Embraced by Fox, Juan Williams Blasts NPR
Thursday, October 21, 2010
An angry Juan Williams tells George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday that "this current crew" in NPR's leadership "was really getting vicious."
Juan Williams lashed back at NPR Thursday and Friday over his Wednesday night firing, as the network's CEO acknowledged it bungled Williams' dismissal and black NPR employees tied Williams' departure to their diversity concerns. The story was proving to be bigger than anyone imagined.
Some American Muslims, meanwhile, wondered whether the episode would make matters worse for them.
" 'The greater American public remains unsure about Islam and very often hostile about Islam,' said Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University, who examines the divide in his new film and book, 'Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam,' " Matea Gold of the Los Angeles Times reported Friday for the Tribune Washington bureau.
"Ahmed said he was disappointed by Williams' comments. But he added that NPR's abrupt firing 'does not bring the temperature down against Muslims…. Now the debate is, are we being oversensitive to Muslims?' "
NPR fired Williams from his news analyst job after he told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous.
"Mr. Williams tempered his remarks, though, by reminding Mr. O’Reilly that all Muslims should not be branded as extremists," as Brian Stelter wrote in the New York Times. " 'We don’t want, in America, people to have their rights violated, to be attacked because they hear rhetoric from Bill O’Reilly and they act crazy,' Mr. Williams said, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed."
Williams, a senior news analyst on NPR but a commentator on Fox News Channel, was told by NPR late Wednesday via telephone that it was terminating his contract. "His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," NPR said in a statement. The remarks also came in a week when NPR affiliates, which depend heavily on donations, were conducting a pledge drive.
In a FoxNews.com column and an appearance on O'Reilly on Thursday, and in an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday, Williams struck back.
"Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion," he wrote. "This is an outrageous violation of journalistic standards and ethics by management that has no use for a diversity of opinion, ideas or a diversity of staff (I was the only black male on the air). This is evidence of one-party rule and one-sided thinking at NPR that leads to enforced ideology, speech and writing. It leads to people, especially journalists, being sent to the gulag for raising the wrong questions and displaying independence of thought."
On "Good Morning America," Williams said of NPR, "This current crew was really getting vicious. I’ve always thought the right wing were ones that were inflexible and intolerant And now I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR, if it's representing the left, it's just unbelievable that, you know — and especially I think for me as a black man to somehow, you know, say something that's out of the box, they find it very difficult.
"And I think that's right, George. I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me, that they were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity."
It was an unusual public denunciation of his former employers in an industry where burning bridges carries a risk: A boss at one network today might easily become a supervisor at your news organization tomorrow.
Vivian Schiller, the NPR CEO, framed Williams' firing as the last straw in a series of incidents, not simply over the comments on O'Reilly. Asked about firing Williams in a late-night phone call, she conceded in a staff meeting on Friday, "Was it a smart idea? No."
Black journalists who watched events play out declared Williams the winner after he emerged with a $2 million, three-year contract with Fox News Channel. But many did not buy Williams' arguments, although they did agree that there were racial implications to the developments.
"OK, so he worked for an organization whose leadership he supposedly found 'self-righteous, ideological, left-wing' and that treated him worse than 'Tricky Dick' treated his enemies," freelance writer Marjorie Valbrun wrote for Slate.com. "Yet he stayed with them for 10 years. I wonder when exactly he began to notice he was the only black male on air at NPR and why he did not publicly complain about this lack of diversity before?
"Now that Williams is feeling victimized, maybe he can imagine how Muslims must feel about his comments."
Williams was NPR's sole on-air black male voice for most of his career at NPR. The National Association of Black Journalists questioned NPR's commitment to diversity a year ago after Greg Peppers, one of two black men in NPR's newsroom management, was fired less than 24 hours after the network hosted NABJ at its Washington headquarters.
Schiller responded that "we are examining our overall diversity status critically," released NPR's own set of figures about the staff makeup and in December hired Keith Woods, one of the foremost trainers and educators in journalism diversity and then the No. 2 administrator at the Poynter Institute, the school for professional journalists, for the new position of vice president of diversity in news and operations. In August, NPR hired another black journalist, Wall Street Journal reporter Corey Dade, as a Washington-based digital news correspondent.
At staff meetings on Thursday and Friday, African American employees questioned whether blacks were being singled out for dismissal and wondered whether a white employee would have been fired in the manner Williams was.
Spokeswoman Anna Christopher did not respond to a message asking whether NPR planned to replace Williams, who had become a contract worker.
In the Williams-connected conversations about NPR's diversity, little was said about the on-air homogeneity of Fox News, which attracts the fewest black viewers of the cable news networks.
