J. KARL MILLER: NPR made a mistake in Williams' dismissal

Wednesday, November 3, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 6:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"I believe the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust. I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism."

The author of that quote, Walter Williams, founding dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, would arguably have suffered apoplexy at NPR's unceremonious and cowardly sacking of senior news analyst Juan Williams last month — over the phone no less. It is equally obvious that the NPR hierarchy is oblivious to the ideals of the late Missouri journalism dean.

Juan Williams, a 10-year employee of NPR, was dismissed for the following expressed on FOX News' Bill O'Reilly show. "Look Bill I'm not a bigot. 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're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

In all honesty, however, I believe NPR did nothing illegal in firing Mr. Williams — even overlooking its flimsy and self-serving calling him a "valuable contributor" but stating "his comments were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practice and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." NPR's censurably indecent approach notwithstanding, there are far too many "unfirable" sacred cows among government, union and faculty employees.

However, for NPR to trot out its editorial standards and practice as having been undermined by Mr. Williams is the ultimate in chutzpah. How does that compute when its chief executive, Vivian Schiller, addressing the Atlanta Press Club, opined that Williams should have kept his feelings between himself and his "psychiatrist or publicist."

And, it requires very little research to learn of NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg's open suggestion that it would be fair for the late Sen. Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren to catch AIDS. Or, that Sarah Spitz, NPR producer for the show "Right, Left and Center," wrote that she would "laugh loudly like a maniac" while watching Rush Limbaugh have a heart attack. Of the three, Ms. Schiller did offer a belated apology to Mr. Williams but what "editorial standards and practice" did he violate?

I seldom find myself in agreement with Juan Williams' stances on issues; however, I have always respected him for his intellect, honesty, integrity and his capacity for courteous, balanced and fair discussion. A decent and honorable man, he has earned the respect of his peers and his viewers for his dignity and respect for the views of others along with his articulate expressing of opinions.

That the parent organization, the entity that pays the bills and salaries, has the right to choose its political slant is indisputable. But, in the field of opinion journalism, an institution that includes the words "National" and "Public" in its title, opens a credibility gap by canning a respected journalist for merely expressing a view.

Juan Williams merely stated an uneasiness in boarding aircraft occupied by those in Muslim attire. He did not question their right to fly and he did not express any desire for their removal. To the contrary, he has consistently called for moderation and restraint in views toward those of Arab descent — on that same show, Williams reminded O'Reilly that it was wrong to call all Muslims extremists because some happen to be terrorists.

For NPR to have fired Mr. Williams for expressing an honest and reasonable opinion (which, by the way, is what opinion journalists do) is both shameful and preposterous. The manner in which he, a highly respected, 10-year analyst, was canned  — telephonically rather than face-to-face — suggests NPR sought an excuse to cut him loose.

As one might expect, NPR has received far more brickbats than bouquets for the shabby treatment of its former senior analyst. There is a right and a wrong way to conduct business — common courtesy and human decency was breached in the opinion of fair-minded Americans.

Finally, NPR, along with other public radio and television stations, receives federal funds in the way of subsidies (some 15 percent of their revenue) from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, set up by Congress to funnel federal funds to stations. Perhaps it is time to put the brakes on taxpayer funded intolerance?

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Tim Dance November 3, 2010 | 12:22 a.m.

Wow, the Republicans and conservatives were wringing their hands when Helen Thomas said her idiot diatribe. Now Williams says a bone head remark and we martyr him. Conservatives are really hypocrites. Now they are back in power in Congress. God help America

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush November 3, 2010 | 9:11 a.m.

Just a thought -
Shouldn't the headline be: "Juan Williams gets $2 million raise from Fox News for being afraid of people dressed as Muslims."
You always focus on the negative.

(Report Comment)
Robert Partyka November 4, 2010 | 8:02 a.m.

I find nothing "reasonable" in the fact that one is unconformable around certain religions, especially if that person is supposed to be objective and transparent. Mr. Miller, I suggest you take a class at the Missouri School of Journalism, you might learn something.

(Report Comment)
Peggy Griffin November 4, 2010 | 9:03 a.m.

I respect Juan Williams very much. Even though he is a liberal, he is never rude or obnoxious, which is a lot more than I can say about his (former) NPR cohorts. After being fired for merely expressing an opinion shared by many Americans after 9/11 and many other fanatic muslim attacks, I hope this opened his eyes as to how narrow-minded and unfair the far-left liberals who run NPR are, despite their claims of open-mindedness. He will be treated with much more respect by the Fox team and Fox viewers.

Mr. Miller is absolutely correct: For this taxpayer-subsidized organization to be called "National" "Public" Radio is a joke, considering that it espouses the opposite view of most of those taxpayers. I hope that one of the first cuts in federal spending made by the new Congress is to NPR. It should continue to exist only if the leftists choose to fund it.

(Report Comment)
Marty McFly November 4, 2010 | 10:19 a.m.
This comment has been removed.
Mark Foecking November 4, 2010 | 11:13 a.m.

