NPR Dismisses News Analyst Juan Williams
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
NPR has been on the receiving end of significant criticism today. The outcry stems from our network's decision last night to terminate the contract of our longtime colleague, senior news analyst Juan Williams.
Williams made some controversial comments about Muslims earlier this week on the Fox News Channel. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has the story.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Fox News's Bill O'Reilly was trying to explain why he recently said he blamed Muslims for the September, 2001, attacks. And Juan Williams told the Fox News host he agreed with him.
(Soundbite of television program, "The O'Reilly Factor")
Mr. JUAN WILLIAMS: 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. 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.
FOLKENFLIK: Some listeners, liberal groups and Muslim organizations protested, including CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations. Ibrahim Hooper is the group's national communications director.
Mr. IBRAHIM HOOPER (National Communications Director, Council on American Islamic Relations): When you say I think it's legitimate, in effect, to single people out based on their perceived religion or national origin, that gives legitimacy to the entire viewpoint. When it's stated by somebody in a mainstream setting, not on just some random hate blog, it's something that should be addressed.
FOLKENFLIK: Late last night, NPR announced Williams had been given 30 days notice for violating the network's ethics policies. Vivian Schiller is the CEO of NPR.
VIVIAN SCHILLER: Our reporters, our hosts and our new analysts should not be injecting their own views about a controversial issue as part of their story. They should be reporting the story.
FOLKENFLIK: Williams joined NPR a decade ago as host of TALK OF THE NATION and later became a senior correspondent. But he rankled executives with outspoken remarks on Fox News, where he is a paid commentator, and in newspaper opinion pieces.
In the spring of 2008, NPR shifted him from a staff correspondent position, making him instead a senior news analyst on contract. NPR has also asked Fox News not to identify him as an NPR analyst on screen, most recently after he described first lady Michelle Obama as being like the black militant Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.
Schiller compared Williams's dismissal to NPR's recent decision to ban news staffers from attending the upcoming Washington rally of political satirist Jon Stewart, who frequently targets conservatives.
Schiller says it's important to maintain journalistic objectivity. Today, responding on Fox News, Williams said NPR officials misconstrued his remarks.
Mr. WILLIAMS: And I said, it's not a bigoted statement but that there's a reality. You cannot ignore what happened on 9/11 and you cannot ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism.
FOLKENFLIK: And indeed, in a latter part of that fateful exchange Monday, Williams did warn O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for the acts of extremists.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Wait, hold on because if you say, wait, Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals, very obnoxious, you don't say first and foremost we've got a problem with Christians. That's crazy.
FOLKENFLIK: Listeners flooded NPR with a new round of complaints, on line and by phone, while leading Republicans, many with close ties to Fox, today called on Congress to withhold all funding for NPR.
NPR directly receives about one percent of its budget each year from the federally funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a similar amount from the National Endowment for the Arts. But public radio stations that purchase NPR's programming do rely a lot more on federal dollars.
As for Williams, the Los Angeles Times now reports that Fox News today gave him a new three-year contract worth $2 million dollars.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.