A writer explores his father's mysterious imprisonment, and accusations that he was spying for the CIA, in revolutionary-era Iran.
Juan Williams is a political commentator for Fox News and until last week he was also a news analyst for NPR. He joined NPR in 1999 as the daily host of Talk of The Nation, and in recent years he’s served as an NPR senior national correspondent. His comments on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor last week prompted a seemingly abrupt dismissal from NPR. Juan Williams talks about his career, his roles as news analyst and commentator, and his reaction to the recent controversy over his dismissal from NPR.
- Juan Williams FOX News political contributor, former NPR news analyst and author of "Enough."
Fox News political contributor and former NPR news analyst Juan Williams discusses his feelings about NPP management and the way in which he was fired last week following remarks he made on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” Williams described his exchange with NPR senior vice president for news, Ellen Weiss, from whom he received the news of his dismissal: “I asked Ellen Weiss, ‘Do you have a conscience?’…she was carrying out orders. This was an execution from her point of view, I guess:”
“I’m a big fan of radio and public radio,” Fox News political contributor and former NPR news analyst Juan Williams said in response to Diane’s question about whether he meant to attack all of NPR’s programming in his recent criticisms of the organization. Williams draws a distinction between local stations’ programming decisions and those made at the national level at NPR’s headquarters:
Diane’s Complete Interview With Juan Williams: Part 1
Diane’s Complete Interview With Juan Williams: Part 2
Diane’s Complete Interview With Juan Williams: Part 3
Diane’s Complete Interview With Juan Williams: Part 4
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Juan Williams has covered some controversial stories over the years as the senior news analyst for NPR and a commentator on Fox News, but now he himself has become the controversy. After expressing a personal opinion on "The O'Reilly Factor," Juan was promptly fired by NPR. Former Senior News Analyst Juan Williams joins me to talk about his roles at Fox and the NPR and we will take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. And let me say right up front, Juan, you have been a good friend of mine for many years, so it's good to see you this morning.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSDiane, you've been a friend to me, so thanks for inviting me on the show in this moment of turmoil.
REHMAnd let me just point out that we've just learned the NPR ombudsman has received 22,000 e-mails about Juan Williams as of yesterday. Apparently, that does not include messages to individual shows or to NPR's general comment box. My first question to you, Juan, describe for me how you have seen the two roles, one as NPR news analyst and the other as Fox News commentator. How are they different, how are they similar?
WILLIAMSDiane, I'm the same person in both venues, but I'm someone who's aware of the difference in the venues. One is cable television, one is radio. On the Fox news channel, I realize that it is designed in terms of the new landscape of American media, which is to say, it's niche journalism.
WILLIAMSThey have an express, conservative bent to the way that they program, especially in prime time. During the news portion of the day, their reporters are first class and I think you can say, you know, I can listen and learn on an impartial basis, but once you get into the prime time schedule, people like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, I think then you're very clear that there is a conservative orientation to the presentation, news subjects presented, opinions offered and the rest.
WILLIAMSWhen I'm on National Public Radio, I'm not involved in the kind of high volume, high energy debate and give and take and jabs that go with that kind of expression of opinion. Usually I'm in conversation with one person, oftentimes someone like Scott Simon or Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne and they are asking me specific questions that allow me to take advantage of the fact that I've been in Washington for 30 plus years, that I've been the White House correspondent for the Washington Post, that I've been a columnist here on and on I have lots of contacts, lot of sources.
WILLIAMSSo people tend to answer my phone calls. I think people have been very comfortable with me as a journalist, that I'm trustworthy and so in that job, I am really taking advantage of the fact of the connections, the experience and the reporting background to help listeners better understand the news. And so oftentimes, it's a one on one conversation with someone like Scott Simon and he's saying, now, help me understand. What are the roots of this problem? Where did this come from? Where is it likely to go? So the listener has a better sense of what's taking place with the news. That's the job of a news analyst for National Public Radio.
WILLIAMSWhereas and again, it's the same information that I'm delivering in one venue or another because I'm the same person, but it's delivered in a different form. If you're in the midst of a debate and someone like Bill O'Reilly is firing off at you, you have to fire back and it's gonna be quite intense. You're going to be interrupted at times. That's not the way that news is presented on National Public Radio.
REHMBut it's not just the presentation, is it? It's also the content.
WILLIAMSWell, not for me. The -- in other words, you might be in a situation on both stations, you know, where someone has decided this is the story they want to cover, they want to talk about. And they may pick different stories, but the content, from my point of view, you asked about the difference between the commentator role and the analyst role, is all based on what I am able to report and know and research.
