NPR has fired longtime news analyst Juan Williams, also a commentator on the Fox News Channel, after he told Bill O'Reilly that he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane.
In a statement late Wednesday, National Public Radio said it was terminating Williams' contract as a senior news analyst over his comments on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor."
NPR executives had previously complained about his remarks on Fox and asked him to stop using the NPR name when he appeared on O'Reilly's show.
The latest comments came Monday, when O'Reilly brought on guests to discuss his own appearance last week on ABC's "The View," during which Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set to protest his views on Muslims.
"Where am I going wrong here, Juan?" O'Reilly asked.
Williams, 56, responded that too much political correctness can get in the way of 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," Williams said. "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."
He went on to say that not everyone in a religious group - Christian or Muslim - should be lumped together with extremists.
NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said that controversial opinions should not come from NPR reporters or news analysts and that whatever feelings Williams has about Muslims should be between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist."
Speaking Thursday at the Atlanta Press Club, Schiller also said Williams had veered from journalistic ethics several times before Monday's comments.
A phone message left for Williams at his home in Washington was not immediately returned Thursday morning.
Williams appeared briefly Thursday on Fox News and said he was abruptly fired Wednesday by Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news. He said he told Weiss he meant what he said on the O'Reilly show, but that she told him he had made a bigoted statement and crossed a line.
"I said, 'You mean I don't even get the chance to come in and we do this eyeball-to-eyeball, person-to-person, have a conversation? I've been there more than 10 years," Williams said. He said Weiss responded that "there's nothing you can say that would change my mind."
Williams stood by his remarks Thursday and said his statement was not bigoted.
Before Williams was fired, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said such commentary from a journalist about other racial, ethnic or religious minority groups would not be tolerated.
"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.
Later Wednesday, NPR issued a statement saying Williams' remarks "were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."
"Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years and we did not make this decision lightly or without regret," NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said in an e-mailed statement.
Conservative bloggers defended Williams on Thursday, blasting NPR's decision.
"All Juan Williams did is say both exactly how he feels and how many, many other Americans feel on this subject," wrote Erick Erickson on his "Red State" blog. "The man's body of work makes clear he is no bigot. But we sure can't offend Muslims, can we?"
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also weighed in, telling Fox News that Congress should investigate NPR for censorship and consider cutting off its public funding. Only a small part of NPR's budget is provided by Congress through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. O'Reilly also called Thursday for an immediate suspension of taxpayer funding for NPR and said that Williams reflected the views of many Americans.
The discussion began with a chat about O'Reilly's comments on ABC's "The View" opposing a proposed mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York. The imam behind that project issued a statement Thursday, saying some news organizations are perpetuating anti-Islamic sentiments.
"While I am saddened that Mr. Williams has lost his job with NPR, this episode serves as a reminder that we should be looking for similarities among religions and cultures rather than differences," Imam Feisal Rauf said. "Divisiveness only serves to fuel the downward spiral of hate and misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds."
Williams' appearances on Fox have been an issue for NPR in the past, including his remarks about Michelle Obama on a 2009 episode of "The O'Reilly Factor."
"Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going. ... her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim," Williams said, according to an account by NPR's Ombudsman Alicia Shepard. Carmichael was a civil rights activist.
At the time, Shepard wrote that Williams was the network's biggest "lightning rod," drawing hundreds of complaints. NPR executives then asked Williams to stop using the NPR name when he appears on O'Reilly's show.
On Monday, he was identified as a Fox News contributor.
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.
This program aired on October 21, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.