Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Fox news political analyst Juan Williams says Americans are being muzzled — from the halls of Congress to town hall meetings to talk shows and print media. The former NPR analyst said in an interview last year that he gets nervous when boarding planes with people in Muslim garb. He’s using the controversy over his firing to begin what he sees as a much-needed discussion about the state of political debate in America. Williams says censorship and political correctness are undermining our ability to have meaningful conversations and to solve big problems. Diane talks with Juan Williams.
- Juan Williams Political analyst, FOX News.
Diane talks with FOX News Analyst Juan Williams about his new book and the state of political discourse in the U.S. today. “On so many issues right now in this country, you can not say what you think; you can not have an honest conversation,” Williams said.
Juan Williams talks about how his wife has spoken out about feeling uncomfortable around his colleagues at NPR, and feeling as if she was being treated less than warmly by NPR employees because she is black:
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from “Muzzled” by Juan Williams. Copyright 2011 by Juan Williams. All rights reserved. Excerpted by kind permission of Crown:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Nine months after being fired from NPR, Juan Williams is back in the spotlight. He was terminated after saying in an interview that he gets nervous when boarding planes with people in Muslim garb. Now he's calling for an end to what he calls an assault on honest debate in America.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book has been praised by both David Axelrod and Karl Rove. It makes the case for civilized political debate in an era of political correctness. And the book is titled "Muzzled." Juan Williams joins me in the studio. Of course, your calls, your comments are welcome. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, Juan...
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSGood morning.
REHM...it's good to see you.
WILLIAMSMy pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me on.
REHMMy pleasure. So you were on this program nine months ago. Tell me what's happened since.
WILLIAMSWell, since then, you know, there have been investigations at NPR and all the like, you know, and I've moved on and got this contract to write this book. And I think that the big thing for me is now looking back, Diane, and trying to gain some clarity because when you're in the middle of a storm, it's hard to have much perspective.
WILLIAMSAnd it was a very difficult, personal storm. I hesitate here because, well, I've known you so long, I'll just tell you it was emotionally upsetting to me and I felt like my career had been threatened, my integrity, my ability to function as a journalist. And of course, we live in a tough town. There are lots of sharp elbows in the political world and journalistic world of Washington. You have to compete to win. And I feared that I had been damaged in such a way that my ability to work as a journalist in this town would have been taken away from me.
WILLIAMSAnd after building a career, you know, at the Washington Post and other places around town that it would have been devastating so it's interesting. I might just add that men come up to me and say, but you know what? You got taken care of, in terms of the money that you subsequently got in a deal with Fox News. And women come up to me and they always say, are you okay, you know? And I think -- so, like, some people tap into different aspects of reality, but for me, living in this person, it was the emotional part that I found so hard. I just was surprised, especially with the personal, sort of ad hominem attacks that came forward.
REHMTell me when you first went to work for Fox News.
WILLIAMS1997. They were created in '96 and I did some things for them in that period, but I didn't have a contract. And then, in '97, I signed a contract.
REHMAnd when did you first go to work for NPR?
WILLIAMSI started in 2000.
REHMSo they knew you were working for Fox News...
REHM...when you were hired. And what were you first hired to do for NPR?
WILLIAMSTo be the host of an afternoon talk show called "Talk of the Nation."
REHMAnd how did that go?
WILLIAMSIt went very well. It was the highest ratings ever in the show's history. There were people in some of the member stations who didn't particularly like the way I did the show, but I think that's true for everybody who has a show on a big network like that. In this case, after about two years, the suggestion was made, why don't you do something else at NPR? And I did, I became a senior correspondent.
REHMYou became a senior correspondent. And then, why the switch from senior correspondent to analyst?
WILLIAMSIf you recall, Bob Edwards was the host of "Morning Edition" and while he was there, I was the senior correspondent. Then NPR had an upheaval in which Bob left and then they brought in two new people to be the hosts of the "Morning Edition" show. And so then, the idea was we need less of a senior correspondent and more of a political analyst or news analyst to perform that role because they wanted to try to support the two new people who were coming in.
REHMWas there any concern expressed to you at the time about your role at Fox News in connection with the change from senior correspondent to analyst?
WILLIAMSNo. There had been an ongoing -- you know, people from time to time had raised questions because there was an element in the audience that said, how come a top NPR personality also appears on Fox News? And I think the question was, is this lending legitimacy to Fox News or adding to Fox News' audience and people who would feel that Fox was too conservative and all this kind of thing.