REHMBut what about the expression of personal views?
WILLIAMSYou know, this is an interesting point. When I was fired last Wednesday, the woman who called me said, would you have said the same thing on National Public Radio? And I said, of course. And she was saying that this had somehow violated NPR ethics, journalistic ethics. And I said, it would violate my journalistic ethics if I didn't tell people the truth. If someone asked me a question or tried to help me understand the situation and I said, I won't tell you the truth about how I feel, I think that's a violation of journalistic ethics.
REHMI want our listeners to hear the entire exchange between you and Bill O'Reilly. Here it is.
WILLIAMSPolitical correctness can lead to some kind of paralysis where you don't address reality. I mean, look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. 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 gotta 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.
WILLIAMSNow, I remember also that when that Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week, he said, the war with Muslims -- America's war with Muslims is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts, but I think there're people who want to somehow remind us all, as President Bush did after 9/11, it's not a war against Islam. President Bush went to a mosque to...
MR. BILL O'REILLYWell, there isn't any theology involved in this at all from my perspective, Juan. But you live in the liberal precincts. Yeah, you actually work for NPR, okay.
O'REILLY...and it's not about -- it's about politics, as I said. But what -- my analysis is that this Israel thing and that liberals feel that the United States is somehow guilty in the world of exploitation and backing the wrong side and it makes it easier for them to come up with this kind of crazy stuff that, well, you can't really say the Muslims attacked us on 9/11.
WILLIAMSNo. But what Barbara Walters said to you...
O'REILLYYou know, were they, Norwegians? I mean, come on.
WILLIAMSBut wait a second, though. Wait, wait, hold on because if you said, wait Timothy McVeigh, the Atlanta bomber, these people who are protesting against homosexuality at military funerals, very obnoxious, you don't say first and foremost we got a problem with Christians, that's crazy.
O'REILLYBecause it's -- but it's not at that level. It doesn't rise near to that level.
WILLIAMSCorrect. That's -- and when you said in the talking points memo a moment ago that there are good Muslims, I think that's a point, you know, it's -- you don't wanna be...
O'REILLYBut everybody knows that, Juan. I mean, what are we in third grade here or what?
WILLIAMSNo, no, no. Because -- no, you don't, but you've got to be care -- this is what Barbara Walters was saying that you disagreed with.
O'REILLYI gotta be careful. You just said it. I gotta be careful. I have to qualify everything 50 times. You know what, Juan? I'm not doing that anymore.
WILLIAMSListen, yeah, because -- No, no (laugh). Okay, but you...
O'REILLYI will say -- I will say Muslim terrorists...
WILLIAMSBut you -- but then you say -- so be yourself, Bill, take responsibility...
O'REILLY...but I'm not going to say, oh, it's only a few. It's only a tiny bit. It's not, Juan, it is whole nations...
O'REILLY...Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, whole nations.
REHMAnd of course, that was Juan Williams in his much talked about exchange with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Do you have any regrets about what you said that evening?
WILLIAMSNone. And, you know, for me, Diane, I oftentimes think, you know, you're in the shower the next day and you think, oh, I should have put it this way or I wish I'd thought of that, but I expressed exactly and truly and sincerely how I feel if I'm at the airport. And I was setting up a conversation and in the rest of that segment, I go on to make the point that you cannot, Bill O'Reilly, say things that would lead people to make a bigoted conclusion and then take actions like cutting the neck of a cab driver in New York, which happened recently, or to say that Muslims don't have a right to build a mosque on or near ground zero or that it's okay for this pastor in Florida to think about burning the Quran.
WILLIAMSSo that was the entire conversation as you just heard it, Diane. And again, I understand that I'm in the midst of a personal storm and I don't have much perspective, but from my perspective, listening to that I thought I was reining in O'Reilly. I was saying I think that we have as Americans to be careful even as we might have fears, not to exercise any bigotry or violation of constitutional rights of any group, but specifically Muslims.
REHMAnd here's something you said back in 1986 when you participated in a forum at The New Republic about a jewelry store who had excluded admitting black men on the grounds that they were likely to commit robbery. You said, quote "Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me." Now, can the same thing be applied to Muslim garb?
WILLIAMSYes. But you have to separate what is a feeling. In other words, I think, you know, people say to me, and I think the NPR Ombudsman wrote this, what would I have said if someone had described a tall, big, black guy with an afro and a dashiki standing by the airplane door. Would I have said the same thing? And of course, I have two levels of thought about this.
