News analyst Juan Williams' firing from National Public Radio for comments he made about being nervous when flying alongside devout Muslims has sparked a public outcry that includes calls for investigations and a cut in public funding to the broadcaster.
"I think the U.S. Congress should investigate NPR and consider cutting off their money," said Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is also a Fox News contributor
Gingrich called the firing "an act of total censorship."
"I think the whole idea that if you honestly say how you feel about Islam -- what he said was very balanced, people should read what he actually said -- the idea that that's the excuse for National Public Radio to censor Juan Williams is an outrage and every listener of NPR should be enraged that there's this kind of bias against an American," Gingrich said.
NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller sent an internal memo Thursday seeking to clarify why Williams' contract was terminated, claiming that the remarks he made on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" weren't the only problem -- he was canned because he's become a pundit rather than an analyst.
"Juan's comments on Fox violated our standards as well as our values and offended many in doing so," Schiller wrote in the memo, obtained by Fox News.
"This isn't the first time we have had serious concerns about some of Juan's public comments," she wrote. "Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan continued to violate this principal (sic).
Speaking at the Atlanta Press Club Thursday, Schiller defended the firing, saying Williams should keep his feelings about Muslims between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist."
Williams told Fox News that he was fired Wednesday by Ellen Weiss, NPR's vice president for news. He said Weiss told him he 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."
But Williams has won considerable support from media figures and lawmakers. The hosts of ABC's "The View," whose raucous interview with O'Reilly last week sparked a weeklong back-and-forth about making a distinction between Muslims and Islamic extremists, said NPR was wrong to let Williams go.
"I don't think he should have been fired, because, in fact ... lots of people have this idea," said host Whoopi Goldberg.
Host Barbara Walters said Williams perhaps should have been chastised, not fired because he was on the show to give his perspective.
"I think they were very wrong," she said of NPR.
Republican Rep. Peter King went further, calling on Congress to nix any federal money NPR gets "because of its indefensible bias."
"NPR has disgraced itself by caving into CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and by firing Juan Williams for exercising his right of free speech," he said. "This is political correctness carried to its extreme form."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who hosts a show on Fox News, called on Congress to stop cutting checks to NPR and said he will no longer accept interview requests from NPR "as long as they are going to practice a form of censorship."
"NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left," he said.
Free Press, a nonprofit advocating media reform, denounced the calls to defund NPR.
"It is time to stop playing politics with our nation's public media system," Free Press President Josh Silve said in a written statement.
"Calling for Congress to defund NPR is nothing more than political opportunism by public figures who have built a career on such shenanigans," he said. "Regardless of what you think about Juan Williams' dismissal, calling for the defunding of NPR is like asking for the death penalty in small claims court."
In June, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., introduced legislation to end taxpayer funding of PBS and NPR -- a bill that he says would save taxpayers about $450 million each year. But the bill has been largely ignored and gone nowhere.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the parent company of PBS and NPR, received $420 million in taxpayer funds in 2010 and has requested $608 million for the next funding cycle that begins in 2013.
NPR says government funding makes up less than 2 percent of it budget, with the rest coming from station fees, sponsorships and grants. This week, the radio network received $1.8 million from billionaire investor George Soros to hire journalists to cover legislatures in all 50 states.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations had urged NPR to take swift action against Williams. The group said such commentary from a journalist about racial, ethnic or religious minority groups should 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 a security threats," said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
CAIR national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper told Fox News that the group is "pleased that the network addressed Muslim concerns."
"It was really up to them what to do in response," he said. "I think everyone has recognized now that perhaps it wasn't a good fit between the network and Mr. Williams."
Hooper said he did not think Williams, an African American who has written extensively on civil rights in the United States, is a bigot. But Hooper said, "Everybody's accountable for their words and their actions, and when he seemed to legitimize singling out people who are perceived to be Muslim based on their attire on airlines, I think that crosses the line."