Juan Williams, a political analyst for NPR, was fired this week for comments he made on the Fox News program the “O’Reilly Factor.” He was on the show to speak with host Bill O’Reilly when he made the statement that seeing a Muslim in full Islamic garb on an airplane made him nervous. NPR immediately let Williams out of his contract.
Many people, while they don’t agree with Williams’ statement, seem to be puzzled as to NPR’s quick reaction. The Atlantic was one of many media outlets that said they believe that the controversy is overrated, and that Williams shouldn’t have been fired for expressing a personal opinion, especially since he was doing it as a private citizen, not in his capacity as an NPR employee.
Williams may be garnering sympathy for the outcome of his statements, but many other public figures who’ve made what are perceived as anti-Muslim comments have not. This usually has to do with the severity of the statements, but not always. Author Salman Rushdie rose to fame on the fallout from his novel “The Satanic Verses,” when the Ayatollah Komeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. He felt that the novel took deliberate stabs at Islam and was so disrespectful to Muslims that only the demise of Rushdie and his publicists would compensate. The fatwa stayed in place for years.
Commentator Ann Coulter couldn’t speak at a Canadian college for fear of student riots earlier this year after comments she made to a Muslim student the day before. Coulter told the student that rather than flying on airplanes, they should just “take a camel” for travel instead. That comment came hot on the heels of a similar comment earlier, where she implied that Muslims should employ flying carpets because they shouldn’t be allowed on airplanes anymore.
Then there’s Bill O’Reilly, who appeared on the television show “The View” last week and garnered controversy for his statement that “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” Co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar took such issue with his statements that they walked off the set while live on-air.
The difference between these incidents in people’s minds seems to be the capacity in which the person works who says them. O’Reilly and Coulter may catch flak for their statements, but their public persona seems to shield them from too much fall-out because they both regularly make controversial statements. NPR might have felt that since Williams is a journalist, he shouldn’t express personal opinions the way he did. Others have argued that the move is censorship on NPR’s part and Williams should get his job back. With all the attention, expect to see Williams resurface on another show soon.
Jeffrey Goldberg, “Juan Williams Fired by NPR for No Particular Reason.” Atlantic.com
Devon Thomas, “Bill O’Reilly on ‘The View’: Muslims Killed Us on 9/11: Co-hosts Walk Off.”
Bill Hutchinson, “Ann Coulter Causes Firestorm in Canada by Telling Muslim to “take a camel” as Alternative to Flying.” NewYorkDailyNews.com
Paula I. Nielson, “What are the ‘Satanic Verses’?” Suite101.com