News analyst Juan Williams ripped into NPR today for firing him over comments that he gets "nervous" at seeing people wearing Muslim-style dress on airplanes, calling his dismissal a "chilling assault on free speech."
Williams' firing has triggered a backlash against NPR with people ranging from comedian Whoopi Goldberg to conservatives like Sarah Palin and William Kristol arguing that dismissing Williams for that comment was wrong.
On an appearance of Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," on Monday Williams, 56, said, "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're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
NPR fired Williams two days later, calling his remarks "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
Williams fought back today with a long statement on the Fox News website, which promptly hired him as a full-time contributor. In the statement, Williams accused NPR of a long-standing campaign to marginalize him since he began appearing regularly on Fox which liberals claim has right-wing bias.
Williams, who is black and has written extensively on the civil rights movement, accused his former NPR bosses of taking his comments out of context, pushing a liberal political agenda, and not giving him a chance to defend himself in person before he was dismissed.
"I asked why [NPR Senior Vice President Ellen Weiss] would fire me without speaking to me face to face and she said there was nothing I could say to change her mind, the decision had been confirmed above her, and there was no point to meeting in person," Williams wrote in a statement released by Fox News.
"To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy."
Williams also said that he cited his feelings about Muslims on planes to make a point about tolerance.
"I revealed my fears to set up the case for not making rash judgments about people of any faith," he wrote.
"I made it clear that all Americans have to be careful not to let fears lead to violation of anyone's constitutional rights, be it to build a mosque, carry the Koran or drive a New York cab without fear having your throat slashed," Williams wrote. "Bill [O'Reilly] and I argued after I said he has to take care in the way he talks about the 9/11 attacks so as not to provoke bigotry."
NPR CEO Vivian Schiller told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Williams' comments were the last straw for NPR.
"There have been several instances over the last couple of years where we have felt Juan has stepped over the line," Schiller said.
"He famously said last year something about Michelle Obama and Stokely Carmichael. This isn't a case of one strike and you're out," she told the paper.
Williams said on Fox News last year the first lady "has this Stokely-Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going."