Marty McFly wrote:

"I don't believe it's prejudice or racist to think that considering what happened on 9-11."

Well, technically speaking it is a prejudice, since you don't know anything about that person except (s)he's wearing Muslim garb. However, a better way to look at it is that, statistically, many more planes have crashed for mechanical or weather related reasons since 9/11 than have been taken down by terrorists (even attempts, like the guy that set his pants on fire with the dud bomb). It's really not something to worry much about.


(Report Comment)
Philip Vassallo November 4, 2010 | 2:18 p.m.

J.Karl let NPR go commercial and lets see how long they last like Air American....

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 4, 2010 | 2:54 p.m.

How does one reasonably respond to a group of people that believe it is perfectly acceptable to murder 3,000 unborn children every single day of the year for 35 years?

About 5 years ago I saw a National Geographic program that was recent then from Egypt. A woman had been accused by her husband of adultery. For her trial, they were going to lay a red hot iron on her tongue. If it blistered, she was guilty. If it didn’t, she was innocent. THAT is modern Islam. Liberals just can't seem to grasp that.

Look at the news articles on line from reputable, well known sources telling how Muslims in America and Europe take their daughters to Islamic countries every year to have their genitals mutilated. Honor killings. Teaching children to strap bombs to themselves. The lack of widespread and public protest against any of these things.

Having unreasonable fear of a non imagined threat is prejudice. Having a reasonable fear of a known and real threat is common sense and survival. Liberals lack the ability to exercise common sense. When you step into the street and a bus hits you, and you then try to blame the people that maintain or designed the street, it's a sure sign you are dealing with a liberal.

I would like to think it's youthful silliness that people grow out of, but more and more the signs point to liberalism as being a genetic flaw. Unfortunately, Mother Nature's corrections to liberalism can be costly and horrific.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 10, 2010 | 7:22 a.m.

OK, so lets round up all the Muslims in this country and put them in camps, right? Do all Christians support those few extremists that kill abortion doctors? It's the same thing - every religion has a few radicals that take teachings too far.

About how many Muslims (in this and other first world countries) get their genitals mutilated every year? I'd be surprised if it were more than a few dozen. The fact that it happens does not mean it is common. (BTW, I understand that's as much a secular African thing as a religious one).

Every Muslim I have ever met has been an honest, genuine, friendly person with absolutely no tendencies toward violence. The few extremists you refer to have nothing in common with the vast majority of Muslims worldwide.


(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 10, 2010 | 9:08 p.m.

Mark, you asked the question: About how many Muslims (in this and other first world countries) get their genitals mutilated every year? I'd be surprised if it were more than a few dozen.

Why didn't you do the research?

There are many more stories from BBC and other mainstream news sources outlining this problem. Let me ask you though, in Africa, it is Christians who are committing the attrocities? What countries do you see Christians teaching children to strap on bombs? Do you think if Christian schools were teaching this in Africa or the middle east, that there would be no outcry from the Christian world?

Most Islamic countries have laws against honor killings. However, virtually none of them enforce the law. In Pakistan alone in 2003, there were 1,261 honor killings.

I pointed out to you the Islamic system of justice for the woman in Egypt accused of adultry.

Yet you ignore all of this. And you ignore that there is no outcry from the Islamic world against these injustices.
You have to be willfully blind and deaf to not see this as an Islamic problem, and not just an isolated one.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance November 10, 2010 | 10:31 p.m.

Links Don or you're full of it. I see we have a bigoted tea party problem. God help the voters that put people like you into office. They will realize their fears were misguided and that only the rich will benefit from the Republican congress.
The Republicans are already back tracking away from their fiscal conservatism. So all you "angry" voters who listened to the rhetoric of Rush, Beck, and Hannity. Suckers!

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 11, 2010 | 7:59 a.m.

Don, each of your links point to female circumcision being an African practice, not so much a Muslim one. In fact, the first link had Muslims pointing out that such mutilation was against the word of the Koran. The fact that some of these Africans might be Muslim has nothing ot do with Islam.

"Do you think if Christian schools were teaching this in Africa or the middle east, that there would be no outcry from the Christian world?"

I remember an awful lot of bombing and killing in Ireland a couple decades ago, and while you'd hear an occasional criticism from one religious leader or another, don't remember a lot of organized outcry. Again, the fact that terrorists have a political agenda doesn't necessarily reflect on the religion.

Muslims spend more time fighting each other than they do fighting the West. The reason some Middle Eastern Muslims dislike us is because of our support of Israel, not anything intrinsic to our culture or country.

When an American Muslim straps on a bomb and detonates himself in a government building, I'll start to be concerned. But it's never happened. Obviously American Muslims are too busy enjoying their freedom and prosperity to worry too much about killing "infidels".


(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 11, 2010 | 12:15 p.m.

Hmm, claims of a bigoted tea party, but no links? Republicans backtracking from their supposed fiscal conservatism, but no links?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 11, 2010 | 6:19 p.m.

