By Emily Goodin - 07/21/11 10:48 PM EDT
Juan Williams relives the controversy surrounding his firing from NPR in the opening chapter of his new book, Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate.
The book was written as a discussion on how debate is “stifled” in America, and Williams, an opinion columnist for The Hill, spends the first 31 pages recounting his firing last fall, as well as the ensuing fallout.
He claimed the network tried to “censor, control and belittle me” because of his appearances on Fox, which is seen as having a conservative bent. He goes on to charge NPR with ignoring news tips he furnished and recounts an incident where he pitched a story, only to be told “there was no room for ‘a Juan Williams piece.’ ”
As for why he stayed on working for NPR for so long under such conditions, he explains he “enjoyed working there” and that he “enjoyed my relationship with the audience.” He also argues he was a team player who helped NPR get an interview with then-President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, he has nothing but praise for Fox News and the executives there.
But the most fascinating part is his recounting of last year’s firing, which he relates in vast detail.
In October 2010, NPR terminated his contract two days after he said on “The O’Reilly Factor”: “I’m not a bigot. … But when I get on the 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.”
NPR executives said at the time that the comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”
NPR CEO Vivian Schiller also said then: “As a reporter, as a host, as a news analyst, you do not comment on stories.”
But Williams, in his book, called the episode the “latest in a troubling history of high-ranking NPR editors and producers expressing concern about my journalistic independence because of my role at Fox” and claims executives had been “looking for a reason to fire me.”
Williams recounts his entire interview with Bill O’Reilly, arguing that if a person reads the full transcript, it shows his comments were given as part of a “fair, full-throated and honest discourse about an important issue facing the country.”
His firing occasioned a storm of criticism on NPR, particularly from conservatives who have long accused the news organization of a liberal bias.
An anonymous executive defended Williams’s firing to The Washington Post during October 2010, saying: “Everything he says on Fox comes back to us, and it has for years. We were never comfortable with his comments [on Fox]. We can’t make corrections or apologies for what he says there. It’s very problematic.”
House Republicans used the incident to argue for cutting NPR’s funding. In March 2011, the GOP-controlled House passed a temporary government funding measure that cut $50 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports NPR and PBS.
Williams supported that effort, writing in The Hill that month that Democratic efforts to fundraise off the GOP vote led him to call for the defunding. He argued the Dems’ move “unintentionally endorsed every conservative complaint about NPR as a liberal mouthpiece.”
But the funding cuts died in the Senate and, in the final budget deal, NPR’s funding was mostly retained.
Williams, meanwhile, got a new three-year contract with Fox News and writes in his book that Fox CEO Roger Ailes made up the difference in salary from his NPR termination.
But he might have done even better. Media reports indicate Williams’s deal with Fox amounts to nearly $2 million, calling it a “considerable bump up” from his previous salary.
Ailes praises Williams in a blurb on the back cover, writing: “I was pleased to help make sure that his strong voice was not silenced by those who give lip service to the First Amendment.”
Also praising the book in cover blurbs were former Bush adviser Karl Rove and Obama adviser David Axelrod.