Joe Strupp noted additionally for Media Matters for America, "Whether or not Juan Williams deserved to be fired from NPR, it's clear that Fox News regularly airs far worse anti-Muslim commentary."
Williams maintained on "Good Morning America" that one reason he was so angry about his dismissal was that his remarks were taken out of context. After all, he said, he had a track record as a historian on civil rights issues.
Even so, Williams' statement that he felt nervous around Muslims dressed in "Muslim garb" on planes became a lightning rod, despite his additional comment that Muslims should not be stereotyped.
"I’ve been a Muslim for 32 years. I’ve been all over the world, especially the Middle East," Sunni Khalid, senior reporter at WYPR-FM in Baltimore, told Journal-isms.
"What the hell is 'Muslim garb?' I bet Juan and Bill O’Reilly couldn’t distinguish Sikh or Hindu traditional garb from Saudi or Kuwaiti clothing. What about people from Indonesia, who wear the black, oval-shaped songbok on their heads? I wear it when I travel. Should people from those countries, where the bulk of extremist attacks occur, be 'nervous,' too? What about Obama, when he hosts Karzai or King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia? I remember there was a time, not too long ago, when white women crossed the street when I was walking IN A SUIT! And, of course, it’s still tough to catch a cab in DC if you’re a black man," said Khalid, a former NPR foreign correspondent who settled a discrimination lawsuit against the network in 2003.
"Again, it should be pointed out that the 9-11 skyjackers were not dressed in so-called 'Muslim garb,' but Western clothes, in order to fit in. In fact, I’d be more comfortable to see someone dressed in traditional garb, because I could be assured that they had already passed through the same security measures that I had."
However, Asra Nomani, a scholar in the practice of journalism at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies, said Friday on NPR's "Tell Me More," "What Juan Williams expressed, I believe, is the sentiment of many people and including Muslims. Muslims profile each other all the time. When you walk into a mosque and you see other Muslims, you say, oh, look, he looks like a Jihadi. Or, that's a niqab, a woman who wears a full-face veil. It doesn't mean, you know, that we need to go to the point of civil liberties, you know, offensive or anything like that. . . . I believe, unfortunately, that NPR short-circuited a conversation that we really need to be having."
NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard reported that "NPR’s initial story garnered more than 6,800 comments, many supporting Williams and others asking why it took so long to fire him. At noon, the deluge of email crashed NPR’s 'Contact Us' form on the web site."
According to one national survey of 1,017 Americans Thursday evening, 46 percent of those polled said NPR was wrong to fire Williams, 19 percent said NPR was right to fire him and 35 percent said they had no opinion on the issue, according to Ted Iliff of the organization Poll Position.
The controversy went far beyond the journalism realm when former governors Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who also are paid Fox News contributors, jumped to Williams' defense and called for a "defunding" of NPR by the federal government.
But as Andrew Phelps of public station WBUR in Boston noted, "NPR receives no direct funding from the federal government for operations," although individual stations benefit from grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
"NPR does receive grants from CPB for special projects, but that funding is not included as part of the network’s operations budget," he wrote.
"So while federal dollars do flow to NPR, the connection is indirect. It may be a fine point, but it’s an important distinction. The federal government can’t 'defund' NPR. What Congress can do is cut CPB funding — which has diminished over the years and has, at times, been threatened."
The Williams affair at heart was a debate over the proper role of journalists, however.
"After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism," Stelter wrote in the New York Times. "By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics.
"Kelly McBride, the ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, called the Williams case an 'object lesson in how different news organizations have different values.' She said the ethics guidelines at many news organizations matched those at NPR.
" 'If you make some outlandish statement on your Facebook page or at a public event somewhere, you are still representing your newsroom,' she said. 'So there are consequences to that.' "
This columnist was pleased to have participated Friday in a smart, hour-long discussion of the case with Mark Jurkowitz of the Pew Research Center, host Kerri Miller and listeners of Minnesota Public Radio, among other conversations.
- Akbar Ahmed, washingtonpost.com: A Muslim response to Juan Williams
- Chris Ariens, TVNewser: Juan Williams, Rick Sanchez, Helen Thomas et al. and the 'Taliban-like drive' for journalistic purity
- Ed Bark blog: NPR's dopey dismissal of Williams is worthy of a dunce cap
- Farai Chideya, Huffington Post: What Everyone Is Missing About NPR's WilliamsGate [Oct. 23]
- Juan Cole blog: End Federal Tax Subsidies to Fox!
