National Public Radio’s chief executive said, Oct. 24, that while she could have handled the Juan Williams’ termination better, she does not regret the decision.

“While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to better prepare our messaging and to provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode,” CEO Vivian Schiller said in a memo to NPR staff.

Williams, a longtime NPR news analyst, was fired two days after claiming that Muslims make him “nervous” and “worried” on planes in comments on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” on Oct. 20.

The statements came after the show’s host Bill O’Reilly asked if the U.S. was facing a “Muslim dilemma.”

“Look Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams responded. “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.”

NPR announced that same evening that they were ending Williams’ contract with the company. “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,” the statement posted on the NPR website read.

In her memo to staff, Schiller further explained her decision, saying Williams’ comments compounded a pattern of his non-adherence to NPR’s journalistic standards.

“Juan’s comments on Fox News last Monday were the latest in a series of deeply troubling incidents over several years,” Schiller said in the memo. “In each of those instances, he was contacted and the incident was discussed with him. He was explicitly and repeatedly asked to respect NPR’s standards and to avoid expressing strong personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings, as that is inconsistent with his role as an NPR news analyst.

“After this latest incident, we felt compelled to act.”

Williams, 56, who also serves as a political commentator for FOX News, outraged Muslim advocacy groups and liberal commentators who demanded his ouster. According to CBS News.com, conservative bloggers deemed the incident political correctness spiraling out of control.

In sharper remarks before an audience at the Atlanta Press Club on Oct. 21, Schiller said Williams should have kept his feelings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist,” a statement for which she later apologized, calling it “thoughtless” in a posting on NPR’s website.

Richard Prince, Maynard Institute’s “Journal-isms” columnist believes Williams’ affiliation with both companies was among the primary reasons for conflict. “I think that the whole situation is unfortunate and I think the problem is that Juan Williams was working for NPR and FOX and they have two different cultures and in the end, they were hard to reconcile,” Prince told the AFRO in a recent interview. “NPR does not endorse the kind of behavior that is acceptable or even encouraged on FOX and that was part of the problem.”

Prince added that the incident can’t be viewed in isolation, as Williams was in this conflict with the two companies in the past. “There have been other cases where the factor that he was working for both caused problems,” Prince said.

Especially the time when he compared Michelle Obama to Stokely Carmichael and the time where he interviewed President Bush after NPR told him not to. “This latest event is not simply about what he said; it’s about whether NPR wants a contract worker who causes them this kind of discussion.”

George Curry, award-winning journalist and former editor-in-chief of {Emerge} magazine and the NNPA News Service, echoed Prince’s remarks in saying there was a direct conflict between Williams’ role as a news analyst and political commentator.

“I disagree for what he said,” Curry told the AFRO in a recent interview. “A lot of times, his remarks really went over the edge and he should have never been in that capacity. I don’t think he should have been fired for voicing his opinion because he was in this dual that was bound for conflict since the beginning.”

Williams—whose role at Fox News has since been expanded—said his remarks were used as “a pretext to get rid of me” and that NPR’s action amounted to “censorship.” He also said his critics were engaged in “character assassination.”

“To get fired obviously is no pleasure,” Williams said on Fox News. “But then to be called a bigot and the innuendo that I’m somehow unstable was, I thought, despicable.”

Since the firing, Republicans have defended Williams and are striking back at NPR. Last Friday, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement that “over-reaching political correctness is chipping away at the fundamental American freedoms of speech and expression.” He also added NPR’s federal funding to the YouCut initiative, a competition that seeks public input on programs, Republicans should cut from the budget.

Zenitha Prince contributed to this article.

 

Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor