Krauthammer: NPR's 'Intellectual Cowardice'

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 21, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JUAN WILLIAMS, FORMER NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: 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. But when I get on a plane, I’ve got to tell you, if I see people in Muslim garb and I think they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried, I get nervous.

VIVIAN SCHILLER, NPR PRESIDENT AND CEO: This is not a reflection on his comments.  This is not a debate, you know. Juan feels the way he feels. That is not for me to pass judgment on that. That is really his feelings that he expressed on Fox News are really between him and his, you know, psychiatrist or his publicist, or take your pick.

But it is not compatible with a news analyst with the role of a news analyst on NPR's air.


BRET BAIER, HOST OF "SPECIAL REPORT": NPR terminating its contract with Juan Williams as a news analyst after something he said on Bill O'Reilly's show Monday night.  Juan says he call a call from Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news, Wednesday evening.


WILLIAMS: She said, you know, this has been decided up the chain. I said, I mean I don't get the chance to come in and we do this eyeball to eyeball, person to person, have a conversation? I’ve been there for more than 10 years. We don't have a chance to have a conversation about this?

She said there is nothing you could say that would change my mind. This has been decided above me and we’re terminating your contract.


BAIER: President and CEO of this company Roger Ailes has announced that he is extending and expanding Juan Williams contract with Fox News channel as of today.

What about all of this? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Nia-Malika Henderson, at The Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I want to start by having people look at this quote from Jesse Jackson about 18 years ago in which he says, I hope we can put it up on the screen, that when he walks down the street, hears footsteps, and he starts thinking about robbery, he looks around and when he sees someone who is white, he feels relieved.  Jesse Jackson is saying this. In other words, if the people he looked at were black, he would feel anxiety or fear.

Now, this -- there is nobody in his right mind that is going to say that Jesse Jackson is a racist, anti-black racist. He's not. So what's happening here? There are two elements in what he does here. He talks about a feeling which is related to a statistical fact. The feeling is the anxiety he feels, and the fact he is talking about is implicit, of course, the empirical fact that there is a higher rate of crime among young African-Americans than among young blacks (ph).

Now, he regrets this. He regrets this. And he says the feeling of relief is a result of this obviously statistical disparity.

Now, think of what Juan has said. It's exactly the same kind of statement. He talks about a feeling he has when he sees a person in Muslim garb. And then he spoke explicitly about how it's related to empirical reality. The empirical reality we all know that overwhelmingly the attacks of terrorism in the world, the attacks on airplanes, buildings, mosques around the world in the last 20 years have been overwhelmingly carried out not by the IRA or the Tamil Tigers or the German red army, but by radical Islamists.

So he makes a statement that's perfectly parallel with what Jackson said. Now you explain to me why nobody would attribute hostility, bigotry, or racism in the Jackson statement and, yet, NPR attributes to the Juan Williams' statement, and not only attributes it but does it with such certainty that it dismisses him without even a hearing.

I would like to hear one executive at NPR defend that. If not, this is not just a case of political correctness. It's a case of intellectual cowardice.

BAIER: Nia, NPR's executives, the president of NPR Vivian Schiller, said today there have been multiple instants where they have talked to Juan about speaking out and expressing his opinions. They have been uncomfortable with it. What about all of this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: It seems like in a way Juan Williams was in a pretty unhappy marriage with NPR for the last couple of years and this is the final straw for them.

And, you know, I think some journalists over the last couple of weeks and months have run into similar situations. CNN fired Rick Sanchez for comments he made about Jon Stewart.

But I do think, I mean, as a journalist, I think there is this kind of increasing blurring of the lines between commentary and analysis and opinion and what is straight news and objective, you know, objective reporting.

In some ways I think Juan Williams got tripped up with that.  But, also, I mean, I think one of the underlying things is that he was in a very precarious position from the point of view of his bosses.

BAIER: He has been a contributor here for a long time, speaking of other opinions, perhaps. Here’s a couple quotes. Nina Totenberg, NPR correspondent said this about Jesse Helms, former Republican senator -- "I think he ought to be worried about what's going on in the good Lord's mind because if there is attributive justice, he'll get AIDS from a transfusion or one of his grandchildren will."

There is also an incident about a recent story about learning the language of ‘tea bag.’  Steve, those people still have jobs.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: You don't need to look that far back to see what Nina Totenberg has said. I looked what she has said over the last four weeks.

Let's make a distinction here. Nina Totenberg is an NPR correspondent. Not an analyst, which suggests some blending of fact and opinion, but a correspondent. She is a reporter. And she is on a show in Washington that Charles is on as well called "Inside Washington."

And over the last four weeks she has said the following things, that Michelle Obama makes voters feel "warm and fuzzy," that Bill Clinton was the most gifted politician she has ever seen, that the Supreme Court ruling, which she covers, in Citizens United was "outrageous, scandalous, and could lead to another Watergate."

And then the one that I find most outrageous of all, in a discussion about the tax cuts, extending the tax cuts, there was a discussion about the 31 Democrats who had written to Nancy Pelosi and said we want to extend these tax cuts for everyone. Nina Totenberg said, lamented the diversity in the Democratic Party, said "When you have huge majority you have huge diversity. And that is a part of the problem that Democrats have. Would I like it to be otherwise? Of course."

So, here she is taking not only an ideological position or a philosophical position, but an expressly partisan position. Now, the position of Vivian Schiller, the CEO of NPR, last night it was that Juan was let go because he had made these comments on Bill O'Reilly's show.

Today, after that had been widely criticized, she changed the rationale altogether. She said no, no, no. It's really not those comments. It's just the fact that he has expressed an opinion. If that's the case, how does Nina Totenberg, who is not an analyst, but a reporter, how does she possibly keep her job?

