90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday October 21, 2010

Veteran NPR Journalist Fired For Comments About Muslims

The clip above from MSNBC shows the most complete footage of Williams’ appearance. FoxNews has not yet posted an excerpt.

NPR last night fired veteran journalist Juan Williams for comments it said were, “inconsistent with our editorial standards.” Williams told conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly this week that he gets “nervous” and “worried” on a plane when he sees “people who are in Muslim garb” and “identifying first and foremost as Muslims.” Williams went on to warn against blaming all Muslims for the acts of extremists, but NPR says his comments “undermined his credibility as a news analyst.” We examine the issues in the case with Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Pennsylvania Becomes Bellwether State For Midterm Elections

U.S. Senate races in several states are beginning to tighten up, with half a dozen contests now considered too close to call. One of the most watched races in the country is in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Meanwhile, in the governor’s race, Democrat Dan Onorato trails Republican Tom Corbett by six points. We touch down in Pennsylvania with John Micek, state house reporter for the Morning Call newspaper.

Florida Schools Scramble To Meet Class Cap Requirements

This month, Florida schools are scrambling to comply with class size caps that Floridians embedded into their state Constitution in a 2002 referendum. To meet the requirements, some areas have resorted to shipping students from one school to another, canceling electives, enrolling students in online classes, clumping students from two grades into one class and even getting their districts to raise taxes. If the schools fail to meet the standards, they could face millions of dollars in fines. Now there’s a move to loosen the restrictions in a new referendum on the Florida ballot in November. Karen Aronowitz of United Teachers of Dade and Kathleen McGrory of the Miami Herald are our guests.

After 16 Years In Prison, Clemency Sought In $11 Robbery Case

Two Mississippi sisters have served 16 years of their consecutive life sentences for being accomplices to an armed robbery in which no one was hurt and only $11 was stolen. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour recently called for clemency and the local parole board is now reviewing the case, as one of the sisters struggles with kidney failure behind bars. We talk to Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reporter Chris Joyner about the case.

Tensions Flare Between The US And Pakistan

Army Lt. Kenneth Kovach speaks to members of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps over coils of concertina wire that separate Afghanistan and Pakistan. (David Gilkey/NPR)

Army Lt. Kenneth Kovach speaks to Pakistani border police over wire that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan. (David Gilkey/NPR)

Officials in Pakistan say there have been more than two dozen missile attacks launched by U.S. drones into the country’s tribal areas over the last two months. These unmanned attacks, targeting insurgents, caused Pakistan to close a major border crossing that NATO uses to supply troops in Afghanistan. Military analyst Andrew Bacevich joins us to talk about the war in Pakistan, as leaders from the two countries meet in Washington this week.

Not Your Grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes

He uses smart phones with GPS to track down villains. His sidekick writes a blog. Meet the modern Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in a new PBS Masterpiece Mystery series which begins this Sunday. Here & Now critic-at-large, Ed Siegel joins us for a preview.

Music From The Show

  • Peter Dixon, “Nagog Woods”
  • Ahmad Jamal, “Patterns”
  • Dean and Britta, “Herringbone Tweed”
  • Herbie Hancock, “Watermelon Man”
  • Marcus Roberts, “The Truth Is Spoken Here”
  • Dean and Britta, “Herringbone Tweed”
  • Radiohead, “There, There”
  • Christian McBride, “Theme for Kareem”
  • “How Can I Miss You (If You Won’t Go Away) performed by The Tiger Sharks
  • kitty barber

    I was not aware that Mr. Williams was employed by Fox News. I do not watch or listen to Fox news. I do know that when Mr. Williams hosted “Talk of the Nation” a number of years ago, I wrote a number of letters to NPR complaining about his ignorance, his sexism, his misunderstanding of most social issues, his anti-lesbian and gay undertones, and his general ineptitude.
    I am glad he is no longer taking money from NPR; this will encourage me to contribute more.

    Kitty Barber

  • Barbara Uhrie

    I have long disagreed with Juan Williams and was aware of his right wing views. I often wondered what he was doing on NPR and why NPR commentators would calmly accept some of his views. I would love for you to sponsor a robust debate between Juan Williams and a progressive. However, I was really shocked to learn that he had been fired.I don’t think anything he said was out of line with his usual views.I truly wish you had challenged him all along and that you did not resolve the situation by firing him.

  • http://mondaymotomadness.blogspot.com J. Braun

    Journalists always talk about the chilling effect of censorship. This just confirms the view that NPR has a narrow liberal bias. I didn’t always agree with Juan Williams but I always respected his intellect and honesty. Frankly, it reinforces my feeling that I can’t trust NPR’s objectivity even when I agree with them.