WILLIAMSAnd the discussion in various generations of management that passed through NPR was, no, there's nothing inconsistent or wrong. They asked me, you know, many times to make sure that, in terms of my -- the time I was spending there versus the time I worked. And there was never any conflict. But then, in the latter part of this -- and this is where things change, you get the last group of managers that came in. There was one person in particular who just objected strongly to me writing for The New York Times, Washington Post, books, wanted to see any book proposals I had.
WILLIAMSWhy am I saying this? Why am I doing that? And I think much of it really was about my being on Fox to the point then that I was asked not to identify myself as an NPR person when I appeared on Fox, as if the American public would not know what I do for a living and what I do is pretty public. And, you know, don't say that you're NPR and don't put your NPR identity on some things that you write. And I'm thinking, well, look, you know what? And then, finally being told, well, if we're not going to have total control over what you say and do, then maybe it would be better that you not be on the staff and that we just have a contract with you. But then, once I had a contract, not only was my role diminished, but my salary.
REHMNow, did Mara Liasson face the same questions? She, of course, appears on Fox News.
WILLIAMSI don't think it was to the same extent, but Mara certainly was asked, and I think this was shortly before the blowup last year that -- nine months ago when I was fired, to watch Fox and then come to a decision as to whether or not she wanted to be there. And she said she did want to be there. She considered it a legitimate news organization. And so she didn't have to face the kind of intense pressure that I did and you know there are other people at NPR who appear on opinion-oriented shows on TV and radio and who make statements and they still work there. I don't.
REHMRemind us of what finally brought the whole thing to a head.
WILLIAMSWell, Diane, I thought you did a very good job of summarizing it. I was appearing on the "Bill O'Reilly Show" on the Fox News channel. Bill had been on another show, I think it's "The View," and he had said Muslims killed us on 9/11. That prompted two of the co-hosts to walk off the show. And then, Bill said that he meant extremists or radical Muslims and they came back on. This was Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg.
REHMDid he apologize at the time?
WILLIAMSAt the time, he did.
WILLIAMSAnd then, subsequent to that, on his next show, he asked me, as his lead guest, where did I go wrong? What do you think was wrong with what I said? And I said to him, well, the people who were in those airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center, yes, they were Muslims and, yes, they were citing jihad as the purpose, but the fact is that I'm not going to play politically-correct games with you, Bill, I understand that.
WILLIAMSI understand that when I'm at airports and I see people who are dressed in Muslim garb, I have some anxiety, some nervousness about it. But I also said to him we cannot base social policy or be discriminatory on that basis. We don't do that about the Timothy McVeighs of the world for my fellow Christians. We don't do it about the Westboro Baptist Church that has those offensive rants at military funerals. We should not be encouraging or saying things that would lead people to burn the Koran or to engage in attacks on Muslims in this country. That's not America. We are a country that values and has religious tolerance, that's the precept of our country. The founding fathers put it in place.
WILLIAMSSo I said all that at the time. But then there was a campaign launched against me...
WILLIAMSWell, first, it was the Council on Islamic Relations, CAIE, American-Islamic Relations, taking the statement I made about being nervous...
REHMThe first part?
WILLIAMSWell, it was, yeah, in that about being nervous in airports about people dressed in Muslim garb.
WILLIAMSAnd saying that it was a bigoted statement and that I should be fired. And then, I think one executive at NPR in particular picked up on it and...
REHMYou're talking about Ellen Weiss?
WILLIAMSYes, and said this was, again, that this was evidence of my bigotry and why did I say that? What did I mean to say? I said, you know, did you hear the whole thing? Oh, this has been confirmed, your firing has been confirmed higher up. I said, couldn't I have an opportunity to come in and discuss this with you? I think this is the wrong call.
REHMBecause that was all on the phone?
WILLIAMSCorrect. It was a phone call and I was told there's nothing I could say or nothing I could do that would change the situation, that what I had done was a violation of all journalistic ethics and it made me ineffective as a journalist, as a political analyst, specifically for NPR.
REHMAnd the latter part of your statement was not taken into account? It was the first part of your statement that was pointed to?
WILLIAMSCorrect. And I asked, just as you're asking me, have you seen the entirety of this discussion? Because it was a debate. It was a conversation and I am on the side of tolerance here. And I'm on the side of saying, you know, that we need to be honest with each other. We can't play politically correct games. Yes, I have this feeling. I didn't say it in order to be provocative or to pander to anybody. I was saying it in a course of trying to build an argument for tolerance in this society and awareness of what American angst is in this moment.
