What is most offensive to me is not that National Public Radio fired Juan Williams, but that it hired him in the first place.
I have known Mr. Williams for more than two decades; we used to appear regularly as commentators on a Friday night news-of-the-week program produced by and aired on the Howard University-owned public TV station, now WHUT.
Juan attended a going-away party at my house for another commentator on that program -- Tony Snow -- when Snow left to join the first Bush administration as a speech writer many years ago.
I saw Juan on the street last summer and congratulated him on all his career success. It was a friendly exchange.
But truth be told, I was highly troubled by NPR's hiring of Juan a decade ago, since he had departed the Washington Post under such murky circumstances.
According to a 1991 Washington Post article
which ran while he was still worked there:
"Washington Post Magazine reporter Juan Williams said yesterday that the newspaper has disciplined him for what he called 'wrong' and 'inappropriate' verbal conduct toward women staffers and he apologized to his colleagues.
In an open letter to the newsroom, Williams said: "It pained me to learn during the investigation that I had offended some of you. I have said so repeatedly in the last few weeks, and repeat here: some of my verbal conduct was
wrong, I now know that, and I extend my sincerest apology to those whom I offended. I have committed to Post management, and I commit to you -- and to myself -- to change my ways."
The Washington Post has never been completely forthcoming about what Juan Williams did that prompted the disciplinary action, nor why he ultimately left the paper. A more recent Dallas Morning News mention
reveals more detail about what type of behavior Williams engaged in:
"While the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings were under way in 1991, Washington Post columnist Juan Williams emerged as one of Thomas's chief defenders. Williams minimized the gravity of Thomas's alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill. Boys will be boys, after all. But it's no surprise Williams thought it was no big deal. At the time, he was involved in repeated episodes of sexual harassment in The Post newsroom. It was only after several women in the newsroom spoke up that The Post took action -- forcing Williams to sit in an isolated part of the newsroom where he could be watched at all times."
One wonders whether that punishment and the disciplinary action were enough. An online search fails to reveal any clear explanation of how and under what circumstances he left that venerated journalistic institution. I do recall that he joined a rather low-profile think tank after leaving the Post and that he was out of journalism for a period of time before being hired by NPR.
Given the serious allegations against him that were treated, in my mind and in the minds of fellow female journalists at the time, too lightly by the Post, I was saddened when NPR resurrected his reputation as a serious, credentialed journalist. It sent to me and many others, the message that sexual harassment is not taken seriously by the so-called boys on the bus. I even called a well-known female NPR employee when Juan was hired to make sure women at that organization knew about Juan's Post problems. She told me that indeed she and others had protested the potential hiring before it became a fait accompli. Their protests were not addressed.
Fox, and especially the Bill O'Reilly show, seem the perfect place for Juan Williams. Bill O'Reilly has had a rather well-documented bout with sexual harassment charges himself, for which many news organizations would have fired him. I have written about his legal dispute and settlement with his former producer
, and he later mentioned me on his show mockingly on another topic. I found it rather amusing.
I am not claiming to be perfect. Far from it. I have made multiple mistakes as a journalist: not fact-checking thoroughly on one or more occasion, for starters. But as a woman who "came up" at a time when sexual discrimination was fairly rampant, I cannot forgive either NPR for hiring Mr. Williams nor The Post for its too-tepid response to his odd behavior toward women.