- Javier E. David, theGrio.com: NPR tunes out First Amendment with Williams firing
- Editorial, Washington Post: NPR's hasty decision to fire pundit Juan Williams
- David Folkenflik, NPR: Fox News Gives Juan Williams $2 Million Contract
- Matea Gold, Tribune Washington Bureau: Prominent Muslims fear NPR analyst's firing may fan hostility
- Keach Hagey, Politico: Sarah Palin joins calls for defunding NPR
- Earl Ofari Hutchinson, syndicated: Gone Juan: A Faux Liberal NPR Should Have Canned Long Ago
- Arsalan Iftikhar, CNN.com: NPR right to fire Juan Williams
- Jimi Izrael blog, "Tell Me More," NPR: Here Today, Juan Tomorrow?
- Wil LaVeist, UrbanFaith.com: NPR Firing of Williams Disappointing
- Michael Meyers, New York Daily News: NPR's firing of Juan Williams wrong, but not excuse to take away funding from public radio
- Richard Prince and Mark Jurkowitz with Kerri Miller on "Midmorning," Minnesota Public Radio: When news commentary crosses the line
- Richard Prince with Latoya Peterson on "The Michael Eric Dyson Show," WEAA, Baltimore: Juan Williams’ Firing
- Richard Prince, Asra Nomani and John Watson with Michel Martin on "Tell Me More," NPR: NPR Fires Juan Williams, Journalists React
- Rem Rieder, AJR:;Moving too Fast: NPR’s mishandling of the Juan Williams imbroglio
- Kevin Roderick, LAObserved: NPR memo to stations: why we fired Juan Williams
- Betsy Rothstein, Fishbowl DC: QUOTES of the DAY
- Betsy Rothstein, Fishbowl DC: Ambivalence
- Alicia Shepard, NPR: NPR's Firing of Juan Williams Was Poorly Handled
- Brian Stelter, New York Times: Williams Episode Shows 2 Versions of Journalism
- William M. Welch, USA Today: Williams' firing from NPR [renews] debate over Muslims
Alex Baldwin and Queen Latifah in character on "30 Rock." (Watch the episode)
The NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which pokes fun at the network, turned its sights toward the network's diversity efforts in its Oct. 7 broadcast, "Let's Stay Together."
The peg was the pending merger of NBC Universal and Comcast, and their efforts to secure government approval by responding to diversity concerns voiced by such members of Congress as Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. In the episode, Queen Latifah plays a Waters-like legislator.
"A black former Fox News technician is suing the network, saying he was fired when he complained that colleagues were pummeling him with racial abuse," Scott Shifrel reported Wednesday in the New York Daily News.
" 'This is what happens when you mess with white people's health care,' he recalled one colleague said while watching footage of a Tea Party rally protesting national health care reforms.
"Harmeen Jones insists he was subjected to a steady stream of 'racist, sexist, and extremely offensive comments,' against blacks, Muslims, Jews, women and Hispanics on a daily basis.
"The atmosphere in the control room at Fox's Manhattan headquarters caused him 'embarrassment, fear and humiliation and made him feel like he is somehow less than fully human.'
"The Manhattan federal court suit names Fox News Network and seven of Jones' colleagues and seeks $5 million in damages.
"In a statement, the network responded: 'Fox News has not received a complaint and therefore cannot comment.' "
"Hollis R. Towns, executive editor of the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, N.J., was elected Thursday president of the Associated Press Managing Editors at the group’s annual conference in St. Petersburg, Fla.," the association reported.
" 'I’m thrilled to be elected president of an organization with such a rich history and bright future,' said Towns, 46. 'I plan to build on the successes of the past year by growing the membership, extending our reach and launching an important national reporting project with The Associated Press.'
"Towns began his career at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter. He became executive editor at the Cincinnati (Ohio) Enquirer before being named editor at the Asbury newspaper, which is owned by the Gannett Co. . . .
"Brad Dennison, vice president of News & Interactive for GateHouse Media, and Debra Adams Simmons, newly named editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio, were selected for the leadership ladder of APME.
"APME, an association of editors at AP's 1,500 member newspapers in the U.S. and newspapers served by The Canadian Press in Canada, works closely with the news company to strive for journalism excellence. APME also supports training and development of editors in a changing media landscape, as well as initiatives in online credibility and diversity.
"Otis Sanford, editor for opinion and editorials for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn., completed his term as association president and will become president of the APME Foundation." Like Towns and Adams Simmons, Sanford is a black journalist, as is Milton Coleman, president of the American Society of News Editors.
Randy Lovely, editor and vice president of the Arizona Republic, and Bill Church, executive editor of the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., both Gannett news executives, are winners of the Associated Press Managing Editors' 2010 Robert G. McGruder Awards for Diversity Leadership.
"The awards are given annually to individuals, newsrooms or teams of journalists who embody the spirit of McGruder, a former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, former managing editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, a graduate of Kent State University and relentless diversity champion. McGruder died of cancer in April 2002," the APME said in its news release.