WILLIAMSThat we have a large population of American Muslims and that we have to deal with it honestly and move forward. We cannot have discrimination against people based on religion in America. But when I asked, have you seen it in its entirety, I was told nothing you can say, nothing you can do, you know, so.
REHMJuan Williams, his new book is titled "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate." We are going to take your calls very shortly, stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Juan Williams is known to many of you as a FOX News analyst. He was, for years, part of NPR as host of "Talk of the Nation," as a political news analyst and a commentator. And then, nine months ago, he was fired abruptly by telephone. Since then, as you all know, Ellen Weiss, who was the individual on the phone with Juan that very day, has herself left the organization, as has the CEO, Vivian Schiller. NPR is in the process of looking for a brand new CEO. Juan Williams, why do you believe you were fired?
WILLIAMSI think it goes back to an antipathy that some of the executives had towards FOX, that they didn't want me to appear there and they didn't want me to engage in conversation debate with conservative personalities. That they somehow thought this was wrongheaded or, you know, I'm -- from what I heard was that they thought that it was adding legitimacy to FOX.
WILLIAMSAnd my -- you know, at the time when I first heard this, I said, well, wait a minute. I think these shows would be successful even if I wasn't there. I think journalism, especially strong argumentative debate, these larger-than-life personalities that dominate primetime and cable news, are going to be there. I think to engage them, to challenge them, to say that, you know what, I have a different point of view, a different perspective on the news, is thoroughly legitimate. I don't think that's inconsistent for someone who's a newsman. What's wrong with that? But there were certain people who didn't like it.
WILLIAMSAnd I think that the second part was, again, that I was writing things for publications that they wanted to control what I had to -- in which they wanted to control the content, what I had to say.
REHMNow, here is an e-mail from Gordon in Bethesda, Md. He says, "I agree. Mr. Williams' firing was unfair and a matter of political correctness gone amuck. That said, I find it ironic that an employee of FOX News, which has contributed so much to the lack of civility in our public discourse in recent years, is decrying this trend if he will not take a position against FOX's own outsize contribution to this decline in manners."
WILLIAMSWell, first of all, no one at FOX tells me what to say or tries to control what I write, nobody. So that's not -- just not been the case. The second thing to say here is that there have been personalities on FOX, Glen Beck, who would stand out to my mind, who have contributed to just this kind of lack of civility and debate and, I think, extremism in debate.
WILLIAMSSean Hannity is a hard right-winger, but I must tell you Sean is a friend. And I argue with Sean on his show at his request loudly, vociferously and aggressively and we engage in spirited debate. It's his show. He doesn't have to have me there. So it must have value to Sean and to Sean's audience to hear somebody with a different point of view and that's what I do.
WILLIAMSBut if you're asking me about, you know, the quality of debate, I have to comment. There's a chapter in the book about this, people who are provocateurs. People who just seed descent and anger and...
WILLIAMSWell, I would think that everybody in the news talk business these days, to my mind, is a Rush Limbaugh want-to-be. I mean, Rush Limbaugh makes $400 million a year or something and he's on almost every radio network in every community in America. And there are people who imitate this. I think they try to be intentionally provocative. I think that that has not contributed to the idea that, you know what, we all have to hear people of different points of view to be fully informed citizens. That it's important that you hear from people who aren't like you, people who disagree with you.
WILLIAMSI think the internet has contributed to this. I think people go to sites where they find others of like mind. And I think that's part of a media universe we live in today. So it's radio, it's magazines on the newsstand, it's TV, it's the whole box of wax, but it's a different world. I say in the book, I don't think Walter Cronkite would be too successful in the media we have today.
REHMOkay. You said you go on Sean Hannity's show. You have vociferous arguments with him. But your subtitle is "The Assault on Honest Debate." Aren't you having that honest debate with him?
WILLIAMSI am. I think there needs to be more of it. I mean, when I talk about the assault on honest debate, it comes down to this larger phenomenon, I think, of our times, Diane, which is that, you know, look at -- up on Capitol Hill today for something that's current. You have a Congressman from Florida, Allen West, calling another Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz vile, and for what? I don't know. Because she points out his, you know, legitimate voting record. And then the response is this back and forth, and it gets lots of attention. But it doesn't contribute to any honest debate about budget.
