News broke last night that NPR fired Juan Williams for saying this week on Fox News that he gets “nervous” and “worried” around Muslims on airplanes. Many media figures and right-wing blogs are incensed, charging that Williams has been taken out of context. Today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-host Willie Geist complained that “We live in a culture now…where context doesn’t matter…where you can yank a quote out” and “don’t tell the rest of the story.” Co-host Joe Scarborough concurred. “He was setting it up to say, ‘Listen I understand people get nervous, sometimes I get nervous, but we’ve got to move past that.’”
Responding to his firing today on Fox News, Williams stood by his original comments. He said he was trying to tell host Bill O’Reilly that Americans have “to make sure we don’t have any outbreak of bigotry” but that “there’s a reality” you “cannot ignore” that 9/11 was connected to Islamic radicalism:
WILLIAMS: Wednesday afternoon, I got a message on my cell phone from Ellen Weiss who is the head of news at NPR asking me to call. When I called back, she said, “What did you say, what did you mean to say?” And I said, “I said what I meant to say” which is that it’s an honest experience that went on in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who identify themselves as first and foremost as Muslims, I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened on 9/11. That’s just a reality. And she went on to say, “Well that crosses the line.” And I said, “What line is that?”
And she went on to somehow suggest that I had made a bigoted statement. And I said “that’s not a bigoted statement. In fact, in the course of this conversation with O’Reilly, I said that we have as Americans an obligation to protect constitutional rights of everyone in the country and to make sure we don’t have any outbreak of bigotry but that there’s a reality. You cannot ignore what happened on 9/11 and you cannot ignore the connection to Islamic radicalism and you can’t ignore the fact that what has been recently said in court with regard to this is the first drop of blood in a Muslim war on America.
The only way Williams could have been taken out of context would be if he had said his feeling of fear when seeing Muslims on an airplane is wrong. But he did not say that in his original segment with Bill O’Reilly. (ThinkProgress has provided the full transcript here.) And today on Fox, Williams reiterated his claim. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has also debunked the claim that Williams was taken out of context:
[Many] claim that Think Progress deceitfully edited the video of Williams’ comments here in the same way that Shirley Sherrod’s comments were taken out of context, and that the full context of his remarks makes clear that he said nothing bigoted. Please. [...]
Williams began by telling O’Reilly that he was “right” in his view on Muslims. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with candidly admitting that he gets nervous when he sees Muslims on airplanes — even though those feelings reflect some highly distorted thoughts — as we all have irrational reactions to various situations. But Williams was not condemning his own reaction [emphasis in original]; to the contrary, he went on to justify it by saying that people who wear “Muslim garb” are “identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims,” and that “the war with Muslims” (quoting Faisal Shahzad) is one of those “facts we can’t get away from.”
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan said that Williams’ comments are “the working definition of bigotry,” and asked rhetorically, “What if someone said that they saw a black man walking down the street in classic thug get-up. Would a white person be a bigot of he assumed he was going to mug him?”