WILLIAMSFirst and foremost, there is no history or record of black people getting in airplanes and taking them into buildings and committing that act of terrorism, so I don't know exactly what she's talking about, but the second thing to say is that if she's suggesting that people have fears, let's say if you're walking down the street and suddenly you turn and you notice that there's a group of young black men dressed thuggishly, I would say, yes. Not only does she might she have some anxiety, I would have some anxiety and famously, Jesse Jackson had some anxiety when he said that that's his feeling when he's on the streets in Chicago.
WILLIAMSAnd he said he regretted having to admit that, but that's the truth. And I think it's the truth for lots of people. If I was being -- you know, it's not just black people. If I'm walking down the street in small town America and I think that there's a group of young white kids or walking down the street and there's some skinheads who I think are paying attention I'm like, what is going on? So that's just a matter of being aware of your environment.
WILLIAMSNow, I think the important point here, Diane, is that I didn't suggest that on the basis of my instinctual fear of people in Muslim garb that they should not be allowed on the plane, we should discriminate against them, they should be subject to extra security, I simply admitted to my feeling.
REHMJuan Williams, he is currently with Fox News. We'll take a short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Former NPR news analyst Juan Williams is with me. He was, I'm sure as you all well know by this point, fired abruptly by NPR after making some specific comments on "The O'Reilly Factor." We are going to take your calls in just a moment, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Juan Williams, when was your contract with NPR to be up?
WILLIAMSI think it was either late this year or early next year, so, you know, I would say...
REHMEarly next year.
WILLIAMS...I would say, you know, another four or five months, something like that.
REHMAnd tell me how you got the news that you were fired?
WILLIAMSWell, I just got a call. I was up in New York and I got a call that said, please call Ellen Weiss, who is the vice president in charge of news at National Public Radio. So I called and when she called back, she said, what did you say on "The O'Reilly Factor?" And I said -- I told her what I said. She said, well, did you mean that? And I said, yes. That's what I -- I said what I meant. And she said, that was a violation of NPR's journalistic standards. And I said, why is that? And then she went on about, well, we have people here who wear Muslim garb, the building is up in arms, people are so -- I said, but I was expressing -- articulating a true feeling that I had.
WILLIAMSAnd I went on to be very clear that this was not the basis for any acts of bigotry. And she went on to say that it sure sounded that way and basically to suggest or imply that I was a bigot and I thought -- I said, this is madness. I said, this is outrageous. What are you saying? And then she said, we are firing you. You're terminated. I said, I can't believe this. Can I come in and talk? I mean, we should have a conversation. You should know the entire -- no. This decision has been made above me and there's nothing you can say that can change my mind.
REHMNow, tell me whether there had been previous conversations, confrontations with management at NPR about things you had said or appearances you had made?
WILLIAMSOh, yes. There – remember, though, Diane, I've been there over 10 years and so there'd been, you know, various generations of management that have come to the table. I was hired at National Public Radio while working at Fox News as a commentator, so that was well known as I came into the environment. And then secondly, at the time, people would say, you know, it's odd that this guy crosses the political lines because there are people who see NPR as liberal and Fox is conservative and they say, you know, well, how is it that you work in both environments? And people want to put you in a box. You should either be one or the other, right.
WILLIAMSAnd management over the years has asked questions. And as I said, various incarnations come to the decision that, you know what? This is something we can live with. This is -- in fact, some thought, you know what? He's spreading the NPR name, the NPR brand and demonstrating, you know, the ability to have conversations with people who have different political points of view.
WILLIAMSNow, then you asked if I -- if there had been conversations about things I've said and there was -- I think most recently the last one I think was just before President Obama was inaugurated. I was on Fox and the question came up about the role Michelle Obama would play in this administration. And I was trying to be very clear that the controversy that had been stirred during the campaign when she had made the comment about this is the first time she's proud to be an American. I said, she can't get into that game because if she does, she'll become a political liability to the president. She has got to do things like the obesity campaign, working with military families. She's got to be that kind of first lady. She cannot be -- and this is what then got taken out -- was she cannot be Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress.
WILLIAMSSo that sparked a little bit of stir because people took that one statement and said, you know, Juan Williams said that Michelle Obama is Stokely Carmichael and that's not what I -- certainly I don't think so and other people say, well, you look at it -- I don't think there's any way, but okay. So that got then the attention and management said, you know, you shouldn't be saying things like that. That's too strong, you know, blah, blah, blah.