WILLIAMSIn fact, if you look at the ongoing debt negotiations I think it's thoroughly dishonest on both sides. You have one side that says, oh, we can't have any cuts to any serious look at entitlements in this society. Even those entitlements make up most of the budget. And the other side you have people who say, absolutely no tax hikes for anyone, at the same time saying, government spending's out of control.
WILLIAMSSo you think, well, wait a minute. Why can't you guys have an honest discussion that leads to good ideas that actually is fruitful and settles this issue rather than just standing there defiantly and saying, I'm holding to my position? That's not politics. These people are locked in a permanent campaign cycle. They are relishing the idea of attack ads, negativity. And they are, to my mind, failing to govern the country.
REHMI would say that there are lots of people out there who agree with you on that, Juan. At the same time, your book has come out at a time when Rupert Murdoch and his son are appearing before commissions of parliament to talk about their news organization of which FOX is one having hacked into the telephones of private individuals in Britain. Certainly there are implications it's been done here in the United States. To what extent do you think FOX News and your association therewith may be tainted by Rupert Murdoch and his manner of operation?
WILLIAMSWell, I don't know. I haven't seen any evidence that it's happened in this country, Diane.
REHMWe've seen allegations...
WILLIAMSWell, I think you can...
REHM...that 9/11 victims have been hacked into. But I agree with you.
WILLIAMSThere's no evidence in that.
REHMNo evidence yet.
WILLIAMSI think that was scurrilous. But I don't know -- I mean, certainly people have looked into it. I've seen reporting in the Washington Post even. It says that the allegation, which came from a paper in Britain, has not been sourced, has never been credited with any kind of validity. Secondly, I would say that this is something that happened a long while back and I think is just inexcusable. I just don't see how you can do what was done there.
WILLIAMSNow. the standards of British journalism, as you well know, are very different than the standards here. They go around impersonating people and all the like. I just don't -- I wouldn't (unintelligible) ...
REHMOh, well, we do it here, too. I mean, look at "60 Minutes" going in with hidden cameras. Look at people impersonating other people going in with hidden microphones.
REHMWe do it, too.
WILLIAMSI don't think the credible -- I'm surprised -- I'm not surprised about the hidden cameras with "60 Minutes." I can understand that, but I don't think that impersonating people, I just -- I have a little trouble with it. But to your larger point, I think that Mr. Murdoch has apologized, from what I understand for this.
REHMIs that enough?
WILLIAMSWell, hang on, let me finish. I think...
WILLIAMS...I think the executives have been fired. I think the police chief involved with -- the police chief in London...
WILLIAMS...Scotland Yard has had to resign. I think the fallout in terms of the financial cost to that company News Corp and The International, the bigger company, has been substantial. The stocks have gone down and that they have had to pull out of that attempt to buy that British Sky Broadcasting satellite deal. So I think that there has been tremendous fallout and I think the consequences are very real and I think appropriate.
REHMDo you think they could eventually affect FOX News, the Wall Street Journal, other entities owned by Rupert Murdoch?
WILLIAMSWell, I think it's still happening.
REHMIt's still happening.
WILLIAMSIt's still unraveling, but, you know, what's interesting to me. I think that if you look at the economics of news in America today, the cable channel, FOX News channel is very profitable. Wall Street Journal is somewhat profitable but not as much. All the newspaper properties in the United States are really on an economic fine line, their fine edge. And so, yeah, if things get worse, I think that what you'll see first it'll be impacted as things like the newspapers.
REHMJuan, I want to go back to your situation at NPR. Do you think that any of the hostility or the discomfort or the disagreement you faced within NPR was somehow racially oriented?
WILLIAMSYou know, I don't think this was a racial thing for me. I just don't believe that. Now this is a really hard one because I'm Black and I just try to avoid that in my life. I don't expect people to treat me in that way. I don't treat people on that basis. I'm aware that I was the only Black male on the air there and it wasn't (word?) , it was just one point in time. There's a history there.
WILLIAMSAnd, you know, with some of the arrogance, some of the kind of treatment I think maybe more as elitism, I don't know. I don't know, Diane. I don't want to -- I think it's very -- I think it's inappropriate for me to say that people have motivations that I'm not sure of, that I'm not certain of. But I will say this that if you look for patterns, as intelligent people do in life, there is a pattern there of some problem.
REHMI raise the issue because your wife Delise, whom I know...
REHM...has been quoted in Politico as saying that she felt she was ignored. That she didn't like going into NPR because she felt that people were not friendly toward her because she is Black. That she didn't -- when she went to pick you up, she'd wait outside because she didn't want to go in because the atmosphere made her uncomfortable. That she didn't like going to NPR gatherings because she felt uncomfortable as the only Black couple within that organization.
