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Controversial Black Analyst Fired From NPR

WASHINGTON - Juan Williams told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that he agreed with O'Reilly's comments on Muslims.

Controversial Analyst Said Muslims Make Him "Nervous"

NPR fired news analyst Juan Williams Wednesday night after comments the pundit made on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous.

"Tonight we gave Juan Williams notice that we are terminating his contract as a Senior News Analyst for NPR News," NPR said in a statement.

"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. However, his remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.

"We regret these circumstances and thank Juan Williams for his many years of service to NPR and public radio."

During an appearance Monday on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," Williams backed Bill O'Reilly's recent claim that "Muslims killed us on 9/11" and then said: "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. 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."

Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudsman, told Journal-isms by e-mail, "My office spent most of Wednesday fielding phone calls and emails from NPR listeners angry and upset by what Juan Williams said about Muslims. We got at least 60 emails and that was in response to something he said on another network. My job is NPR’s content – not Fox’s.

"While this must have been a tough decision since Juan joined NPR in 2000, I think NPR’s management made the right call."

David Folkenflik, NPR's media reporter, wrote on NPR's website, "Reached late Wednesday night, Williams said he wasn't ready to comment and was conferring with his wife about the episode."

Among those who protested was the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, which Wednesday called on NPR to "address" Williams' statement.

"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," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

Nsenga Burton of also took Williams to task. "Guess what? We get nervous whenever Williams is about to speak. However, Williams should know nervousness, since plenty of paranoid folks feel nervous when they see him as a black man walk onto a plane or just walk down the street. Too bad he can't make the leap from one example of fear and paranoia to another, probably because of his Fox-induced coma."

Appearing on both NPR and Fox News Channel, which Williams joined in 1997, Williams had to negotiate two different cultures.

In January 2009, NPR asked Williams to request that Fox News remove his NPR identification whenever he is on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," Shepard disclosed then.

Fox agreed. "We were actually doing NPR a favor by even plugging them," a spokeswoman told Journal-isms at the time, "but we have no problem dropping the mention on the chyron along with their exposure to millions of O'Reilly Factor viewers."

On the O'Reilly show that January, Williams said of the first lady, "She's got this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking . . . her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts to coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O. to being something of an albatross."

"To date, I've received 56 angry emails" about Williams' comments, Shepard wrote. "For comparison, this year so far, listeners sent 13 emails about Steve Inskeep, 8 about Mara Liasson and 6 about Cokie Roberts, other NPR personalities who I often get emails about."

She continued, "When I asked Williams about his comments, he initially called it a 'faux controversy.'

"But then he reviewed the tape and realized that 'the tone and tenor of my comments may have spurred a strong reaction to what I considered to be pure political analysis of the First Lady's use of her White House pulpit,' said Williams via email. 'I regret that in the fast-paced, argumentative format my tone and tenor seems to have led people to see me as attacking instead of explaining my informed point of view.'

"Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox," Shepard continued.

Williams, 56, was described in his NPR bio as "one of America's leading journalists . . . Knowledgeable and charismatic." He is an author and speaker who specializies in civil rights topics but has no use for such leaders as the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. He spent a 21-year career at the Washington Post, including service as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist and White House reporter.

For most of his NPR career, his was the designated black male on-air voice, and Williams would be called upon regularly for his opinion at NPR and its Washington affiliate, WAMU-FM, a fact that irritated many of his fellow African American journalists.

His views took jagged turns as he went to work for Fox News Channel, and he complained that other blacks vilified him for departing from what he called black orthodoxy. Yet he was a Democrat who often played the role of liberal on the right-wing network. In a column last year, Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called Williams "America's most two-faced senior black correspondent."

It was ironic that Williams' firing came on the day that the 1991 controversy over then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas' conduct toward law professor Anita Hill returned to the news. It was reported that Thomas' wife asked Hill to retract her sexual harassment allegations against Thomas.

Williams was a friend of Thomas and defended him then in a chain of events that ultimately contributed to Williams' departure from the Post. He wrote on the Post's op-ed page that Hill had "no credible evidence" for her allegations of sexual harassment by Thomas, writing that Hill was "prompted" to make her charges by Democratic Senate staffers.

The column angered many women in the Post newsroom, and several came forward to say that they had also had problems with Williams. The Post undertook an investigation.

About 50 female employees met with then-Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and said they objected to the Post's refusal to say how the paper had resolved allegations of verbal sexual harassment against Williams, the Post's Howard Kurtz wrote at the time.

In an open letter to the newsroom, Williams said the newspaper had disciplined him for what he called "wrong" and "inappropriate" verbal conduct toward women staffers, and he apologized to his colleagues, Kurtz reported.

Williams had already so angered one black woman, Jill Nelson, that he warranted a passage in 1993's "Volunteer Slavery," Nelson's memoir about her time at the Post. When the two were working together at the Washington Post Magazine, Williams told the magazine editor, without being asked, that Nelson's submission was unworthy of publication, she wrote.

She quoted herself telling him, "Listen, Juan, don't fuck with me. You know, you're worse than a Negro who carries white folks' water for them, because your own water is dirtier than theirs could ever be. Don't get into my business again. Because if you fuck with me, I'll destroy you."

In January 2008, during the presidential campaign, Williams tried to explain many blacks' conflicted feelings about Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton by saying that many blacks could be bought.

"It's gotta introduce the idea that people saying, 'Wait a minute. I can be a part of history, something very special going on here' and it introduces also identity politics to a new level, that you just take pride in the accomplishments of this incredible young man," he said of Obama. "But on the other hand, the reason that the numbers were reflective of a Clinton win so far among African Americans, is because Bill Clinton had practiced what I would call 'patronage politics' for so long. People had gotten money, they'd gotten paid, they knew exactly that they could rely on Clinton as a pipeline for support in the black community, in the black churches, all the way down to the community centers. They knew how that worked.

"They don't know Barack Obama. They don't know that they can trust him to deliver. They don't know if he's got to make a show of favoring whites or suburbanites in order to prove his bona fides with that part of the electorate."

Williams became one of Obama's most consistent African American detractors during the camapaign, only to become emotional on election night over the historical significance of Obama's victory.

Still, Fox News' Brit Hume praised Williams on "Fox News Sunday," saying, "you never really drunk the Kool-Aid." 

The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education | 663 Thirteenth St., Suite 200, Oakland, CA 94612 



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