WILLIAMSAnd I said, again, it was a matter of trying to analyze and break down the role of a first lady and how she could be a political asset to her husband. So things like that have come up. And then of course, there was recently controversy about Mara Liasson and where they had asked Mara, who also appears on Fox, to look at Fox and decide whether it was legitimate. This was when the Obama White House was in the midst of their attack on Fox News. And, you know, even earlier than that, I should say this, Diane, that Fox had been concerned about things I wrote as op-ed page pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the books I've written.
WILLIAMSHow can I express such strong opinions, how can I have this point of view? And I'm, like, you know, I've been writing books since way before, you know, and writing documentaries and I've had a long career and I don't want someone telling me I can't write, can't say, can't give a speech can't -- you know, what's this about? And so to give them some protection, some, you know, space from my opinions, it was decided, okay. We want you here, but sign a contract so we can say to people when you express your opinion, it's not necessarily the opinion of NPR. It's Juan Williams' opinion and he appears in different -- but we hire him as an analyst. So I said, okay. But the minute I did that, they began to cut my salary, diminish my role. I understood that, you know, it seemed to me it was a political tactic intended to hurt me for working at Fox.
REHMNow, there was also, as I recall, an incident where the Bush White House offered you, in particular, you, Juan Williams, an interview. What happened there?
WILLIAMSWell, again, you know, when I was at "Talk of the Nation" and the Bush Administration came into power, I had been -- you know, given my Washington Post days, I had been the White House correspondent during the Reagan years and then had known Vice President Bush, the first, George H. W. Bush very well, so I knew these people. I knew a lot of the players. So Bush comes in and NPR and the Bush Administration knocked heads, the political coverage and what they felt was hostile political coverage coming from that administration, so NPR then said, hey, you know a lot of these people. They're coming on "Talk of the Nation." They seem to talk to you. Can you see if you can help us get an interview with President Bush?
WILLIAMSWell, so at their request, I began to have dinners and to say, you know, you guys have to realize the NPR audience is very intelligent, very influential. This is something that would be good for you. Have lunch with people, try to work through some of the differences, some of the moments where there had been contention for NPR and the Bush Administration. Well, Diane, it sure wasn't a quick turnaround. It took me about five years and finally the call came, yes, we'll talk to you, Juan Williams. So I said okay. And I proposed this to NPR. They said, delightful, we really want this interview. We've been waiting for this. Okay. So I do it and they give it play.
WILLIAMSSo then almost a year later, the 50th anniversary of Little Rock, I get a call from the White House staff and they say, the president is not going to Little Rock for the 50th anniversary, but he wants to do a conversation about race relations in the United States and he'd like to offer it to you and NPR. And I said, wow, that's terrific. Thank you. So then I call my superiors at NPR and I say this offer has been made to us and then the response is, well, we don't want to do that. And I said, well, why would that be? And they said, well, why are they giving it to you? Why not give it to one of our hosts or we give it to our White House correspondent? And I said, well, obviously you asked me to build a relationship with those people, so they know me. And you asked me to specifically build a relationship for the end of getting an interview and now interviews with President Bush.
WILLIAMSAnd I have written several books including "Eyes on the Prize," which was a groundbreaking work on American Civil Rights movement. I'd written a biography of Thurgood Marshall. There's reason to think that I know something about the subject of Little Rock, Ark. and race relations in the United States. So that's the reason they're asking me. But the implication was, oh, because you know conservatives and have worked with them as a reporter, that I was somehow in their pocket.
WILLIAMSAnd I was like, that's offensive to me. I am in nobody's pocket. Now, here I am, I work at NPR, I am a journalist. I should know people, I should have some access to people. What's wrong with that? It doesn't mean that somehow there's any evidence of corruption in the work that I do. And they never had any concern about anything I said on the air. They never said, you know, Juan, you are betraying some bias. Never.
REHMJuan, I want to go back to the firing itself because certainly, one of your complaints was that you had never met with anyone face-to-face. You said Ellen Weiss called you, she said the order had come from above. Then Vivian Schiller, the NPR CEO spoke out, made an unfortunate comment about a psychiatrist, which also set you off. Since then, I understand that Vivian Schiller has tried to reach you directly and has e-mailed you, has sent you a registered letter, which...
WILLIAMSI got the letter -- my wife got the letter yesterday.
REHMYour wife got the letter. Are you interested, willing to meet with Vivian Schiller?
WILLIAMSI'm not sure what it would be for. I mean, I read the letter last night for the first time.
REHMWhat did the letter say?
