Juan Williams wasn’t, to the contrary of the majority of the opposition’s opinion, fired from NPR because of anything that has to do with free speech. Juan Williams made the mistake of allowing his opinion on a controversial issue to be made public, while he occupied a professional position where objectivity is required. For an NPR reporter to use a public arena on an opinion-based commentary show to express his own controversial opinion undermines the objectivity of NPR.
Commentators on FOX, MSNBC, and other shows are channels that rely on opinion and debate; NPR is a public news station whose objective is to provide objective and fact-based news. As my local member station specifies, “No rant, no slant.”
I listen to NPR daily. I value the objectivity, and I value the consistent attempts at objectivity. I don’t want to know the NPR reporters’ opinions.
What he said can be a part of a necessary and even progressive dialogue; it’s not a bad thing to admit a harmful prejudice to millions of viewers if you’re using it to start a larger point about how those prejudices are dangerous. But there is a difference between admitting a prejudice and having a conversation about what that means, and having a nodding-party about a shared prejudice and why it’s a reasonable or forgivable prejudice to have. Williams didn’t use the opportunity to do that, though (see video below). He may have intended to, and he may have not been able to because O’Reilly kept cutting him off, but unfortunately, his comments just made him sound like he was justifying anti-Muslim sentiments. There’s no question that these discussions should be happening– it’s just that someone at NPR should be recording it, moderating it, or conducting the interview; not participating in it. NPR’s decision to fire Mr. Williams is consistent with their journalistic standards, and emphasizes their commitment to rant- and slant-free, fact-based news.