WILLIAMSYes. And, you know, my wife's very protective of me. I appreciate it greatly. And I think that what she is saying is that she felt as if unless you were somebody of some stature, either in Washington or at NPR, that you really were not given any attention, that they didn't value her work. She's a social worker -- her work in social work or, you know, her love of kids or her children or anything. That it was as if she was a nonentity to them. And she didn't feel comfortable. That's the truth. Do I think...
REHMShe did mention race.
WILLIAMSYes. She feels that way. I -- as I said to you, it's not that -- it's not evidential to me. No -- there's no evidence to me that it was racially motivated. Yes, we were often alone or, you know, one of a few -- very few Black people in any circumstance like that once you get into that level of NPR.
REHMJuan Williams. The book he's written is titled "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate." What do you want to see happen from this book?
WILLIAMSYou know, I think that we have to be aware that political correctness hasn't gone away. I think lots of people thought that political correctness was a phenomenon that, as I detail in the book, was born in the '60s, born of good intention, which was to try and help us on the way to achieving equity, not only in racial terms, but in terms of women, in terms of disabled, you know, to change the way we spoke about people and to help us be more aware of how, in fact, we can be discriminatory in our thought patterns and in our language and that how this impacts other people.
WILLIAMSI think it reached the point then where people thought, you know what, they're inhibited from saying what they want to say, from doing what they want to do. It had become excessive, it had declined. But I think today what we have is a situation where you have provocateurs, like the people we were talking about on radio, who say outrageous things and everybody goes tut, tut, tut.
WILLIAMSBut, you know -- and then we have it locked in, in a more permanent basis in terms of a political structure that -- I think it was Gabriel Giffords, the Congresswoman who was shot, who said it best. She said, you know, people are rewarded for taking extreme positions in this country, political positions. But nobody's rewarded for being in the middle, trying to understand what's in the best interest of the country, trying to reach compromise, being pragmatic in their thinking. You don't get money from the political base for that.
WILLIAMSSo, in fact, the political structure right now supports the idea of extremists, provocative, outlandish statements, the negative ads we were talking about. Lobbying groups do the same thing. You think about how the NRA controls the gun debate in this country because, again, political power. And if you say the wrong thing then you're antigun or anti-second amendment.
WILLIAMSYou think about abortion in this country. You know, people talk about the very extremes in terms of abortion, you know. And they don't talk about the fact that, you know, married women, often times women with children, are having abortion in this country. And they're having it because they have made a choice about what they want for themselves. And then religion gets put in it. You're a bad person if you're thinking this way.
WILLIAMSIt's hard to have an honest debate. How about a debate about immigration? People who have a debate about immigration are told, oh, you're trying to give amnesty -- that becomes a power word now -- amnesty to these illegals who have broken the law. Even President George W. Bush said after he left office, he felt as if this popularism had rose up and had just stopped reasonable approaches to immigration reform in the country.
WILLIAMSOr you think about something like energy policy, Diane. Drill, baby. Drill, people. All of a sudden, you have to be on one side or the other. You cannot engage in an honest conversation about it. How about Israel? Tony Kushner, the playwright who is a supporter of Israel, says, you know, well, here are some policies that Israel has that I disagree with. And suddenly, he has an honorary degree taken away from him. I mean, it's not until it becomes known as the why he is being punished in this way that there is a sufficient backlash that the school changes its mind.
WILLIAMSI'm telling you, on so many issues right now in this country, you cannot say what you think, you cannot have an honest conversation. So I think if you're asking me what I would like to see, it's that people stand up and say, you know what? I'm not going to be muzzled anymore. I'm sick of it.
REHMJuan Williams and his new book is titled exactly that, "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd here's an e-mail. This one from Connie, Juan, and if you'll put on those headphones we'll take some calls, as well. "How does Juan Williams feel about all of the FOX shows and personalities calling for this de-funding of NPR by the federal government? Does he share the opinion of FOX News personalities that NPR has liberal bias? If so, does that mean all shows, news, Diane shows, Fresh Air, etc.?
WILLIAMSWell, I've come to the conclusion, in the midst of all this debate and argument and controversy that I found myself involved with, that it's best for NPR not to be reliant on federal monies. That, in fact, I think, that the NPR audience, which I have come to know, loves NPR. And I think that they would be highly supportive of NPR. And I think advertisers would be very much interested in having access to that audience. Now then, NPR has things on like endorsement announcements. I don't know what you call them.