  • Barry Kingston

    NPR has lost an balanced, nuanced voice in Juan Williams. Juan was the Education Correspondent for many years and reported with insight, knowledge, and conviction. Later, he expanded his coverage to a wider range of topics and audiences and appeared on other venues besides NPR. Ironically, he was usually the “lefty” on the panel, explaining and defending the positions of liberals and taking on the Bush Administration, the War in Iraq, the conservative Supreme Court, and issues of race.
    But apparently, in NPR’s America, it is not acceptable to say that you think about terrorism, 9/11, and your own safety, when you board a jet and a fundamentalist Muslim is on the jet with you. Thinking that, and saying that, makes you a “bigot.”
    I have financially supported NPR for over 30 years in five different cities in which I have lived. NPR has crossed the line this time. If Juan Williams is not liberal enough to be an NPR commentator, and if NPR is so narrow in it’s editorial focus that it can’t stand anyone who strays from the politically correct party line being a spokeperson for them, then I can no longer support them. They constantly villify Fox News for being divisive and one-sided. No example could be more glaring of the liberal mindset’s intolerance of other’s opinions than NPR firing Juan Williams, one of their own, for spaeking his OPINION of radical muslims vs moderate muslims and what it means to our world.

  • Thomas

    I have been a long-time listener and donating supporter of NPR. I am, what I consider to be, a non-affiliated, middle American who tries to be as reasonable as I can in today’s fast moving world. However, I have been increasingly concerned over NPR’s increasingly biased reporting over the past few years. I no longer consider NPR reporting to be fair and balanced and now it appears that NPR no longer respects a person’s freedom of speech. I do not particularly agree with Mr. Juan William’s views as expressed on Fox. However, I do respect his viewpoint and believe that he should be entitled to state it in arenas without reprisal. Mr. Williams was clearly not speaking for NPR when he made his statements. For NPR to fire him for expressing his opinions demonstrates how far from balance it has become. With today’s internet resources I can get my news from sources other than NPR and can no longer contribute my hard-earned money to support an organization that I no longer believe honor’s it’s history and stated goals. I will miss many of PREast’s programs like Wait, Wait and Car Talk. I will continue to support public radio through WCPE but NPR has lost one more listener.

  • Ray Coapman

    If Juan can gain employment because of his opinions then he should also be able to lose his job because of them.

  • http://therapieboston.net Heleni Thayre

    Juan Williams – What a dilemma!

    I am against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because of the dishonesty it demands. How can a person be forbidden from telling the way he personally feels? It seems like a real abridgement of freedom of speech.

    Yet – when I first heard the comment I did not know it was Juan Williams and – talking to my radio – I said “That is the clothes they wear, dumkopf. That is the way they dress!”

    What to do? I have less respect for Juan. But I am concerned that he will be lionized by some who listen to Fox for those very comments. And THAT is the very big rub.

    It is even odder since aren’t there Black Muslims who wear head coverings and long dresses who have been around for ages? – or perhaps they don’t.

    Heleni Thayre

  • daniel

    What won’t get you fired at NPR:
    Wishing AIDS on your political enemies and their children. NPR’s Nina Totenberg telling the host of PBS’s Inside Washington that if there was “retributive justice” in the world the (admittedly loathsome) Jesse Helms would “get AIDS from a transfusion, or one of his grandchildren will get it.” Totenberg is still NPR’s legal affairs correspondent.

  • Brent DeSpain

    If Floridians want to limit class size, which I think is a great idea, I think the legislature should raise taxes to cover the cost. People across the country need to be will to pay for the government they ask for.

  • davud ransom

    Lon made a mistake but he should not be sacrificed. Listen to your listners and hire him back. You could lose support $$ if you don’t pay attention to your constituents like politicians.

  • Mike k

    NPR your fired!!! “?how do you like it” NPR is the bigot here!

  • Matt Harris

    While I don’t care for Fox News even when Juan Williams was on, I enjoyed his views and commentary. I am disappointed by NPR’s quick reaction to fire him, rather than use his comments as a starting point for further discussion. He broke no rules, nor did he do anything publicly that would hurt NPR’s reputation (just Juan’s for some people).