WILLIAMSSimply that, please call my office and let people know where I can reach you and that she's moving around and that she would try to reach me. I was hurt by this suggestion. I thought, you know what? We're having a conversation. I understand that you may have some concerns about what I said, although I think what I said was fully legitimate. And I think in keeping with the idea that people should have full-throated honest debate in this country. And as you heard from the clip that you played, Diane, I was trying to stand up for the rights of Muslim Americans, not -- I was not perpetrating bigotry. And the idea that I'm a bigot is deeply hurtful to me given my life.
REHMSo you did not want to talk with Vivian Schiller face-to-face?
WILLIAMSNo. At this point -- well, I was just going to say to you and now this comment about me and the psychiatrist or the publicist, I think, is condescending and insulting. And again, I think it's a personal attack and so the question I had in my mind last night when I saw this note from Ms. Schiller was, exactly what am I to talk about? I mean, all I would be doing then -- I really wouldn't have much to say to someone who thinks that I am unstable. And apparently -- I don't know where this came from.
REHMAnd you felt that was the implication of her psychiatrist remark.
WILLIAMSI think it was intended to demean me, I think it was intended to suggest to the larger audience that this is someone that you can't trust, this is someone who is maybe a little bit of a loose cannon in his head.
REHMShe did -- she did apologize for that comment.
WILLIAMSCorrect, to the public. And, you know, it's not -- remember, yesterday, Monday -- this whole thing happened on Wednesday...
WILLIAMS...and then her comment's on Thursday.
WILLIAMSSo there was no attempt to reach out to me in the immediate aftermath of that comment, which I found, as I just said to you, offensive.
REHMJuan Williams, he is a commentator for Fox News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Juan, as I said at the outset, you and I have been friends for many years. You've been on this program many times with colleagues. You've been on regarding books and now it feels as though you are attacking all of NPR.
WILLIAMSMe? What have I said to...
REHMIs that what you're intending to do?
WILLIAMSWhat have I said to make you say that, Diane?
REHMNot this morning, but in the news media saying, as you've written, "I say an ideological battle because my comments on "The O'Reilly Factor" are being distorted by the self-righteous ideological left wing leadership at NPR." So are you confining your comments to the leadership only and not to NPR generally?
WILLIAMSI'm a big fan of radio and public radio. I don't -- I've raised I don't know how many dollars. I have been out raising and speaking to NPR audiences, goodness gracious, Diane, from Seattle to Boston to Dallas to Oklahoma, I don't -- I mean, everywhere because those audiences have asked me. In other words, the local stations have asked me to come in and help them with fundraising and I had been glad to do it. I don't think that there's any question in terms of my history about being a fan of radio and public radio.
WILLIAMSBut I -- let me just finish. I think it's...
WILLIAMSBut I think that here you have local public radio as an important institution and outlet in so many communities and when you -- but the thing is -- and here's what I'm saying -- when I have had my experiences with management at National Public Radio and especially this latest management, it seems to me that there is a very narrow band of ideology being practiced, that they are not interested in a full diverse expression of opinion or ideas. They're very limited and that's what I’m talking about.
REHMAll right. Take it from the other perspective. Here's an e-mail from Chris who says, "Do you think the $2 million contract provided to you by Fox is an exploitation of your situation to conduct a vendetta against journalism at NPR, given the fact that you've now got Newt Gingrich and others calling for a cutoff of funds for NPR?"
WILLIAMSYou know, this is a -- this is an interesting thing. I am not a person who gets involved in these kinds of political activities. That's not my role as a journalist. I am simply saying that the way that I have been treated was wrongheaded to me. And I have tried to defend myself because I think NPR, with its name and the fact that it's a huge institution, has the power and the credibility to go after one person, me, and to try to make the case that either I was psychotic or not reliable or not a good journalist and to say, oh, there's -- you know, we've had a history with this person. There is no such history. And so...
REHMHow can you say there's no such history when, you know, there is a history going back a few years when they have called you in and said, you know, we think this is questionable...
WILLIAMSNo. You're at -- you're talking about statements that I may have made at Fox or being on Fox. I was talking about my journalism. They don't -- it's not about, hey, you know, there's some problem here with bias or you didn't do this or...
WILLIAMS...you know, it's not about my journalism.
REHMIt's about being on Fox and being a commentator.
WILLIAMS...on Fox and that's what I think -- ultimately, I think this is what it comes down to. Now, if they find themselves in a political situation and they have historically where people say, NPR is national, as opposed to local, but NPR national is too leftwing, too left leaning and all that.
REHMBut they include me in that, Juan, when arguments are made and I can provide you, as I'm sure every station across the country can provide you, with people we've had on representing all sides.
