Williams Fires Back at NPR Over Firing

Recently sacked commentator signed a lucrative deal.

October 23, 2010, 12:16 PM

Oct. 23, 2010— -- Juan Williams, who was fired from his job at NPR after comments he made on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" this week regarding Muslims, fired back at the radio station on Friday while guest hosting "The O'Reilly Factor."

"My comments about my feelings supposedly crossed this line, some line, somewhere. That crossed the line?" Williams said. "Let me tell you what you can say on National Public Radio without losing your job."

He then mentioned Nina Totenberg's comments on NPR in 1995, when she stated that if there were "retributive justice," former Republican North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren will get AIDS from a transfusion.

An NPR spokeswoman said Totenberg has repeatedly apologized for her comments.

Conservative leaders including Sarah Palin have called to cut off NPR's funding in the wake of the controversy. According to NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm, NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller has stated that management was standing by its decision to fire Williams. Since his termination, Williams has been hired full-time at Fox News in a reported $2 million, three year deal.

Williams told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview Friday that his firing, for saying Muslims on planes make him "nervous," was the result of a personal and politically motivated vendetta which the veteran newsman described as "vindictive."

Williams pointed to a flip comment by Schiller who said Williams' comment should have been shared with his "psychiatrist or publicist," and not the public.

"It's personal. I don't know why she has to get low," Williams said.

Schiller later apologized for her crack, and Williams said he does not have a psychiatrist.

"She has an argument to make that I somehow violated journalistic ethics or values of NPR. Make the case. I think it's a very weak case," Williams told "GMA."

"NPR and especially this last group of managers became vindictive," said Williams who has worked at the network for 10 years. "As you can see, personal in terms of their antagonism toward me."

Williams made his comment about being nervous when he sees Muslims at airports or on planes was made Monday on Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor."

NPR said the comment conflicted with their commitment to unbiased reporting. But Williams, who is paid to give his opinion, told "GMA" he had long been in the cross-hairs of NPR management who are upset that he also worked for right-leaning Fox News.

"This is one of the things in my life that's shocking. I grew up on the left. I grew up here in New York City and I've always thought the right wing was the ones who were inflexible and intolerant. Now, I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR, as it's representing the left, is just unbelievable," he said.

"And especially for me as a black man, to somehow, you know, say something that's out of the box. They find it very difficult... I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me. They were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity," he told "GMA"'s George Stephanopoulos.

"I knew about their antagonism towards Fox. And I knew that they really didn't like it, and as I said I have been there more than 10 years and I have seen managers come and go and who dealt with this issue. This current crew was really getting vicious," Williams said.

Sen. DeMint Calls To Cut Federal Funds to NPR

Williams has previously scrapped with NPR management, including over comments he made comparing Michelle Obama to Stokely Carmichael and dressing down his bosses publicly when they stood in the way of an interview with President George W. Bush.

Williams hasn't apologized for his remarks about being nervous seeing Muslims on planes, insisting instead they were part of a longer conversation his NPR bosses took out of context. Williams said he was making a point about how one individual's fears should not trump the civil rights of other people.

"I see people in Muslim garb, who are first and foremost identifying themselves as Muslims, in the aftermath of 9/11, I'm taken aback," he said on GMA. "I have a moment of fear. It's visceral. It's a feeling. I don't say I'm not getting on the plane. I don't think you must go through additional security. I don't say I want to discriminate against these people. No such thing occurs. To me, it was admitting that I had this notion, this feeling," he said.

Williams said his comment was not a fireable offense.

"This is the most ridiculous thing. Then, the people at NPR take one statement, and they make it out that I am a bigot. It's unbelievable to me, given the books I've written, the things I've done in my life. Now I'm a bigot?"

News of Williams' firing stirred a backlash across the political spectrum with liberals, conservatives and veteran journalists chastising NPR for his dismissal.

"If you are someone who is giving your opinion, then you're allowed to give your opinion," ABC's Barbara Walters said Thursday on "The View." "You may or may not agree. Therefore, I think [NPR] were very wrong [to fire Williams]."

William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard wrote, "Do the powers-that-be at NPR think Juan Williams is a bigot? Do they think a traveler who has a reaction (fair or unfair) like the one Juan describes, in our age of terror in the name of Islam, is a bigot?... I suspect the powers-that-be at NPR pretty much think what Juan thinks. But the standards of political correctness must be maintained."

But there are others who believe Williams is the latest media personality to make an insensitive, prejudicial gaffe worthy of termination.

"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," Council on American-Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad told the Associated Press.

NPR receives some funding from the federal government and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he plans to introduce legislation to end federal funding for NPR.

"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree. The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today's issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda," said Sen. DeMint.

"I plan to introduce legislation to defund [the Corporation for Public Broadcasting] and force a vote on it as well as other measures to start getting our fiscal house in order," he said.

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