WILLIAMSAnd I think that in so many ways it becomes a cesspool because then, you know, the people will come and say we'll pay for a reporter to cover health care in the middle of the health care debate. And you say, well, where's this money coming? Well, we're not sure or somebody will have an agenda in mind or various countries will suddenly -- you'll hear funding credits from various countries or embassies at a certain time.
WILLIAMSI'm, like, you know, I just worry that journalists shouldn't have to think to themselves well, as is the case, I think it was Steve Israel with the democratic congressional committee writing a letter saying we have to defend NPR because they're the antidote to Rush Limbaugh. And I think, well, so, in other words, if NPR doesn't please the democrats then the democrats won't support NPR.
WILLIAMSI think this is too complex. Let the journalists do the journalism. I think advertisers would be thrilled to have an ad here. They're -- the public loves NPR. Let the public also do it. That's my feeling. Now, the second question was...
REHMBut, Juan, the question is you were with NPR from the year...
REHMDid you ever say publicly, at that time, that you felt the government should not...
WILLIAMSAs I said to you midst of this storm, this controversy that I found myself enmeshed in, there was then an effort by republicans in Congress to say that they objected to what NPR had done and then they -- there's been an ongoing effort, even before my storm, to have NPR de-funded. So then it came up again.
WILLIAMSAnd in the midst of this controversy I stayed quiet and then it occurred to me when I was seeing things like this democratic fundraising letter that positioned NPR as somehow opposed to conservative voices, that NPR had become politicized. And I thought, you know what, I don't think that's healthy for the journalists.
REHMIt sounded as though you came out pretty quickly after you had been fired and said I think the government should de-fund NPR.
WILLIAMSNo, I think it was several months later in the midst of the fight -- the Congressional fight over funding, if you'll recall, after the new House republican majority had been elected. I think it was at least a month or two subsequent to that.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Nancy who says, "Open debate could be more of a reality if those debating were civil to one another. What does Mr. Williams think of the yelling, the interruptions in debate that occur at FOX News?"
WILLIAMSWell, I think, that's, you know, it's part of the milieu of cable news where people are engaged in fiery, loud debate. That's what, in fact, keeps people's eyeballs glued to the set. They want to hear the debate. They want to see the debate. And sometimes, I think, view it as entertainment more so than actual political substantive debate. So that's part of what pulls and attracts ratings on American cable TV these days.
WILLIAMSLet me just say to you that -- but that's not the issue. I mean, obviously, that's the reality. To me, the issue is why big topics don't get debated. I'll give you one that just comes to mind. The war in Afghanistan, continued U.S. presence there, you know, most Americans don't think that we should be there, but you never hear it debated. And if you do hear it debated, who's on?
WILLIAMSThey have generals on or military experts who are saying here's why we should be there or here's -- you should only say that we should have discussion about this in terms of winning as if we have to have a military victory when I don't think military victory is really on the table in a situation like this.
REHMBut, Juan, have you been listening to this program at all?
WILLIAMSYes. Now, I'm saying you're exceptional, Diane. You have me on. Let me just tell you. So let me tell you, I listen to you a lot.
REHMAnd we do have people on...
WILLIAMSAll right, but...
REHM...who say we ought to get out.
REHM(word?) as being a perfect example.
WILLIAMSAbsolutely. What I'm saying to you is go up to the U.S. Capitol. Listen to our Congress. The greatest council of debate in America should be the U.S. Senate, but right now the world we live in, Diane, the filibuster has become a tool of absolute obstruction. It now takes 60 votes to get anything done. You will not hear this debate about Afghanistan in the U.S. Senate. In fact, it looks to me like right now, you know, the U.S. Senate is where debate goes to die in America. They don't have this debate.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones to Tulsa, Okla., good morning, Mike, you're on the air.
MIKEGood morning, Diane. Mr. Williams...
MIKE...I really admire a lot of your work. In your remarks for which you were fired, you mentioned people who wear Muslim garb seem to be exhibiting more allegiance to their religion than to the United States. So I just wanted to know do you say that about Christian clerics who wear Roman collars or Hasidic Jews or Jews that wear yarmulkes in public or Christians that wear crosses around their neck?