WILLIAMSCorrect. But what I'm saying is it's an attack not on you and maybe not even on this program. I'm not familiar with the particulars, but I understand when I have seen these attacks and I have had to speak against these attacks when I'm out raising money for NPR, that they are concerned with NPR news program, the national news programming.
REHMJuan Williams. And when we come back, we'll ask whether Juan wants to see money cease for NPR.
REHMAnd Juan, before we go to the phones and you put those headphones on, what is your belief about federal funding for NPR?
WILLIAMSI think that NPR should have money. I think that people at NPR have to be held accountable for their words and actions. I'm -- to repeat, Diane, I'm a big fan of radio and I think especially the whole notion of public radio and good reporting, so this is not an attempt to wipe out anybody, but it's so important to me, you know. I feared that this would become an issue for right wing versus left wing. But instead, what I have experienced is that people on the left and the right have been supportive of me at this time.
WILLIAMSAnd even, you know, when I was being fired, I was asked, would you have said this on NPR's air? And I said, you know, when it's in keeping with my journalistic ethics, that I be allowed to say how I feel and that the listener or viewer can trust that I am sincere. I'm not saying something to be provocative, to be antagonistic, I am giving you a true expression of my feeling in a certain circumstance.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Liz in St. Louis, Mo., who says, "I'm a journalism student and this incident has been a hot topic in our classes. What I find curious is Mr. Williams' role is a journalist. One of the paramount rules for a journalist is, we have learned, is to cultivate and maintain your credibility. By broadcasting his opinion in this matter, does Mr. Williams believe he can report on stories of the day, in particular, stories that relate to Islam? Is it better for a journalist to publicize his bias when reporting? Can a journalist truly be unbiased?"
WILLIAMSNo. I don't think a journalist can truly be unbiased. I think we all have real world experiences, life experiences and all the rest, but here's the thing, Diane. When it comes to credibility, I think that the audience would be in fact more trusting if they say, we know exactly how you think, if it's pertinent to the discussion at hand. So it's a matter of would you admit that you're an American as you're covering a war? Well, yes, I'm an American. You say, if you're covering a racial issue, will you admit that you are black? That you're a person of color? Yes, I think in fact for some people and for -- in some circumstances, it may enhance the kind of coverage in reporting that I'm doing.
WILLIAMSIt's not the case that I -- because I'm human and have had experiences and have opinions, that I therefore can't do my job as a professional journalist and be unbiased and specific about news. That's crazy. That's not what's asked of you as a good journalist.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones to Arlington, Va. Good morning, Lee.
LEEGood morning. It's interesting for me to listen to Juan Williams talk about his quote "credibility." I go back to 1991 when he was at the Washington Post, he defended Clarence Thomas in the face of the hearings and we now know a little more of the context involving Clarence Thomas. And in the aftermath of those controversial comments, of course, Juan Williams was censored by the Post for his sexual harassment of women throughout the Washington Post newsroom. Five hundred women signed a petition, he was force to apologize for egregious comments and behavior.
LEEI was shocked that NPR even hired him in the aftermath of such events. I think he has a woman problem. He's certainly -- his comments about Michelle Obama were very different on the air when I watched them and in transcript from the way he described them on your show. He may not be a bigot, but he's got a very serious woman problem.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
WILLIAMSI don't even know how to respond to such lunacy. I mean, what is -- I don't -- clearly, I had written about Justice Thomas going back to his days when he was working in the Reagan administration and then subsequently, I had done a long piece on him the Atlantic Monthly about Clarence Thomas and about the, you know, with the idea, what an interesting and intriguing character. Someone who knows, you know, Malcom X by heart and is now working in a conservative administration like Ronald Reagan's. And then this whole business came up about the Anita Hill episode. But even before then, people were calling me because I had written this lengthy essay about Clarence Thomas to say, what do you know about him? Is Clarence Thomas this kinda guy that kinda guy? And I was just appalled by the attacks on him.
REHMDo you have any concerns considering what we have now learned from Clarence Thomas' former mistress?
WILLIAMSNo. Look, I don't think there's any question about Clarence Thomas' intellectual...
REHMYou don't think he may have uttered a mistruth as he was testifying for his confirmation when, in fact, the woman who earlier had this relationship with him confirmed what Nita Hill had to say?
WILLIAMSYou know, I've been in the midst of my own (laugh) troubles (unintelligible) trying here, but -- so I'm not fully familiar, but I think that from what I've heard from other people, she said that -- that Justice -- then Clarence Thomas was someone who made comments and liked pornography.
