22 October 2010

Williams' Firing from NPR renews Debate over Muslims

USA Today

When National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams over remarks he made on Fox News, it renewed the debate over attitudes toward Muslims in post-9/11 America.

The spokesman for a leading Islamic organization said Williams was in effect legitimizing the racial profiling of Muslims.

"You have a sizeable minority of Americans who think it is legitimate to single out Muslims for special scrutiny and deny them rights all other Americans hold dear," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "That viewpoint expresses intolerance and bigotry."

Williams said in a statement posted on the Fox News website Thursday, "NPR fired me for telling the truth. The truth is that I worry when I am getting on an airplane and see people dressed in garb that identifies them first and foremost as Muslims."

In the original comments with Fox's Bill O'Reilly on Monday, Williams expressed unease about seeing Muslims on airplanes but added that not everyone in a religious group should be lumped together with terrorists.

Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, said the network's reporters and news analysts should not express opinions. Speaking Thursday at the Atlanta Press Club, she said Williams had veered from journalistic ethics several times.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News that Congress should investigate NPR for censorship and consider cutting off its public funding.

In a statement via Twitter, former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said, "NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it."

Diane Winston, a professor of media and religion at the University of Southern California said Williams went beyond his NPR journalist's role by voicing his own opinions. "He spoke sloppily," Winston said. "It seemed as if he was making a racist comment."

Geneva Overholser, director of USC's school of journalism, said NPR's ethics guidelines say news analysts should not express personal views on any outlets.

"Juan Williams has two very different roles" as a journalist at NPR and a pundit at Fox, she said. "It's always complex for Williams to perform these two roles."

His firing followed recent dismissals of CNN journalists Rick Sanchez and Octavia Nasr for voicing personal views in other forums.

"I hope we'll find other solutions," Overholser said. "Is firing people going to be the way that we have the discussions that we need to have about these very complex issues?"

Salam Al-Marayti, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the controversy shows that "Islamophobia is a major danger in America" and called on NPR to help conduct a "national conversation" on the issue.

"We are not saying the firing was justifiable," he said. "We don't want to suppress these apprehensions or misapprehensions and prejudices. They exist. We know they exist."

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