    I would bet my bottom dollar that many NPR staff members having been looking for an excuse to get rid of Juan Williams ever since he began appearing on Fox News. The comment by Daniel on a statement made by Nina Totenberg is exactly correct. And I’m sure that numerous NPR news staff verbally supported the Piss Christ art exhibit (a cross placed in a jar of urine was “art”) even though that was highly offensive to Christians without losing their jobs. Let’s face it, liberals in general and NPR in particular are all for free speech as long as it is politically correct. And this attitude is exactly why I will never give a dime to NPR or public television for that matter.

  • Frog

    Juan Williams: Fired over the phone? Yep…that was shoddy treatment…I think Mara Liasson does some commentary for Fox, too. Watch your back Mara!

  • Pierrette Chabot

    This is not the first time Juan Williams has made racist remarks. I was extremely offended by his “yellow peril” attitude toward Asians in an education piece he did a few years ago. I’m not Asian but I’ve worked for a major Japanese corporation for many years, and heard him state his fear of and antipathy for Asians loudly and clearly at that time.

    I had no idea that he had any dealings with FOX – or even that he is black until today, but it shocks me that someone who ought to be in touch with the evil of race based bias actually spews racism.

    As to his relationshp with FOX, I must say I am very concerned about the facist, polemical positions that network takes is a clear and present danger to objectivity, pluralism, and our best American multi-cultural aspirations.

  • http://www.findcapital.org Jamie Grant

    I applaud Juan Williams for being honest. I would also applaud NPR for implementing a ban on their journalists participating in non-news opinion shows like the O’Reilly Factor. That’s not journalism and it taints the credibility of any “journalist” who goes on those shows – but firing Williams for his recent remarks comes off as political correctness run amok. I have no problem with his comments. I just think that NPR should have a blanket policy about journalists appearing on such programs.

  • Chris

    I am a professional pilot and a Captain for a major airline who I have worked for some 25 plus years.
    I will not name my employer as I am not allowed to express my opinion or comment on any media event without my employers permission without facing disicipline and or termination.
    I would like to believe that I do not rattle easily.
    Recently I was in command of a flight to Washington D.C.
    A group of four Muslims, two male and two female boarded my aircraft, the women vailed over their faces, the men carrying prayer books, possibly the Koran. The two women sat in a row immediately in front of the two males.
    Their behavior caused me alarm, especially as the flights destination was our nations capitol.
    I felt that the safest thing to do would be to have them removed from the aircraft.
    As is sometimes/ possibly always the case, there were Federal Sky Marshalls on board.
    Iasked to have one of the Marshalls meet with me discreetly in the jetway. As it turned out the Marshalls had their “antenna” up also and were checking into the four Muslim pasengers. I expressed that my “gut” feeling or intuition told me to refuse bosarding to these passengers, but in light of all the “hoopala” surrounding a very similar incident of denied boarding to a group of Muslim males on another flight, and possible negative consequences for my employer and myself i elected to leave it up to the Marshalls as how to proceed.
    Ultimately the flight proceeded without incident.
    Am I a Racist? Hardly. Was my reaction warranted in light of the male Muslims passengers nervous actions and constant scanning of the passenger cabin? I believe so.
    Ron Williams comments were not only speaking of an emotion he feels, they are no doubt shared by a majority of passengers who fly at this time in our history.
    Rather than making any attempt to blend in with our society, it appears as though a few Muslims feel the need to “stick out” from the rest of America. Our collective un-easiness with some of the Muslims in this Country are not just based in prejudice, but rooted in a very real threat that modern day Islam poses to the entire world.

  • Sekou Ford

    I hope you do some quick research into previous Juan Williams’ statements
    regarding Muslims on airplanes. I recall listening to him on a weekend
    television news forum in the weeks after 9/11. He stated that he looks around
    the airplane for middle eastern appearing men when he boards a flight.
    I was offended then, and was surprised that he and the other panelists merely
    laughed off the comment.

  • dorian g

    Is the argument here really about censorship? I think not. Williams is not just a regular guy on the street expressing his view. He was paid by NPR to be a “responsible” journalist. Williams personal comment on being nervous around Muslims was inappropriate and uninformed at the least. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is what he was doing. Fanning the flames of intolerance by ignorant comments is what many of us are trying to temper with rational thinking and speaking.
    NPR’s decision was not a “quick reaction”, rather he has been a lightening rod for years and should have been brought to task a long time ago.

  • http://www.CoyoteCooks.wordpress.com Ty Nolan

    Like many, I have been uncomfortable for a long time at Mr. Williams dual role on Fox and NPR. I felt his involvement with NPR raised the standards of Fox, and his involvement with Fox lowered the standards of NPR.

