Juan Williams at odds with NPR over dismissal

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR said it fired commentator Juan Williams because of a pattern of commentaries that violated the news organization's guidelines, and not solely because of Williams's statements about Muslims and terrorism on a Fox News program earlier this week.

Williams, meanwhile, said he is "outraged" and "brokenhearted" that NPR cut him loose after more than a decade as a radio host, correspondent and analyst. He stood by his comments and said they were taken out of context by NPR.

For its part, Fox News on Thursday awarded Williams a new multiyear contract worth nearly $2 million that will expand his role on the cable news channel and its Web site. In a statement that indirectly referenced his firing by NPR, Fox News chief Roger Ailes called Williams "an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis."

(VIDEO: Williams's remarks about Muslims, terrorism on 'O'Reilly')

NPR fired Williams, 56, late Wednesday after he appeared on Fox News's "O'Reilly Factor" two nights earlier. In a discussion about terrorism with host Bill O'Reilly, Williams said: "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."

Later in the interview, however, Williams challenged O'Reilly's suggestion that "the Muslims attacked us on 9/11," saying it was wrong to generalize about Muslims in this way just as it was wrong to generalize about Christians, such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who've committed acts of terrorism. "There are good Muslims," Williams said later, making a distinction from "extremists."

Williams was both a senior news analyst for Fox and a regular commentator on contract with NPR. The dual roles have often placed him at odds with NPR, executives at the Washington-based organization said.

NPR officials say they have repeatedly told Williams that some of his statements on Fox violate NPR's ground rules for its news analysts. The rules ban NPR analysts from making speculative statements or rendering opinions on TV that would be deemed unacceptable if uttered on an NPR program. The policy has some gray areas, they acknowledged, but it generally prohibits personal attacks or statements that negatively characterize broad groups of people, such as Muslims.

"We have made our policies clear to Juan in prior conversations and warnings, and he has continued to violate our principles," said Dana Davis Rehm, an NPR spokeswoman. "When an analyst states personal opinions on an issue, our feeling is they have undermined their credibility as an analyst."

(VIDEO: NPR CEO: Williams's comments broke rules)

One flash point for NPR in the past was Williams's comments on "The O'Reilly Factor" in January 2009 about new first lady Michelle Obama. Williams said, "She's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going on. Her instinct is to start with this 'Blame America,' you know, 'I'm the victim' [rhetoric]. If that stuff starts to come out, people will go bananas."

The comments brought "a huge storm of criticism" to NPR, even though Williams spoke on Fox, according to a senior news executive who asked not to be named because NPR hadn't authorized him to speak on the record.

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