Ex-NPR analyst Juan Williams said Sunday that his firing over a comment about Muslims amounts to "censorship," adding that it was "despicable" for an NPR executive to later suggest he was "unstable."
Williams was fired as a news analyst for the public radio network after saying on Fox News that he gets nervous when he sees passengers in Muslim clothing on a plane. The incident sparked a national controversy over free speech and political correctness.
Williams, who has since joined Fox News as a full-time contributor, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the debate over his treatment by NPR marks an "important moment" in American public life.
"Americans feel, you know, that there's nothing wrong in telling someone how you feel. And then to be punished for that is unfair and it amounts to censorship," Williams said. "It's important that people be able to talk to each other across political lines."
Williams said NPR did not like the fact that he frequently appeared on Fox News and used the Muslim remark as a "pretext to get rid of me." But he said he was also troubled by the network's handling of the affair after he was fired.
"The innuendo that I'm somehow unstable was, I thought, despicable," Williams said.
He was referring to a comment from NPR CEO Vivian Schiller, who said Thursday that Williams' beliefs should stay between him and "his psychiatrist or his publicist." She later apologized for the remark.
Williams said his critics were engaged in "character assassination," but expressed thanks to those on both sides of the aisle who have defended him. Williams has already explained that, in the Fox News interview that touched off the controversy, he was trying to make the point that personal fears should not lead to a violation of anyone's constitutional rights.
"I didn't advocate discriminating against Muslims," Williams said Sunday.
NPR has become a target of congressional Republicans since the firing, with some calling for the organization to be de-funded by Congress. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said Friday he's going to include NPR's federal funding into a contest that lets Americans vote on top programs for Republicans to cut from the budget.
So far, Republicans have had little success in cutting government programs chosen by voters in the program called YouCut. Since they do not have the majority in the House, Republicans are effectively prohibited from bringing legislation to the floor, though they are hoping to gain the majority after the Nov. 2 election.