NPR fires Williams over Muslim fears

Late last night, NPR fired senior news analyst Juan Williams. On Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," where he also contributes, there was a discussion about something that had happened on "The View" the previous week. Apparently Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar flipped out when guest O'Reilly said that "Muslims" had perpetrated the terrorist attacks on 9/11. They walked off the set in disgust.

So O'Reilly asks his panel about it and well, Williams' comments didn't sit well with NPR. The early reports of this news story are likely to be straight news. Here's Brian Stelter at The New York Times:

The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the "The O'Reilly Factor" on Monday. On the show, the host, Bill O'Reilly, asked him to respond to the notion that the United States was facing a "Muslim dilemma." Mr. O'Reilly said, "The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet."

Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O'Reilly.

He continued: "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 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."

Mr. Williams also made reference to the Pakistani immigrant who pleaded guilty this month to trying to plant a car bomb in Times Square. "He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts," Mr. Williams said.

NPR said in its statement that the remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."

The write-up is great and even includes a bit of analysis, although perhaps Williams' statement about addressing reality should also have been mentioned:

I think, look, political correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality.

Certainly NPR hadn't been happy with him for a while, reprimanding him, as The Times notes, for mentioning his actual title (senior news analyst, NPR) outside of NPR. This may have been the excuse they needed to get rid of him.

Speaking of reality, Williams did not get in trouble for attempting to tie Timothy McVeigh's irreligious terrorism to Christianity. In fact, NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik tweeted:

Williams also warned Fox host Bill O'Reilly agst blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Tim McVeigh

It is true that Christians shouldn't be blamed for McVeigh. Mostly that's because McVeigh didn't consider himself a Christian -- self-identifying instead as agnostic. It's a common error, but an error none-the-less. Apparently Folkenflik and many other media bigwigs, such as Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, are unaware of this basic fact. In fact, NPR's Michel Martin was the last big media type to tar Christians with the Timothy McVeigh terrorism. Perhaps when NPR does its next round of sensitivity training, the network's leaders might encourage their journalists to get their facts straight on that one.

Anyway, what do you think we'll see in next-day stories? I assume most newsrooms have their series of Muslim response stories lined up already.

What else? A newsroom-wide polygraph to ensure that newsrooms are free of anyone who worries about Muslim terrorism on planes? A look at some of the hate speech that NPR approves of? An honest discussion of the role religion plays in Muslim terrorism? A collection of denunciations of Williams? A discussion of whether NPR's status as a taxpayer-funded entity plays a role in Williams' firing? A discussion of when it's inappropriate to reveal fears? Somehow I think we might see a few "history of bias against Muslim"-type stories. All I hope for is a solid fashion-based discussion of "Muslim garb." Well, that and a good treatment of stigma and its use and overuse in reining in bigotry.

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg weighed in with a look at recent firings of journalists Helen Thomas and CNN's Octavia Nasr. He wonders if media outlets aren't getting too touchy in some cases.

No, not Helen's. He says it appears that Williams was fired for no particularly good reason. He looks at the reality of travel-related violence committed or attempted by Muslim men in recent years. He points out, however, that the terrorists aren't known for dressing in "Muslim garb."

These last two statements seem to be a good avenue for further discussion in a news story. Why don't you throw out your story suggestions. What are the important religion angles to include in this story? Extra points for how to make those "Muslim response to Williams" stories less predictable.

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