And the final point, how does Vivian Schiller, after questioning with a smirk like we saw on that video, Juan Williams' sanity for saying the things he said, how does she possibly keep her job? I hope it's just not Republicans that call for her dismissal but they are joined by numerous Democrats. You can't do that kind of a thing in public. It's deeply irresponsible.

BAIER: She said talk to a psychiatrist or a publicist.

John Boehner, the minority leader, Charles, came out with a statement saying this -- "Washington is borrowing 37 cents of every dollar it spends from our kids and grandkids. Given that, I think it's reasonable to ask why Congress is spending taxpayers' money to support a left wing radio network. And in the wake of Juan Williams' firing it's clearer than ever that's what NPR is."

There are calls now to investigate this and to look at funding of NPR.

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, even in the absence of this travesty, you’d have to ask why in the world would you have infinite media outlets of every expression, every kind of Internet broadcasting, are we subsidizing anybody, because obviously the opportunity is open to almost anyone?

And, secondly, I think, this really is a travesty which raises a question of why we ought to be supporting indirectly a left wing organization. I have known Juan for 20 years. It isn't only that he doesn't have a bigoted bone in his body. It's that he has distinguished himself in his career writing and speaking in fighting against prejudice everywhere he has found it in every community.

And to fire him over this and to make this a part of his record, I think, really is a scandal.

BAIER: Ten seconds.

HAYES: Well, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that oversees this funding for public broadcasting, just requested $495 million for the fiscal year of 2014 in a world where we are running a $13 trillion debt and when you have got 600 satellite channels, you can watch poodle grooming on five of them at any given time. There is absolutely no excuse for taking taxpayer funds for taxpayer funded television.

BAIER: You’re like Juan, that's a long 10 seconds.

HAYES: It was.

BAIER: We are happy he will be here for long time. You can read Juan's side of the story by clicking the link in the show notes section of our homepage. Logon to

Next up, we will look at some of the big governor's races and why they are so important.



RICK SCOTT, GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE R-FLA.: What is the number that you are proposing, because we are walking into a two plus billion dollar deficit, all right?  We know we have to save money. Obama math doesn't work here.

ALEX SINK, GUBENATORIAL CANDIDATE D-FLA.: I don't know what Obama math is. What I do know is that I was a 4.0 math major at Wake Forest University and I know how to add numbers.


I have already gotten 10 newspaper endorsements. I don't believe Rick Scott has gotten a single one yet.


BAIER: The Florida gubernatorial debate there, and there you see the real clear politics average of polls. Alex Sink, the Democrat, up 1.2 points over Rick Scott, the Republican. We'll start there on races, governor's races across the country, why they are important and what they look like. We're back with our panel. Nia?

HENDERSON: I talked with the White House about this race specifically, and they feel like this is one of the few races where they have a chance and they feel like this might be some good news that they will have on November 3rd.

I think Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate here; her best friend in this race is Kendrick Meek running in the Senate race. Of course, he is down. I think he is somewhere around 20th in the polls, running third.  But with Meek in the race he can very much energize that base. You saw Clinton down there today trying to rally students around Alex Sink.

Obviously health care has been a really big focus in this debate.  You saw it there in the debate. But I think for Scott, who, of course is, a businessman, he has run into some trouble because he had that bruising Republican primary. He has had some trouble because he has been the head of this health company. So he has had some trouble there.

But I think this is going to be a barn burner. And we might not know actually on November 3rd, I mean it is Florida.

BAIER: There are some recent polls in Florida that have Scott up three or four points. Also, this is very important for 2012 for this White House.

HENDERSON: Exactly. So they are very much looking at this.  This would be a flip for them if they are able to get this race.

BAIER: OK, let's turn to Ohio. Steve, the race there, look at the Real Clear Politics average of polls, John Kasich up 5.4 points over Ted Strickland, the Democrat.

HAYES: There is a poll out today that showed Ted Strickland up by one point. Like Florida, this race is going to be key for the White House in 2012. And you are seeing that by the attention that the White House has already paid to it, the number of trips that the president, the vice president and Michelle Obama made to Ohio, as well as the recently announced plan today, they said they are going to be going back there on Halloween just a couple days before the election energize the vote and get people out.

What's been most interesting for me to watch is Ted Strickland making an argument that seems to me not to be working. He said in an interview he is blaming the economic mess on the policies of George W. Bush.

We have a poll from this summer, late this summer, saying that Ohio voters prefer Bush it to President Obama. And you also have James Carville saying when Democrats make this point it actually hurts them more than it helps them. But he is still, I think, making the argument and it suggests to me that he has very little else to say on behalf of himself.

BAIER: Let's turn now to a race we haven't covered that much; we don't talk about that much, Maryland's governor's race. And there you see the real clear politics average of polls, Martin O'Malley the Democrat with an eight point lead over Bob Ehrlich, the Republican. Although this seems to be closing, Charles, in the final days.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is. But here is an interesting case where the Republican is having a hard time. The Republican is a governor who used to be a member of Congress, Republican -- member of Congress. He ran in 2002, he lost in 2006 against O'Malley.

What we have here is a rematch. And what's interesting is I think part of the reason why Ehrlich is running uphill here is because Maryland could be one of the bluest of the blue states in the country. And the reason is a lot of it is simply ethnicity.

The average African-American percentage in the United States is about 13 percent. In Maryland it's 30 percent. And among African- Americans the support for Obama is still over 90 percent, whereas among whites, it's in the mid 30's.

So to the extent that we're in a national race where Democrats are hurting on account of the administration, it applies less in Maryland than probably any other state.

And the other issue here is that for Ehrlich, he is the former governor, so he has a record and a trail that you can attack him with. He isn't the outsider who plays on the anti-incumbency. It's almost as if you have a pair of incumbents. So I think structurally he has had a really hard time.

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