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Juan Williams - Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate

August 01, 2011

Juan Williams is an American journalist and political analyst for Fox News Channel. He was a senior news analyst for National Public Radio (NPR) from 1999 until October 2010. At The Washington Post for 23 years, Williams has worked as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist, White House correspondent and national correspondent.

Juan Williams

Williams is the author of Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965 (1988), a companion to the documentary series of the same name about the African-American Civil Rights Movement; Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary (2000), a biography of Thurgood Marshall, the first black American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States; and Enough (2006), which was inspired by Bill Cosby's speech at the NAACP gala, and deals with Williams' critique of black leaders in America, and as he puts it the "culture of failure." Williams has received an Emmy Award and critical praise for his television documentary work and he has won several awards for investigative journalism and his opinion columns.

In his new book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, he writes about his controversial comments about Muslims in 2010, which resulted in him being fired from his job at National Public Radio. He also wrote about his feelings regarding the effects of political correctness on policy debate.

Williams joined NPR in 2000 as host of the daily afternoon talk show Talk of the Nation. He then served as senior national correspondent for NPR, interviewing newsmakers as well as providing analysis of major events in interviews with the anchors for the newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday.[citation needed] As a result of Williams' commentary on the Fox News Channel, NPR's President and CEO Vivian Schiller requested that Fox stop identifying him as an NPR host in 2009. NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard maintained that: "Williams tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox." Williams' comment on January 26, 2009, to Bill O’Reilly and Mary Katharine Ham, while appearing on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor, triggered the move.

NPR terminated his contract on Wednesday, October 20, 2010, two days after he made remarks on The O'Reilly Factor. He had commented, "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." According to NPR, the remarks were "inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." As to the reason for the termination of Williams' contract, NPR’s President and CEO Vivian Schiller offered the following comment: "News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts..." On October 21, 2010, Schiller told an audience at the Atlanta Press Club that Williams' feelings about Muslims should be between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist—take your pick." Schiller later apologized stating, "I spoke hastily and I apologize to Juan and others for my thoughtless remark."

Some observers have questioned whether NPR actually fired Williams for making the comments on Fox News, as opposed to making them in another forum. William Saletan of Slate.com compared the Williams situation to that of Shirley Sherrod, saying that both Sherrod and Williams had their words taken out of context in a way that made them appear racist and led to the loss of their jobs, except that Williams was victimized by liberals, rather than conservatives as in Sherrod's case. Saletan said that while Williams' confessed fears of Muslims were "unsettling", the context was Williams' argument that such fears should not be used to curtail the rights of Muslims or anyone else, and that Williams consistently argued that Muslims in general should not be blamed for the terrorist activities of Muslim extremists.[15] NPR has been criticized by Williams and others for practicing a double standard in the firing, compared to their not firing Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg and other NPR reporters and analysts for their opinionated statements.

On January 6, 2011, the same day NPR's Board concluded the investigation of Williams' firing, NPR's senior vice-president, Ellen Weiss, who according to Williams had fired him over the phone, resigned from her post. Additionally, the NPR Board decided to cancel the 2010 bonus of CEO Vivian Schiller for her poor handling of the Williams case.

Juan Williams commented: "It's good news for NPR if they can get someone who is the keeper of the flame of liberal orthodoxy out of NPR." "She had an executioner's knife for anybody who didn't abide by her way of thinking," he said. "And I think she represented a very ingrown, incestuous culture in that institution that's not open to not only different ways of thinking, but angry at the fact that I would even talk or be on Fox."

He has been a Fox News Contributor since 1997. He has appeared on Special Report with Bret Baier and FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also regularly appears on The O'Reilly Factor and has served as a guest host in O'Reilly's absence. After NPR announced his termination from their network in October 2010, Fox News offered him a new $2 million (a "considerable" raise, three-year contract and an expanded role at their network that includes a regular guest-host role Friday nights on The O'Reilly Factor.

Following his firing from NPR, Williams appeared on The O'Reilly Factor and discussed his thoughts on how his role at Fox played into NPR's decision: "I don't fit in their box. I'm not predictable black liberal. You [O'Reilly] were exactly right when you said you know what this comes down to. They were looking for a reason to get rid of me because I'm appearing on Fox News. They don't want me talking to you."

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