Today, erstwhile-NPR Analyst Juan Williams was on the second hour of the Diane Rehm Show, here at WAMU. I listened in…
Interesting: Juan and Diane are good friends, have been for many years; he has been on DR show several times. He thanks her for speaking to him during this “turmoil”. It’s a nice reminder that he’s an actual person, with a long history beyond this and not just a political football or insensitive panderer.
The NPR ombudsman has received 22,000 messages about this? Wow.
“Diane I’m the same person in both venues (NPR and Fox), but I’m aware of the differences in both venues.
“When I was fired, last Wednesday, the woman who called me said, “would you have said the same thing on NPR?” and I said, “of course”…(she tried to say I had violated journalistic ethics)…it would violate my journalistic ethics if I didn’t tell the truth!”
Diane is playing the actual exchange between Williams and O’Reilly for us.
DR: Do you have any regrets…
Williams says that his comment about Muslims is not analogous to the comparisons his critics are making to negative speech about African Americans (i.e. “How would he feel if people said something similar about Black people?”): “There’s no history of black people getting in airplanes and…”. He goes on to describe how fear can be appropriate, even in “small town America”, because “it’s a matter of being aware of your environment”. He clarifies that he wasn’t advocating profiling or extra scrutiny, saying “I simply admitted to my feelings.”
About the actual phone call/termination: “I think (my contract) was up late this year or early next year…well, I just got a call, I was up in NY and I got a call that said please call Ellen Weiss, so I call and when she called back she said ‘What did you say on O’Reilly Factor?’ and I told her what I said and she asked ‘did you mean that?’ and I told her I meant what I said and she said it was a violation of NPR’s journalistic standards, ‘We have people here who wear Muslim garb, the building is up in arms…”. She basically suggested or implied that I was a bigot. I said this was madness and I said I can’t believe this, can I come in and talk and she said ‘you should know this decision was made above me and there’s nothing to change my mind’.”
“Remember though, I’ve been there over ten years, so there have been various generations of management…I was hired while working at Fox news as Commentator, so that was well known as I came in…”
About his infamous comment on the First Lady and Stokely Carmichael: “(re: Michelle Obama’s comments about being proud of her country for the first time) I was trying to be very clear about the controversy that had been stirred during the campaign…I said she can’t get in that game or she’ll be a liability to the President…she cannot be Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. People took that one statement and said, ‘Juan Williams said that Michelle Obama IS Stokely in a dress’…so that got the attention of management and they said ‘you shouldn’t be saying things like that’ and I said, ‘Again, it was matter of trying to analyze, break down the role of First Lady and how she can be an asset to the president’.”
About the Bush White House incident: “I knew a lot of the players. NPR and the Bush admin knocked heads. NPR then said you know a lot of these people, they’re coming on TOTN, can you help us get an interview with Bush? So at their request I began to have dinners…talk to people…well it took me about five years and finally the call came, ‘Yes, we;ll talk to you Juan. (NPR) said, “Delightful, we really want this interview”, so they give it play. A year later, it was the 50th anniversary of Little Rock…the President was not going, but wants to do a conversation about race relations and the U.S. NPR wanted to use a different journalist. I said ‘You asked me to build a relationship with these people and they know me!’ The implication was, ‘because you know conservatives and have worked with them as a reporter’ that i was somehow in their pocket…that’s obscene that’s offensive. It doesn’t mean there’s somehow some evidence of corruption…”
About the firing: Diane asked, “Vivian Schiller has tried to reach you directly, has emailed you, sent a registered letter (his wife got the letter yest). Are you interested in meeting with Vivian Shiller?”
JW: “I’m not sure what it would be for, I read the letter…it said ‘please call my office’. I was hurt…I was trying to stand up for the rights of Muslim Americans, I was not perpetrating bigotry and the idea that I was is deeply hurtful…and now this comment is condescending insulting. I think it’s a personal attack. I think it was intended to demean me, to suggest to a larger audience that this is someone you can’t trust, a loose cannon…there was no attempt to reach out to me in the immediate aftermath of that comment, which as I said, I found offensive.”
Diane says that it “feels like you are attacking NPR, are you confining your comments to leadership?”
JW: “I’m a big fan of radio and public radio. I have raised I don’t know how many dollars. I don’t think that there’s any question in terms of my history of being a fan of radio and public radio. I think you have local public radio as an important institution and outlet in so many communities. When I’ve had my experience with management at National Public Radio, it seems that there is a very narrow band of ideology being practiced, they’re not interested in a full expression of opinions or ideas, it’s very limited.”
A listener emails to ask about Williams’ new $2 million contract with Fox, “Is it an exploitation of your situation to conduct a vendetta against NPR, given that Newt Gingrich and others are now calling for cutting off funds for NPR?”
JW: “You know, this is an interesting thing. I am not a person who gets involved in these political things, that’s not my role as a journalist. I have simply been saying the way that I have been treated was wrong-headed. NPR has the power and credibility to go after one person and make the case that i was psychotic, unreliable, that there was a history of (issues)…”
DR: “How can you say there is no history when there is a history going back a few years?”
JW: “You’re talking about statements I have made or being on Fox. I was talking about my journalism. Ultimately, that’s what I think this comes down to (being on fox).”
On cutting funding: “I think that NPR should have money. I think that people at NPR have to be held accountable for their words and actions. To repeat, Diane, I am a big fan of radio and public radio and good reporting. This is not an attempt to wipe out anybody. It is so important to me.
(At this point, the issues I’ve been having with listening to WAMU live via the internet worsen, and the feed cuts out for a few seconds at a time. I know, listening via iTunes and Comcast is not ideal.)
A caller asks Williams about his record (?) of sexual harassment at the Washington Post 30 years ago? Apparently 500 women signed something? Caller is shocked that NPR would hire him.
JW: “I don’t even know how to respond to such lunacy.” Later he mentions that he may have told dirty jokes and that he apologized if he offended anyone.
Diane mentions that Vivian Schiller’s children are experiencing horrible fall-out from the controversy, that they are now being attacked…Williams does not address this, which is unfortunate. It was an opportunity to be gracious and make the iron-clad point that no one’s children deserve to be dragged in to this ugliness, no matter what side you’re on, that it’s just a point of decency. Williams is more interested in talking about how *he* was being attacked.
The final moments crystallize the dynamic I picked up on (and cringed at):
DR: Congratulations on your new position!
JW: Well, I have to get over what happened here.