    There were a number of times where I felt his “analysis” was mediocre at best. I’m very happy to see him relieved of his duties at NPR. I’m sure he will find a happy home at Fox–at least for the brief amount of time the administration there find him useful as a way to bombast NPR.

  • Kevin

    Topics: Class Size & Mr. Williams.
    Class Size: The State of Florida is capable of meeting the education budget if the powers at be wish. They can afford lowering the class size. This has been a problem since I was in school in the early 80′s. They have come up with and approved this problem in a number of ways. It just seems when its approved the money never seems to get in the right place. If you take GREED out of the picture it would eliminate a lot of problems.
    As for Mr. Williams getting fired, I don’t agree. Lets face the facts. I mean look at the way things have been done and said in the past. The simple truth is this. Would NPR receive more money if Mr. Williams was Terminated or not. Which ever side NPR feels would agree more depending on the money would win.

  • Tamera Pohl

    NPR has been dangerously flirting with a FOX news approach to the news for about the last year. FOX news saying that NPR is being hypocrital is as hilarious as FOX calling their program “news”. FOX news is enraged, opinated right wing rhetoric, not news. NPR has started to court the same audience that just wants to be MAD MAD MAD!!! NPR, like the Democrats needs to stand up for themselves, and stop worrying about FOX news or the FOX-hypnotized public thinks. Are we really going to let FOX be the only opinion that matters in this country?

  • John


    I’m surprised at the summary dismissal of Juan Williams for his comment about his gut fear when he sees some Muslims wearing their cultural regalia while aboard an airliner.

    It’s hard to tell just exactly how he violated NPR’s corporate standards, but I glean it was corporately perceived to have had something to do with upsetting the sensibilities of Muslims, and/or folks and institutions that are fighting bigotry, or NPR’s listeners, or simply the high-ups @ NPR.

    It seems easy to offend someone no matter what is or isn’t said about just about anything.

    There have been numerous hijackings and downings of commercial aircraft by Muslim extremists for decades. Nowadays, there’s an extremist Jihad going on. The mere fact that Mr. Williams revealed the fact that he is scared in a time of terror hardly seems to warrant being canned for violating corporate policy.

    But now NPR is faced with another problem: What to do with Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior news VP?

    Clearly, her actions in this matter have offended lots of folks. Who is going to fire her? Will she be allowed to explain her actions before getting the axe? Will she simply be asked to resign?

    NPR, you guys really muffed this one, but it’s not unfixable! Apologize to Juan Williams, offer him his job back and work on developing a more temperate corporate culture.


  • Terry Delaney

    In the media’s increasingly shrill and partisan landscape, hasn’t it occurred to anyone that Juan Williams’ comments followed Fox News’ “stylebook” to the letter and were intentionally offensive?

    In the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s equally inflamatory comments on “The View”, I would not be surprised to learn that Juan Williams’ comments were pre-meditated in order to provoke exactly this response by NPR. Hey, he probably was promised a bonus by Fox News for getting NPR to fire him.

  • Jodi Smith

    Like Kitty, I disliked it when Juan Williams took over “Talk of the Nation”. He totally ruined the show for me, especially how condescending he could be to the callers. His tendency to re-word what callers said, as if we, the listeners, weren’t smart enough to figure out what was just said. It drove me nuts.
    I’m not sure about NPR’s reasons for dismissing Mr. Williams, but I’m guessing they’ve been looking for a reason to get rid of him for a while. I’ll not miss him.
    As far as being nervous when he sees a person dressed as to identify themselves as Muslim: Wouldn’t a terrorist ‘not’ wear identifying garb? Why would someone intending to do harm draw attention to themselves?

  • Rosebudz

    To whomever wrote this radio piece about Williams for HERE AND NOW:
    You mentioned twice the phrase “Jews run the media” in referencing how another newsperson, Rick Sanchez, had lost HIS job over something he said on the air that was insensitive. But then the host and/or commentator on the phone seemed not to disavow this canard, leaving the impression TWICE that indeed Jews DO run the media. Nice goin.

    How? By using a line like “because some people believe Jews run the media.”
    So what? Come on , really. Is YOUR host Jewish. Is your host’s producer? So Jews don’t even run your little show, let alone the MEDIA

    re Juan: He was affected by all the fear spread by Bush & Co after 9/11, he couldn’t help it so was honest about it. That’s FOX–gut emo media. But can you get fired for doing something stupid on the job? All the time and if he’s employed by NPR and appearing on FOX that would qualify; NPR was no doubt looking for a way to get rid of him.

