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Personal Finance: Firings gone bad

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 9:26 AM

Sometimes you can be right but woefully wrong at the same time. Take the firing of Juan Williams, who used to be a news analyst for National Public Radio. It was the wrong way to fire someone.

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While appearing on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor," Williams made some comments that his employer, NPR, said made it difficult for them to continue to honor his contract.

Williams told show host Bill O'Reilly: "I mean, look, 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."

Can I just pause a bit before continuing with how this connects to personal finance and business?

What Williams said maligned a whole group of people based on the actions of horrible Muslim extremists. Let's replace a few words in Williams' statement and see if it would still fly and would not be seen as bigoted.

What if Williams or someone of another race working for NPR had said: "I mean, look, I'm not a bigot . . . But when I walk down the street, I got to tell you, if I see young black men wearing jeans below their butts, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as gangbangers, I get worried. I get nervous."

The latter modified statement would be bigoted as were Williams' comments about Muslims. Later in the same interview, Williams went on to say it was unfair to profile people on racial or religious grounds. Nonetheless, NPR said his remarks violated its news and ethics code. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am also a frequent contributor to NPR programs.)

NPR's CEO Vivian Schiller said Williams' comments were the latest is a series of troubling incidents over several years. Schiller explained her decision to fire Williams in an interview with the New York Times's Brian Stelter.

Williams was fired, he said, via a telephone call.

For this week's two-part Color of Money Question, I want to know: Did NPR have an obligation to sit down with Williams in person to discuss terminating his contract? What was the worst way you have ever been fired from a job?

Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "Firings Gone Bad" in the subject line. By the way, if your comments are not relevant and respectful, don't bother sending them. I strive for civil debates in this forum.

So what lesson can we learn from the way Williams was fired?


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