WILLIAMSWell, just hang on because I didn't say that. What I said was people who wear Muslim garb and, to my mind, are first and foremost identifying themselves as Muslims. I didn't say that they were any less, in terms of their allegiance to the United States. And with regard to people who are clerics or, you know, Christian clerics, Rabbis, whatever, however you wanted to describe it, I think that you would have to acknowledge there's a reality that after 911 there was a crisis in this country.
WILLIAMSAnd the President of the United States, at the time a republican, even went to visit a mosque to make it clear that this is not a war against Islam. So there was a very specific dynamic at play and has subsequently, you know, we've had so many controversies about this and so many different variations. But all that is the reality and that's why I was anxious. I must say that subsequent to that someone said to me -- some of the critics have said to me well, you're black.
WILLIAMSWhat if you saw some young black men late at night walking down the street and, you know, they're acting rowdy and loud. So if someone said oh, they were threatened by them or they were nervous about them. They're scared. They're racist. And my reaction is, yeah, well, I would cross the street. I wouldn't want -- I would -- that's the way I feel. But I don't, you know, but -- so people just think they shouldn't be able to say what they feel. I think that's crazy.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Richard who says, "After he was fired, Williams lashed out at NPR and painted it with one broad brush. Does he still believe NPR is dominated by a PC ideology?"
WILLIAMSWell, I must tell you that my sense is that there had always been a very small group of people whose thinking dominates at NPR. And I'm talking here not about the member stations, but I'm talking about NPR in Washington. When the caller or writer says, lash out, I don't know -- I certainly tried to defend myself. I felt as if I had been, you know, made into a living devil.
REHMWell, you were angry.
REHMYou were angry.
WILLIAMSI was hurt.
WILLIAMSYeah. But I don't know about lash out. Gosh, I didn't say anything personal about them. I'll tell you that.
REHMYou didn't say anything...
WILLIAMSPersonal. I did not...
REHMWell, but you did...
WILLIAMS...engage in personal attacks.
REHM...paint NPR with a broad brush saying that it was a liberal organization.
WILLIAMSWithout a doubt, but I said that before. I mean, I think that, in terms of the -- the thinking, I mean I -- you know, one of the stories that I tell in here is NPR asking me to give them help reaching out to the Bush Administration -- a conservative administration -- because of the contacts I'd had. I'd covered the Reagan Administration for the Washington Post so I'd been the White House correspondent.
WILLIAMSAnd subsequent had ties in to people there during the Bush Administration so I knew a lot of the players. And, you know, can you help us reach out. And the overwhelming response coming from conservatives was well, that's a liberal organization. They've been hostile towards -- they're antagonistic towards -- and I would say, you know -- you know what I think about a third of NPR listeners are self identified as conservatives.
WILLIAMSYou guys are missing out on an opportunity. You know, listen to the programming, the news programming, we're making an effort, etc. So I definitely was an NPR guy. There's no question. But I'm also aware of the overall perception and I'm specifically aware that, in terms of the news coming out of Washington, given my own experiences, that a strong liberal bent is evident in the coverage.
REHMAnd when George W. Bush finally agreed to do an interview with NPR it was with you.
WILLIAMSCorrect. I had gotten several NPR -- several Bush Administration officials to appear on NPR, not only with me, but with others. But then when the big interview -- the one with the President came through, they asked if I would do it. And they agreed. Now, subsequent to that, I must tell you, there was a little bit here where the President -- that president, President Bush, was not going to Little Rock for the anniversary of the Little Rock Nine Crisis and said he wanted to talk about race relations in the United States -- do an interview about it.
WILLIAMSAnd the call came to me and they said, you know, would you do this interview. And I said for NPR, of course. And they said, yeah, sure. I said, great. But when I called and said to NPR executives we have an opportunity to visit with the president on race relations they said no why are they selecting you.
WILLIAMSAnd I said, well, you know, I've written some best-selling books about race relations in America, "Eyes on The Prize: A Biography of Justice Marshall," stories about the civil rights movement in general, "My Soul Looks Back in Wonder." I could go on, but -- and that's why. And I'm -- and you asked me to develop relations with these people. And now he's had experience with me and -- and they said no.
WILLIAMSAnd they started to question why I was even thinking that I should be allowed to do this. And I think there was some jealousy from the other hosts at NPR about it and a lot of backbiting.
REHMThere was a lot of backbiting because they felt that the morning edition host should be doing that or the host of ATC (word?) .
WILLIAMSThere was -- there was backbiting about the first one in this regard.
WILLIAMSBut, again, I was asked by management at NPR to do this, Diane.
