NPR’s decision Wednesday to fire Juan Williams and Fox News Channel’s
decision to give him a new contract on Thursday put into sharp relief the two versions of journalism that compete every day for Americans’ attention.
Mr. Williams had his NPR contract terminated Wednesday, two days after he
said on an opinionated segment on Fox News that he worries when he sees people in “Muslim garb” on an airplane. He later said he was citing his fears after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.
By dismissing Mr. Williams, one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the corporation’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism. By renewing Mr. Williams’ contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemic. And it gave Fox the opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that has long been a target of conservatives for what they perceive to be a liberal bias.
Those competing views of journalism have been highlighted by the success of Fox and MSNBC and the popularity of opinion media that beckons many traditional journalists. That Mr. Williams was employed by both Fox and NPR had been a source of consternation in the past.
Mr. Williams is one of just a few prominent liberal contributors employed by Fox News, a channel with a bigger bench of conservative contributors. A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. But The Times published a statement from Mr. Ailes, who said: "Juan has been a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints since his tenure began at Fox News in 1997. He’s an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis."
He continued in the essay: "Now that I no longer work for NPR let me give you my opinion. 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."
Williams responded: "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 the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
But strong criticism followed Williams' comments.
Late Wednesday night, NPR issued a statement praising Williams as a valuable contributor but saying it had given him notice that it is severing 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," the statement read.