"This year, the ninth annual awards are being sponsored by the Free Press, The Plain Dealer, Kent State and the Freedom Forum."
The winners were officially recognized at the annual APME conference, which ended Friday at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lovely, who won in the large-paper category, accepted in a video. Church, the small-paper winner was present.
Each honoree was to receive $2,500 and a leadership trophy.
At least four men have been beaten after Rolling Stone, a Ugandan publication, printed names, pictures and addresses of 100 'top' homosexuals in the country. (Credit: Daily Mail)
"At least four gay men have been attacked in Uganda after a newspaper ran a front-page story listing 100 'top' homosexuals with a banner reading 'Hang Them,' " Britain's Daily Mail reported on Thursday.
"The paper also printed the men's photos and addresses alongside their names. Since the article was published the four men have had stones thrown at their houses, beaten, and many others have gone into hiding for their own safety.
"The article, published on October 9 in a Ugandan newspaper called Rolling Stone — not the American magazine — also claimed that an unknown but deadly disease was attacking homosexuals in Uganda. In addition, the piece said that homosexuals will recruit one million children in the next two years by raiding schools — a common smear used in Uganda.
"Members of the gay community named in the article have faced harassment from friends and neighbours.
"Significantly, the publication came out five days before the one-year anniversary of a controversial legislation which would have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts and life in prison for others."
"With many African countries marking the 50th anniversary of their independence, 2010 should have been a year of celebration but the continent’s journalists were not invited to the party," Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday. "The Horn of Africa continues to be the region with the least press freedom but there were disturbing reverses in the Great Lakes region and East Africa."
The press-freedom organization provided a country-by-country summary.
"Two more African countries have entered the ranks of the world’s top 50 nations in terms of respect for press freedom," the report continued. "They are Tanzania (41st), although certain stories such as albinism continue to be off-limits for the press, and Burkina Faso (49th), even if justice still has not been rendered in the case of Norbert Zongo, a journalist who was murdered 12 years ago."
- Gwen Ifill, managing editor and host of PBS' "Washington Week," responding to a report critical of the lack of diversity among its panelists, said the roundtables "are less diverse than I would like" because they are "drawn from a pool of Washington-based correspondents who cover high-profile beats. . . . But we have dramatically expanded the number of women on our bench, commensurate with their numbers in the Washington press corps. I, for one, look forward to the day when the same can be said for DC-based reporters of color." Ombudsman Michael Getler reported Ifill's response on Thursday. The group Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting found that "in four months of programs (5-8/10), Washington Week presented 29 reporter guests; only one did not represent a corporate-owned outlet. Only four of 64 appearances by guests were by non-white panelists (6 percent), and the guestlist was 61 percent male."
- Juliana Barbassa, an award-winning U.S.-based immigration reporter who in 2005 was named as the emerging journalist of the year by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, has been named the Rio de Janeiro correspondent for The Associated Press, the AP announced on Friday. Barbassa, a Brazilian native, will be covering the city that will host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
- Starting in February, an Hawaiian initiative called Hiki No, "a joint venture by PBS Hawaii and the Hawaii Community Foundation, will establish the nation's first statewide student newscast, inviting middle- and high-school students from all over the state to participate," Molly Klinefelter reported for the September issue of AJR. "Hiki No's goal is to help bridge the information gap for the people of Hawaii, providing stories from many places that have long been ignored." Hiki No is the Hawaiian phrase
for "can do."
- "Ana María Canseco said her final good-bye this morning at the end of 'Despierta América,' the show she has co-hosted since its launch in 1997," Veronica Villafañe reported Thursday on her Media Moves site. "Ana María was the last host from the original team to be removed from show. Her colleague Fernando Arau was ousted in February of 2009."
- "A Cuban dissident journalist who has carried out more than 20 hunger strikes in support of free speech was today announced as the winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov human rights prize," Rachel McAthy reported Thursday for the British site journalism.co.uk. "Guillermo Fariñas, who set up the independent Cubanacán Press news agency which has now been closed down, has spent 11-and-a-half years in prison and carried out 23 hunger strikes in protest against the Cuban regime, according to the European Parliament."
- The Committee to Protect Journalists "is concerned by Vietnamese authorities' recent crackdown against several bloggers and one print journalist," the organization said on Friday. "On Monday, police arrested Phan Thanh Hai, a blogger who writes under the name Anh Ba Saigon (Saigon Brother Three), after raiding his Ho Chi Minh City home, according to Agence France-Presse. Police seized his desktop and laptop computers, along with documents he had printed from the Internet, his wife, Nguyen Thi Lien, told AFP."
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