REHMOkay, here's an e-mail from Joy, who says, "I'm concerned about Juan Williams' use of the term political correctness as a way to silence critiques of his statements. I also feel Juan is portraying himself as the virtuous victim and calling for de-funding NPR in a punitive way. If he is truly calling for honest debate, then he should take responsibility for his own public statements and also be honest about the impact of his statements."
WILLIAMSI take responsibility for my statements. I'm such a public person. Everybody knows what I say, what I write, so, yes, I take responsibility. And I'm making an argument. This book is a polemic so I am making a very public, written argument that says that I think that everybody should be accountable, but, also, everybody needs to have the capacity to respect people that with whom they disagree. And to see what is the good in their argument so the good ideas can come to the fore and bad ideas can be dismissed.
WILLIAMSI think right now, too often, people feel as if, you know, I'm just not going to say anything. I use an analogy in the book, Diane, of a bartender that bartenders know that they should not talk about politics and religion because the fear is they won't get tips. I think that I'm not a bartender.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Brian in Grand Rapids, Mich., you're on the air.
BRIANGood morning, Diane. Good morning, Juan.
BRIANQuickly I'd just like to ask how -- how one can have a debate with someone whose justification for their side is God's word and everything else is off the table, for example, when you're debating, let's say, gay marriage or contraceptives or something like that.
WILLIAMSI think it's totally inappropriate and I'm glad you brought it up. I write about this in the book. I don't think that has any appropriate place in a debate in this country because people have different lines of religious belief and we embrace it and we allow it. But you can't tell me that on the basis of your version of what God has to say, that you are going to set civil law in this country.
WILLIAMSAnd that -- whether it's about abortion, whether it's about the placement of a mosque, any of that, just inappropriate and, again, it acts to inhibit free flowing debate.
REHMAll right. And to Steven in Durham, N.C., good morning, you're on the air.
STEVENThank you, good morning. I was recently on hubski.com and a commenter there made a point that Mr. Williams echoed on the show, which is that politicians are not rewarded for compromise. And I wonder if Mr. Williams feels that FOX News promotes the compromise of ideas. For example, Mr. Williams, do you feel when you debate with Sean Hannity that you ever really fundamentally change any of his viewpoints?
WILLIAMSOh, I think Sean definitely listens and so I don't -- I -- not change his viewpoint. He engages me and I think it's up to the audience as to whether or not they have a changed viewpoint. I would hope they have a better informed viewpoint because they hear me, as well as Sean. It's Sean's show. It's Sean's audience and they come to him, I think, you know, with some preconceptions about what they're going to get because he's a strong right-winger.
WILLIAMSSo do I think that he stands up and says he had -- he's had a conversion, no, if that's what we're looking for. I don't think that happens.
REHMAre you a liberal?
WILLIAMSI think so, but, you know, this is interesting. If I am talking to people who are liberals and, especially, African-Americans, they say I'm a conservative because I've written -- I wrote a book -- the last book -- the previous book I wrote was about the dysfunction in the black community and what I think is a failed leadership.
REHMThey don't like you.
WILLIAMSWell, some people. Some at the...
REHMSome of them don't like you.
WILLIAMSI think most of the -- the black leadership in the country finds me someone who holds them as a journalist to account so I am viewed as the -- as an antagonist. But I must say that if I'm talking then to conservatives, Diane, they say you're a liberal. And the way -- you know, I mean, so that people -- it looks to me like in this environment, with the niche journalism, with the failure to have honest debate, everybody wants everybody else put in a box.
WILLIAMSAnd with me, they would like me to be very clearly in one box or the other and I -- I'll tell you what I'm thinking. I'll tell you what I'm learning from my reporting. I'm not going to play games like that.
REHMDo you think we're ever going to get beyond this, Juan?
WILLIAMSWell, at the moment, I think that we are deeply steeped in non-discussion.
WILLIAMSLocked up, polarized and, I think, it's to our detriment. I, you know, we have a woman -- I don't -- you know, I feel so strongly about this -- a woman named Molly Norris, who's a cartoonist up in Seattle, the FBI has her in hiding. We don't even hear about or discuss why is this woman in hiding? It's because she wanted to have a draw Mohammad day in this country and she felt that she was being threatened with death.
REHMJuan Williams, his new book is titled, "Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate." And we shall continue to attempt to have honest debate on this program. I hope you'll come back.
WILLIAMSI'd be delighted. And, again, thank you for having me today, Diane.
REHMMy pleasure. Thanks for listening all, I'm Diane Rehm.
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