    I for one loved watching Juan being the only panelist on Fox to tear-up Election Night 08 as Obama won…

  • Will Carver

    If you have ever flown in a plane since 9/11, you would be naive if someone presenting themselves as fundamentalist muslims didnt make you nervous. Suicide bombers, explosives in underware and shoes. This is not politics, this is 3000 dead Americans. Juan Williams was honest and always a pleasure to have as contributer to our thinking and discussing the world. To fire him is a tragic loss to NPR listeners and accomplishes what I never thought possible. Congratulations NPR, you are not impartial, you are the fox of the left. Got a lot of crow to eat. I cancelled my presets in my car. I’ll miss listening to you Robin, but your boss is a jerk. And worst of all, and the real reason I won’t listen to you anymore, someting I would never have believed, I agree with Sarah Palins tweet. I don’t know where I’ll get my news now, but it won’t be NPR.

  • John Moore

    I’m totally OK with Juan Williams’s family. What if he’d made that comment about Hasidic Jews, who certainly dress in a way that “you know, [identifies them] first and foremost as [Hasidic Jews].” Or the Amish, who certainly dress in a way that you know, [identifies them] first and foremost as Amish.” Fill in the blank as you please. It’s an ignorant comment, which feeds into ignorant, hateful stereotypes and is completely inappropriate for a journalist. Case closed. Now he goes to FOX and will make millions. Juan Williams has landed on his feet.

  • John Moore

    I meant to write: “Juan Williams’s firing,” not family.

  • Barbara Velasquez

    I have long thought Juan was right wing. He made a comment during the 2008 elections on Talk of the Nation that sold me. A woman had called to say she just didn’t have a good feeling about McCain, and that she was voting Obama. Neil says to Juan, well what do you say to that? Juan says, well she’s wrong. Hmmm, isn’t everyone entitled to their own opinion? Didn’t sound like he thought so. Aren’t there enough red meat outlets spoon feeding Americans into thinking one-sided? NPR will be better without him.

  • CTM

    These “words” drive me crazy:

  • John Smith

    I’m deeply saddened and disappointed in NPR’s decision to terminate Juan Williams’ contract. Although his comments may seem offensive, his feelings reflect a very real issue in American society that requires public discussion. I am an American of Latino descent and have experienced both overt and latent prejudices. Yet, like Mr. Williams, a black American, I get nervous when people wearing traditionally Arab or Pakistani garb share my flight. I consider myself an educated American and have studied the principles of Islam. I know that my feelings are both wrong and irrational, but I cannot help my qualms.

    Mr. Williams only voiced those feelings many Americans are experiencing. NPR should have seized the opportunity to have Mr. Williams explain his feelings and provide a forum in which we can have an open and honest discourse. Many Muslim Americans are conscious of these negative stereotypes. However, no one admits to perpetuating them. Mr. Williams could have, as the Pew Research Center commentator suggested, stated that some people have these feelings. However, that conjures the image of fundamentalist, white christians. It would have been a much weaker statement than a black American admitting to his own prejudices. By simply firing Juan Williams, NPR has ceded the topic to other media outlets, such as Fox News and CNN.

    I apologize to Juan Williams for keeping my comments anonymous. I am an employee of a federal agency and am concerned with the effects my admission may have on my career. As NPR’s executives have demonstrated, I have every reason to hide my identity. If Juan Williams’ views concerning Arab garb compromise his journalistic integrity, there is a high probability that NPR must terminate other contracts as well.


  • Dave Miller

    It is hard for me to understand how NPR could be so shallow!! I used to take pride in the fact that I listened to NPR news and commentary but with the firing of Juan Williams this has all changed… This was a very, very bad decision by NPR. Just throw everything NPR stands for out the damn window!!!!!!!! FOOLS

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 12 9 Comments

Senator: Arab Countries ‘Need To Step To The Plate’ In Fight Against ISIS

Mark Begich (D-AK) is one of the few members of Congress speaking out against a key part of President Obama's plan for fighting the Islamic State.

September 12 Comment

Ecuadorian Drilling Damage Inspires Documentary

An American and an Ecuadorian are inspired to help Ecuador heal from decades of drilling and oil spills.

September 11 9 Comments

Doctor: 9/11 Responders’ Illnesses Becoming Worse

A World Trade Center Health Program medical provider says chronic illnesses affecting first responders are lingering and becoming worse.

September 11 Comment

Dennis Lehane Takes ‘The Drop’ From Screen To Page

Author Dennis Lehane discusses adapting a screenplay into a novel.