“When I get on a plane … if I see people who are in Muslim garb, I get worried”

This isn’t a political blog, but today the world of journalism, politics and travel intersected for a brief moment when National Public Radio fired news analyst Juan Williams for comments made on the O’Reilly Factor.

Here’s what he said:

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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 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.

Before I continue, a few disclaimers: I’ve done some work for NPR in the past, both as a commentator and an independent producer. It isn’t the easiest news organization to work for, but there are a lot of great journalists and editors at NPR. And a few bad ones, too.

I’m also a regular public radio listener, and lately, I haven’t been too thrilled with what I’ve heard. Not because it’s left-leaning — it sometimes is, but so what? — but because it’s just plain boring. NPR will die with terrestrial radio unless it can rediscover its own greatness.

Anyway, when it comes to Williams, a commentator whose work I’ve followed and admired since he hosted Talk of the Nation, I’m not sure what NPR was thinking. I’m not even sure if it was thinking.

First, it didn’t fire him face to face. Its vice president of news called him to deliver the bad news. That’s tacky.

Second, it apparently failed to watch the entire clip, in which Williams spoke eloquently about the importance of defending the civil rights of all airline passengers. Seems like a Shirley Sherrod rerun, doesn’t it?

Did Williams’ comments cross a line? One thing is certain: He definitely crossed his editors last year, when they asked him to remove the “NPR commentator” ID for his Fox News appearances.

Again, tacky. Not to mention small-minded.

NPR justified his termination by saying, “His remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

It is more than a little ironic that Williams was talking about political correctness before he made the Muslim comments.

Look, I’ll admit, if I’m on a plane and someone sits down next to me dressed in Muslim garb, I may feel my heart skip a beat. After 9/11, that’s perfectly normal. I’m thinking: “What if?” And to not be able to articulate a thought like that on TV, I don’t know, I’m just not sure we want to live in a country where the thought police is telling us how we can or can’t feel.

What do you think? Was NPR right to terminate Williams?

A quickie poll of more than 250 readers says … NPR overreacted.

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