After nearly a week of reflection on his abrupt firing from National Public Radio, commentator Juan Williams said Tuesday he believes he did not breach "any journalistic ethics" when he said on television that he felt unsettled when passengers dressed in Muslim garb board airplanes.
"Over the weekend, people would say to me, 'Oh, you just got a new deal from Fox? Congratulations, that it all worked out so well,'" Williams said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun following an address at the University of Maryland School of Law that earned him a standing ovation. "But there's an emotional disconnect, because the way it feels to me is like I just got fired and I'm not even sure what I did wrong."
NPR announced Williams' firing last Wednesday for comments made two nights earlier on Bill O'Reilly's Fox show saying that when he sees passengers in traditional Muslim "garb" on an airplane with him, he feels "nervous." Within hours of the firing, Fox News expanded his duties at the top-rated cable news channel with a three-year, $2 million contract.
Williams said Tuesday that he remained emotionally "roiled" by the abrupt termination that has earned NPR harsh criticism, and which touched off a firestorm over political correctness and whether the public radio network welcomes divergent political views.
Indicative of the kind of support Williams has found in recent days, an audience of about 150 members of Baltimore's legal community gave him a standing ovation Tuesday night after a speech he delivered on Thurgood Marshall during an event honoring pro-bono attorneys.
Williams remains incensed at NPR management, and was particularly angry about remarks made last Thursday by NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who said Williams should have shared his views only with "his psychiatrist or his publicist," and not in a public forum.
He said he was troubled by "the implication that I'm somehow unstable or that I'm just a puppet that other people have to tell me what to say or what to do."
"That's very very upsetting stuff," Williams said.
Schiller apologized on NPR's website for the remarks, but says she stands by her firing of Williams.
"So emotionally I'm still roiled by all this. And I just to have to say to myself in a very deliberate fashion, 'Just give it time.'" Williams said. "Because, the initial concern about things like paying for my son to go college, well, Fox took care of that for me. And I have a job, and in journalism today, that's not a little thing to say. So, you understand I'm not being dramatic. But there's a lot of emotional upset still involved."
Williams said he has come to believe that Fox News is more enlightened compared to NPR, and faults the radio organization for its "condescending" attitude toward Fox.
"At NPR…they don't know this: A third of the audience for Bill O'Reilly's show is made up of people of color," Williams said. "At NPR, they think, 'Oh, these people who watch Fox don't appreciate diversity of opinion, they're not smart people. They're not informed people. Oh, yeah? I'll tell you what: They're informed."
Williams, 59, had been a longtime Washington Post reporter, before joining NPR, where he worked for about 10 years. He has written books on civil rights and has filled in as host on O'Reilly's top-rated show. As a native of Panama who was raised in New York and who is conversant on a wide range of topics, he defies easy labeling.
Williams said Tuesday that Fox executives were more enlightened than many on the left give them credit for, especially since the network "allows a black guy with a Hispanic name to sit in the in the big chair and host the big show.
"Do you see it on CNBC?" he said. "Do you [see] it at CNN in prime time?"
Asked if he had any second thoughts about the week's events, Williams said "Ultimately, I genuinely don't believe what I said violated any journalistic ethics."