REHMHad an interest in pornography...
WILLIAMSRight, that kind of thing.
REHM...interested in women's breast size.
WILLIAMSYes. I -- well, anyway, I don't know what this has to do with whether or not he should be on the Supreme Court and the -- you know, what I said at that time back then was that people were attacking Clarence Thomas without really knowing Clarence Thomas and that this really, if you look at the history of the Supreme Court, the history of Supreme Court justices, I do not think that this would eliminate you from consideration to sit on the high court. I thought that there was a lot of attacks coming forward from people who were afraid that he would be a fifth vote against abortion rights in this country and it was a partisan and a political effort to exclude this man and not look at his credentials, not look at his ability and in that sense, I thought it was unfair and I said this.
WILLIAMSI mean, there's no secret here. And then, in my own life that the listeners are speaking about, there was this -- well, I think there was this sensation throughout the country with the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearing and people in the newsroom at the Post said, you know, Juan tells dirty jokes, Juan flirts, Juan's this and that and so the Post appropriately looked and -- you know what? I apologized said, if anyone's offended, I apologize. But it had nothing to do with my journalism. I mean, that's -- I mean, I think again, people will bring up anything they can. They'll throw all sorts of dirt, but the fact is, my journalism, my body of work, I hope, stands for what it is. I think people can draw their own conclusions as to what's going on here.
REHMAll right. To Concord, N.H., good morning, Jim.
JIMGood morning, Diane. Juan, I came into this show with no sympathy for you and nothing I have heard in your conversation with Diane has changed my opinion. First, I decided to write you off personally as somebody that I should pay attention to when you posted an off add on the Fox News website about the Shirley Sherrod case and you never even mentioned the Breitbart video. You took the White House to task, you took the Agricultural Department to task and you never even mentioned that Breitbart video. And I deplore the fact that you blurred the line between commentator and analyst, you put NPR in a terrible position and more so, I deplore the fact that you haven't stood up to all of the people who were threatening NPR, now threatening shows like Diane's and you haven't said, stop this.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Juan.
WILLIAMSI don't know that -- I don't know who's threatening Diane's show, but I'm a -- not only a fan of Diane's show, but I have appeared regularly on Diane's show and I was, you know, honored that Diane asked me on this morning, so...
REHMWhat about Shirley Sherrod?
WILLIAMSI don't remember what he's talking about and I wonder if he's confused, but anyway...
REHMJim, what precisely are you to -- referring to?
JIMJuan, I -- I was writing an op-ed piece myself and I researched whether there was any apology on the Fox News site once it was determined that the video was doctored. And Juan, you wrote a piece that was on the Fox News website and again, you criticized the White House, you criticized the Agricultural Department, but you never mentioned Andrew Breitbart's video. And you're talking about truth in journalism. How can you avoid or delete that truth?
WILLIAMSWell, I don't -- first of all, as I say, I'm sorry if I'm not remembering something, but to me, as I recall in the midst of this, the Breitbart video was the problem, I mean, and the fact that it was selectively edited to make Shirley Sherrod seem as if she was saying something and not another, so I don't know exactly what's going on with this. I don't remember this piece, anyway, so.
REHMDid you write a piece…
WILLIAMSI don't think so.
REHMYou did not write a piece...
WILLIAMSWell, I mean, I'm fairly, but I don't...
REHMYou don't remember?
WILLIAMSI certainly don't remember at this moment, no, I don't.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Jim. Let's go to Lillington, N.C. Good morning, Daryl.
DARYLGood morning. How you doing?
DARYLMy only comment is that, you know, I'm sure Juan is seeing that this is how the left leaning liberals, total far left, acts toward people when they don't agree with you. They'll attack ya, they'll throw you under the ship, they'll drown ya. They'll make ya -- they'll try their best to make ya look like the biggest idiot in the world and that’s how the left operates.
DARYLI'm a conservative and I'm proud of it (laugh).
REHMOkay. Hey, Daryl, do you think that the right leaning part of this country...
DARYLWell, yeah and the furthest part of the right will do it to, like, Rush will do it, but the furthest part of the left will do it, too.
REHMThat's what I wanted to hear. What do you think, Juan?
WILLIAMSWell, you know I grew up thinking that -- you know, remember I'm a, you know, child of '60s and '70s and I grew up thinking, you know, it's the -- it's the right wing that's intolerant, that doesn't tolerate different points of view, but I'm increased in the other mind that you know what, if you violate, if you somehow are viewed as having violated some liberal orthodox in this country, that there are people who will make you out to be a bad person. Just...
