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Image: Juan Williams
Richard Drew  /  AP file
Juan Williams said NPR CEO Vivian Schiller made a personal attack against him because she had a weak argument to justify his firing. "I think it's a very weak case," he said Friday. "And so ultimately I think what she had to do then is to make it an ad hominem or personal attack."
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updated 10/22/2010 4:02:30 PM ET 2010-10-22T20:02:30

Ousted NPR analyst Juan Williams said Friday that he believes his former employer had been looking for a reason to fire him and used comments he made this week about Muslim airline passengers as an excuse to do so. Meanwhile, a U.S. senator said he would start the ball rolling to cut federal funding to the network.

Muslim groups were outraged by Williams' comments Monday on Fox News that he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim dress on planes. But Williams' firing two days later prompted complaints by conservatives and even some liberals that NPR went too far.

Williams said Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America" that he believes NPR had wanted to fire him for some time because they disapproved of his appearances on shows by his other employer, Fox News. Opinions Williams expressed on Fox News over the years had strained his relationship with NPR to the point that the public radio network asked him to stop using its name when he appeared on Bill O'Reilly's show.

"I think they were looking for a reason to get rid of me," he said Friday. "They were uncomfortable with the idea that I was talking to the likes of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity." Hannity hosts another Fox show.

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Video: GOP’s top dogs pounce on NPR (on this page)

Discussing the decision to fire Williams, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said Thursday that controversial opinions should not come from NPR reporters or news analysts. Still, NPR was soundly criticized for axing Williams' contract for the interview in which he also said it is important to distinguish moderate Muslims from extremists.

Cut to funding for NPR?
In response to the firing, South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint announced Friday that he will introduce legislation to end federal funding for public radio and television.

"These programs should be able to find a way to stand on their own," he said in a statement. "With record debt and unemployment, there's simply no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize a liberal programming they disagree with."

In June, Colorado Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn introduced similar legislation in the House to cut funding after fiscal year 2012.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting — which distributes federal funds to NPR, PBS and local stations — did not immediately respond to a call requesting comment Friday. Similar proposals to end taxpayer support for public broadcasting in the 1990s were not successful under then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Federal grants provide less than 2 percent — or $3.3 million — of NPR's $166 million annual budget. It is funded primarily by its affiliates, corporate sponsors and major donors. Federal funding of public media has long been questioned by some in Congress.

Schiller said Thursday that Williams had veered from journalistic ethics several times before Monday's comments.

Story: Williams signs new contract with Fox News

The remarks that led to Williams' firing came during an episode of "The O'Reilly Factor."

"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," Williams said Monday. "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 are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Schiller said Thursday that whatever feelings Williams has about Muslims should be between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist — take your pick." In a post later on NPR's website — where comments were heavily against Williams' firing — she apologized for making the "thoughtless" psychiatrist remark.

Video: NPR firing opens debate on public funding (on this page)

On ABC, Williams said Schiller made a personal attack against him because she had a weak argument to justify his firing.

"I think it's a very weak case," he said Friday. "And so ultimately I think what she had to do then is to make it an ad hominem or personal attack."

On his Thursday broadcast, O'Reilly blasted NPR for what he called "a disgraceful decision" and called on Schiller to resign.

"Ms. Schiller is a pinhead," said O'Reilly.

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NPR had no comment about his remarks, said spokeswoman Anna Christopher.

Fox announced it had re-signed Williams , who has been with the network since 1997, to a multiyear deal that will give him an expanded role — and that Williams will host O'Reilly's show on Friday.

Policy against 'punditry and speculation'
In a memo to her staff and affiliate stations, Schiller said the comments violated NPR's code of ethics, which says journalists should not participate in media "that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis."

Williams made the comments at issue while discussing whether O'Reilly was wrong to have said "Muslims killed us on 9/11" during an appearance last week on ABC's "The View." O'Reilly's comment prompted co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar to walk off the set, but Goldberg defended Williams on Thursday.

"The point he was trying to say is, 'I get nervous,' and that's OK," Goldberg said. "Firing him for saying that, I think, is kind of ridiculous."

Republicans denounced NPR's decision. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News that Congress should investigate NPR for censorship and consider cutting off its public funding.

"Juan Williams: Going Rogue," former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Thursday in a Twitter message. "NPR should receive NO fed tax dollars if it operates as intolerant, private radio. Mr. President, what say you?"

Video: What’s OK for journalists to say? (on this page)

In June, Colorado Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn introduced legislation to cut funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting after fiscal year 2012. It is in committee. The corporation is the primary channel for federal funds distributed to public media including NPR.

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Before Williams was fired, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said a news organization would not tolerate such commentary from a journalist about other racial, ethnic or religious minority groups. Early this month, CNN fired anchor Rick Sanchez for comments that included questioning whether Jews should be considered a minority.

"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

Society of Professional Journalists President Hagit Limor said Thursday that although the group supports Williams' right to free speech, "Based on our code of ethics, which advises avoiding stereotyping for any reason ... we understand the rationale that may be behind NPR's decision."

Williams was a longtime reporter, columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Post. He has written extensively on the civil rights movement, including a book on the African-American religious experience and a biography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black justice.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: NPR firing opens debate on public funding

  1. Transcript of: NPR firing opens debate on public funding

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Chicago): This was day two of the fracas over Juan Williams , the journalist and author fired yesterday by NPR after saying it makes him uneasy, rather, to see Muslims in religious garb onboard an airplane. He was quickly signed to a bigger contract at Fox News , where he already worked as well. Now, for its decision, NPR is paying a price from some lawmakers and from listeners like you. Our report tonight from NBC 's Andrea Mitchell .

    ANDREA MITCHELL reporting: The furor over National Public Radio 's firing of Juan Williams has reignited the culture wars over spending any tax dollars on public broadcasting .

    Mr. GLENN BECK: It's insanity.

    Mr. JUAN WILLIAMS: I've always thought the right wing was the ones who were inflexible and tolerant -- intolerant, and now I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR , if it's representing the left, is just unbelievable.

    MITCHELL: This is what Williams said to Bill O'Reilly Monday about seeing Muslims in traditional garb on planes.

    Mr. WILLIAMS: I think, you know, they're identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims , I get worried, I get nervous.

    MITCHELL: He went on to say there are good Muslims and it's wrong to generalize, but NPR said Williams had violated standards and values and fired him by phone. That prompted criticism today on one of NPR 's most popular shows.

    Ms. SUSAN PAGE (USA Today): Juan Williams has worked as a -- for NPR for 10 years. You'd think you deserved to be fired face-to-face.

    MITCHELL: NPR 's ombudsman wrote there was an outpouring of e-mails, 8,000, crashing the network's comments site; the overwhelming majority angry and demanding he be rehired. The firing even brought together Whoopi Goldberg ...

    Ms. WHOOPI GOLDBERG: In all of our opinions, it seems, the firing of Juan was a total mistake and sends the wrong message.

    MITCHELL: ...and Sarah Palin , who tweeted, "You're shocked at public outrage over your censorship of Juan ? This is what happens when our Constitution starts shaking her fist." And today, growing threats to cut off federal funds not only for NPR , 2 percent of its budget, but also for public radio stations and public television , roughly 15 percent of their funding.

    Representative DARRELL ISSA (Republican, California): Why is it that we're funding, in a very small way, public broadcasting , rather than having public broadcasting being completely independent?

    MITCHELL: With Republicans now favored to win back at least the House , that is a powerful threat. Andrea Mitchell , NBC News, Washington.

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