Juan Williams in 2007 by Pete Wright
WASHINGTON (AP) — NPR has fired longtime news analyst Juan Williams, also a commentator on the Fox News Channel, after he told Bill O'Reilly that he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane. The Skanner News Video.
In a statement late Wednesday, National Public Radio said it was terminating Williams' contract as a senior news analyst over his comments on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor."
NPR executives had previously complained about his remarks on Fox, including saying first lady Michelle Obama could be a liability for her husband shortly after his inauguration.
The latest comments came Monday, when O'Reilly brought on guests to discuss his own appearance last week on ABC's "The View," during which Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set to protest his views on Muslims.
"Where am I going wrong here, Juan?" O'Reilly asked.
Williams, 56, responded that too much political correctness can get in the way of reality.
"I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country," Williams said. "But when I get on a 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."
A phone message left for Williams at his home in Washington was not immediately returned Thursday morning.
Williams appeared briefly Thursday on Fox News and said he was abruptly fired Wednesday by Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news. He said he told Weiss he meant what he said on the O'Reilly show, but that she told him he had made a bigoted statement and crossed a line.
"I said, 'You mean I don't even get the chance to come in and we do this eyeball-to-eyeball, person-to-person, have a conversation? I've been there more than 10 years," Williams said. He said Weiss responded that "there's nothing you can say that would change my mind."
Before Williams was fired, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said such commentary from a journalist about other racial, ethnic or religious minority groups would not be tolerated.
"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.
Later Wednesday, NPR issued a statement saying Williams' remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
"Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years and we did not make this decision lightly or without regret," NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said in an e-mailed statement.
Williams' appearances on Fox have been an issue for NPR in the past, including his remarks about Michelle Obama on a 2009 episode of "The O'Reilly Factor."
"Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going. ... her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim," Williams said, according to an account by NPR's Ombudsman Alicia Shepard.
At the time, Shepard wrote that Williams was the network's biggest "lightning rod," drawing hundreds of complaints. NPR executives then asked Williams to stop using the NPR name when he appears on O'Reilly's show.
On Monday, he was identified as a Fox News contributor.
Williams was a longtime reporter, columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Post. He has written extensively on the civil rights movement, including a book on the African-American religious experience and a biography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Conservative bloggers defended him Thursday, blasting NPR's decision.
"All Juan Williams did is say both exactly how he feels and how many, many other Americans feel on this subject," wrote Erick Erickson on his "Red State" blog. "The man's body of work makes clear he is no bigot. But we sure can't offend Muslims, can we?"