neutrality boosts credibility…” Althrough it is acceptable for journalists to have opinions like everyone else, it has been proven time and time again that softening partisanships in journalism can boost credibility with the public. The fact that a journalistic commentator was creating this predisposition to fearing Muslims made the public and National Public Radio angry because it was not at all a neutral stand that the public will agree with, or the station wants to broadcast. This is why I think Juan Williams should realize that this is more than just a case of an everyday citizen’s rights being taken away. He is an object of the media, and I think there was a different standard that he should have been standing by.

  10. Manuel Crespin said

    I love how Athena had made her point. Yes, Juan WIlliams does have the right to say anything he wishes to. He did forget to realize though, that he is not just an average joe when he is on the air. Like Athena said, he is a journalist and should treat the subject as one with an open-minded sensibility for all people. Neutrality boost credibility, and his opinionated statement was not going to help gain credibility amongst his viewers. He angered not only the the Islamic community of America, but also the rest of the public. From a journalist point of view, he should realize that he is held to higher standard for what he chooses to broadcast over the air. Neutrality amongst Americans will create more hospitality between religions rather than confrontation. Juan made the decision to place himself on a pedistle, and his actions were done in a very unprofessional and unnecessary manner.

  11. Jenay Leyva said

    I believe that Juan Williams had a right to say what he felt but there is a time and a place for everything. Saying such things on air is not the best thing to do, so he should have known better than to show his true feelings. I also do not believe that he should have been fired though, everyone slips up sometimes.

  12. Annessa Martinez said

    By the sound of it NPR was just waiting for one little thing to make a huge fuss over to fire him. Hooper even said that there was other “instances” that NPR didn’t agree with what Williams said or did and this was just the breaking point. But those instances could not be named as Kelly repeatedly ask him what they were. And yes all Williams did was say he got worried when he saw Muslims but he did not bash them in such way there after. If they didn’t want him speaking his opinion then they need to give Williams a script of exact words to say so they wouldn’t have to worry about anything coming out of his mouth that they wouldn’t have approved of.

    There could have been many other ways to get around this issue besides firing Williams but it is not like he is hurting for a job considering he got offered a job by Fox News soon after.

  13. Alex Miller said

    I think that the NPR was right to fire Mr. Williams. I agree with Mrs. Martinez above that it seemed like the NPR was just waiting for one slip up to fire Juan Williams. I still think that the NPR was right. Discussing religious aspects anywhere at any time can be costly for an individual. Stating on national television that you basically are afraid to sit next to another ethnic group is extremely inappropriate and offensive. The Muslims were verbally struck down with the comment that Juan Williams made. It doesn’t matter what race or religion you are, know one should be critisized over television about the way their religion guides them.

  14. Vanessa Emerson said

    I wasn’t aware of this interview but I feel like legally how is NPR able to fire Juan for something he said during an interview that he personally felt and commented on. I don’t see anything wrong with what he said and how he felt. Granted I don’t share those same beliefs I think that his option was not reason enough to fire him. He defended the fact there is a difference between extremists and people that are moderate Muslims and explained his belief process. It seems to me his conversation did not revolve around that one comment. I agree that a journalist how can you deliver what you think if you are told you can lose your job if you state the wrong thoughts or feelings. I don’t believe in his letter back that his race should have been added and pointed out because it had nothing to do with his background. He should have stayed with the comment he made and maybe even explain it more in detail. Saying you worry when you fly with Muslims on board needs to be broken down and better understood-he should have been given a chance to even retract that statement, without NPR trying to cut their loses-I feel their action makes them look guilty by trying to sweep it under the wrong. Now Juan can respond back in the media and cause more problems for NPR. Where is damage control when you need it.

  15. Tyler Stone said

    How Juan Williams got fired over this is beyond amazing to me. Under the first amendment is the right to free speech and Juan had every right to voice his opinion. So he gets a little nervous when flying next to people wearing Islamic clothes. That’s his opinion and he has every right to voice it. Apparently a few people got offended by this however and I would say to all of them that if you don’t like what your hearing change the channel. Here in the United States your free to hear and listen to whatever you like and if you don’t agree with someone’s opinion thats ok but move on and recognize its just an opinion. I read this and in my eyes this tells me that if you don’t have the right opinion or enough people don’t agree with your opinion not only is it criticized but also could cost you your job. That is outrageous and if that is what the United States is coming to then we’ve lost site of our rights as citizens.

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