@ John Schultz

In my experience, bigotry is something only OTHER people have, NOT MOI!

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush November 11, 2010 | 10:54 p.m.

I'm reminded of the words of Jim David Adkisson - you can read his manifesto here.

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance November 12, 2010 | 12:30 a.m.

Libertarians are suckers!

and your racist teabaggers

Tolerant americans know why the Republicans won this November. I will be spending the next 2 years pointing out that the Republican Party aligns themselves to racists and anyone who aligns themselves to the Republican tolerates the fear-mongering and racist base stirring. You should all be ashamed!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 12, 2010 | 1:38 a.m.

Rand Paul isn't a Libertarian or a libertarian, and is less so than his dad:

Heck, he doesn't even like to use the label himself:

If you don't like fear-mongering, where's your disapproval of Jack Conway's "Rand Paul is soft on crime" ads that ran during the Kentucky Senate campaign? Yeah, I'm guessing you think those were pretty nifty.

(Report Comment)
Dennis Catlett November 13, 2010 | 7:25 a.m.

I remember when a lot conservatives wanted NPR to fire Juan Williams after he called then candidate for president Fred Thompson's wife a,"trophy wife."

(Report Comment)
Don Milsop November 19, 2010 | 5:55 a.m.

Mark F, do me a favor. This was one of the links above.

Would you thoroughly review this and see if you still hold the same opinion?


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 19, 2010 | 6:44 a.m.

Gee, Mark, I know you to be a rather busy person. Do you have time to "thoroughly review" the material in question?

Now that the Mickey Mouse election business is behind us I was looking forward to further discussions about energy and developing energy sources, especially the effect on all existing forecasts should electric cars take off faster than expected.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 19, 2010 | 6:54 a.m.

I have, and still hold the opinion that this is much more an African practice:

"It was primarily a custom of Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates" (regarding FGM in Saudi Arabia)

"On Sunday June 24 the Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa had said that there was no Islamic justification for FGM."

Christians have used the Bible to justify wife-beating and slavery:

"Though Sunan Abu Dawud is not regarded as "sahih" or "authentic" in the manner of the Hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim, the above Hadith is often quoted by Islamic scholars as a justification for FGM."

Because some Muslims interpret the Koran in a non-accepted manner does not make all Muslims guilty of it.

Plus, the fact that any people practice a form of mutilation that seems barbaric to us does not mean we have to do it, or that it will be forced on us. Different cultures have different customs, and while we may find them repugnant, they're also none of our business.

A lot of columnists and radio hosts get a lot of rating for beating the drums of Muslim hatred. Hitler got a similar popularity by fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. It's a whole lot easier to get people to unite if they have some common enemy, whether that enemy is a real threat or not. It bothers me to see some people put so much effort and fear into hatred of Muslims, over isolated and fringe incidents.


(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 19, 2010 | 4:25 p.m.

Ellis Smith wrote:

"I was looking forward to further discussions about energy and developing energy sources,"

I was too. Missed this before.

"especially the effect on all existing forecasts should electric cars take off faster than expected."

I don't know if they can, because the bottleneck is the manufacturing capacity for lithium batteries. Lithium itself is a fairly abundant element, but our capacity to put it to use in batteries is currently limited. There's also the issue of the rare earth elements some of these technologies use (e. g. neodymium for motors).

Silicon solar cells have a similar bottleneck. Silicon is a very common element (silicon dioxide is quartz or sand), but the facilities to make it pure enough to grow crystals are limited.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 19, 2010 | 5:12 p.m.

Silicon dioxide and lithium carbonate are two mainstays of the ceramic industry. However, only some silica sources have the purity necessary for industrial and optical applications (or even for common glass products).

At present it seems that China, a primary source of rare earths, is going to play hard ball with supplies.

My point is that should there be breakthroughs and mass production of electric vehicles takes off, it will require that we re-evaluate our electrical demand upward. At present solar cells are about 22-25% efficient, and to provide a passenger vehicle remotely suitable for "normal" use would require a cell array of ridiculous dimensions. I see no presently viable way to "fuel" electric vehicles except by using the existing electric power grid.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking November 19, 2010 | 5:41 p.m.

I hear you - an electric minivan driven 20 miles/day would require about 20 kwh of energy. That's close to the average demand of a house in Columbia. Is CW & L prepared for all these new "houses" (not that I think it will be an issue)?


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith November 19, 2010 | 6:21 p.m.

The legal profession has an absolutely wonderful expression: "res ipsa loquitur." "The thing speaks for itself."

I've had some experience working in venues where available electric power barely satisfies peak demand. It's like going to work in the morning not knowing what mess you'll be in by afternoon (peak demand). Throw in an occasional tropical storm and it's an experience!

But, someone always says, what about on-site generators to keep things going. Some undercapitalized companies can't afford generators, and some of the others haven't paid their fuel bills.

(Report Comment)

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