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Fired NPR analyst slams former employer

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Fair to Fire? The Juan Williams Debate
  • Juan Williams says NPR engaged in "character assassination" against him
  • NPR fired the news analyst after he said people with Muslim garb on planes make him nervous
  • Williams quickly signed a multi-year deal with Fox News

Washington (CNN) -- Fired NPR news analyst Juan Williams slammed his former employer Sunday, saying it had engaged in "character assassination" against him and calling comments from the company's president about him "despicable."

"To get fired obviously is no pleasure," Williams said Sunday on Fox News. "But then to be called a bigot and the innuendo that I'm somehow unstable was, I thought, despicable."

Following his firing after telling Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that he feels nervous when he sees people with Muslim garb on planes, NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller said that Williams' "feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between him and his psychiatrist... but it is not compatible with the role of a news analyst on NPR's air."

Schiller later apologized for the reference to Williams' psychiatrist, saying in a posting on NPR's website that the remark was "thoughtless."

Williams signed a multi-year deal with Fox News that involves an expanded role at the network, Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes said Thursday, a day after NPR terminated his contract.

"I think Americans feel there's nothing wrong in telling someone how you feel," Williams said Sunday. "To be punished for that is unfair and amounts to censorship."

Williams said that he is hurt by the termination but that "I don't want that to be the focus. I want to move on from this. This is not going to define me and my career."

Williams said he is heartened by support from voices on the left left and right -- and the denunciations of NPR coming from both ends of the political spectrum.

"It would have been easy for the right to say we have been subject to this kind of treatment from the left for a long time," he said Sunday. "That If you say something they don't like, they call you a racist or bigot."

"But what's been tremendously surprising to me," Williams continued, "is that people on the left have resisted temptation to simply say well we're not going to say anything against NPR. People said, 'This isn't right.'"

On Thursday, Schiller defended NPR's decision.

"Juan Williams is a news analyst; he is not a commentator and he is not a columnist," she said at the Atlanta Press Club. "We have relied on him over the years to give us perspective on the news, not to talk about his opinions."

Williams responded with a comment posted on that called his dismissal "a chilling assault on free speech" and described the NPR leadership as "self-righteous ideological, left-wing. ... They loathe the fact that I appear on Fox News."

Fox News host O'Reilly was seeking comment from Williams on Monday regarding O'Reilly's own controversial remarks about Muslims on the TV show "The View."

"Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot," Williams said. "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 are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

He continued, "Now, I remember also that, when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week, he said the war with Muslims -- America's war -- is just beginning. The first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.

"But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all -- as President Bush did after 9/11 -- it's not a war against Islam."

Williams told O'Reilly, "You've got to be careful" to point out that there are good Muslims. He noted that Americans don't blame Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called Williams' remarks "irresponsible and inflammatory ... and they should not pass without action by NPR." But he told ABC News that he did not believe Williams should have been fired.

An article on NPR's website said Williams' job as an analyst on the "largely conservative and often contentious prime time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR executives."

But Schiller said Thursday that "we don't necessarily have an issue" with Williams' appearances on Fox. "However, we expect anybody that appears on our air, either as a journalist or as a news analyst, to conduct themselves according to our journalistic rules of ethics -- wherever they might be, in any form and in any venue.

"There have been several instances over the years where Juan has strayed from that line and we have had discussions with him and we have asked him not to do it again. It's not the first time, quite honestly."

Schiller, a former CNN executive, did not detail any of the previous examples, but said Monday's remark proved fatal to Williams' NPR career. "In this case, we decided," she said, "that his integrity as a news analyst has been undermined by the fact that he has expressed these very divisive views and those two things are not compatible.