REHMBut now I ask...
WILLIAMSNo, let me finish. I think it's not only to make you out to be a person, in my situation, they are attacking my character, my mental stability and my journalistic credentials.
REHMBut I asked you earlier whether you were applying that to all of NPR and you said, you were applying it to management.
REHMSo now, you're saying all of NPR.
WILLIAMSNo, I'm saying that when you look at the way that NPR -- you know, the programs are produced, what is talked about, what is selected to be talked about on the big programs and the like, there is clearly an orientation and I think that it doesn't welcome people who have different points of view, that you really have to fit in one specific box.
REHMI'm gonna toot my own horn. This happens to be one of NPR's big programs and I can promise you that every single day, we have left, right, center represented.
WILLIAMSI think that you are produced out of WAMU.
WILLIAMSAnd you're in charge of this show.
WILLIAMSAnd I think that this is a difference than talking about shows produced out of National Public Radio.
REHMAll right. We'll go to Millsboro, Del. Good morning, Don.
DONGood morning, thanks for taking my call.
DONFirst, I -- just a comment. I always respected what Juan has had to say as a commentator on NPR, as an analyst. He has brought a real level even keeled opinion to every show that I've heard, interviews and the like. My disappointment came in what seemed to be a very knee jerk reaction from the management. I consider myself a very eccentric minded in politics. It was very disappointing to hear that the reaction seemed to be something that was from a one side or the other. I've always talked to friend about NPR and, you know, you talk about how even keeled they are in their approach, above the fray, I use that comment a lot. This seemed to be very much not that. So that's my comment.
DONMy question is do you see being an analyst or a commentator kind of separating your expertise as a journalist in how you approach a story one way or the other?
REHMSee, that was my first question, analyst or commentator? And Juan, you said you're one person and you will be a commentator for Fox.
WILLIAMSI think that the commentator part is based on the idea that you know what? I've got strong journalistic credentials, strong journalistic background and that's what allows me to be an analyst, which is to -- you know, where people are asking you questions that help them to understand what's going on in the news and what's really behind the scenes, things that the reporters, the beat reporters, can't tell you because they don't have that level of access or they don't have that latitude in the way that they speak. They can't tell you what they think is actually going on here and when it comes to commentator, the commentator just gives me again, further ability to express my personal points of view.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Juan, I want to ask you your reaction to the way Vivian Schiller and her family are being affected. There has been a report that her children have been threatened about this.
WILLIAMSI've -- I have nothing to do with this, Diane.
REHMYou have not even heard...
REHM...that that's happened. Is there any way that you believe that this situation can be reconciled?
WILLIAMSWell, Diane, I didn't do it. I mean, one of the most amazing things to me was what -- when I was being fired, I was told that this is something that I had done and I said, I didn't do any -- what are you talking about? This is -- this is outrageous. What are you doing? I asked Ellen Weiss, do you have a conscience? I just -- I couldn't believe it.
REHMWhat was her response?
WILLIAMSWell, she -- she was, you know, hard. I mean, she was carrying out orders. This was an execution from her point of view, I guess. And, you know, to me, the idea that then they would go after me personally, that they would -- they think that's appropriate, to attack me and suggest either that I am, you know, in need of a psychiatrist or a publicist, that I don't have thoughts and I don't have the ability to speak on my own, I guess the second and then the suggestion, oh, you know, he's -- all about my journalistic background. I mean, you know, if I didn't have the journalistic credentials and background that I do, I guess that they could make this case. It is, to me, again, evidence of their desperation and their willingness to do anything to me in order to somehow salvage what has been an outrageous act.
REHMHave we reached a point of political correctness in the country that's no longer tolerable?
WILLIAMSWell, I think when you can't see reality, when you -- this is what I said to Bill O'Reilly right at the top, if you can't see reality as about who's attacked you and if you can't deal with it and if then you are paralyzed and say, oh, no one should say how they feel if they're getting on a plane and see people in Muslim garb and think for a second, oh, you know, gee, what's going on here, then you can't even have a conversation. You can't have a radio show, you can't have an honest discussion in which people tell you what they're thinking. I don't think that's healthy, I don't think that's American, I don't think that's in keeping with the idea of again, allowing all sides some ability to speak.
REHMJuan Williams, he is Fox News commentator. Congratulations on your new position.
WILLIAMSWell, I have to get over what happened here.
REHMAnd I'll be off for the next few days. Going to visit the folks at WMFE in Orlando. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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