10/24/2010 11:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NPR's Missed Opportunity

This week, NPR fired Juan Williams for saying that airline passengers in "Muslim garb" make him nervous.

There has been a lot of talk about what NPR should have done in response to Williams' comments. I've been wondering what would have happened if, instead of firing Williams, NPR had invited him onto Morning Edition to analyze his own remarks . . .

Renee Montagne: And now we're joined by NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who is here to talk about remarks he made on Fox News this weekend about people who wear "Muslim garb" on airplanes. Hi Juan!

Juan Williams: Hi Renee!

Montagne: Juan, as our listeners may know, you said on Fox News that when you board an airplane and see a person in "Muslim garb," it makes you nervous, in light of what happened on 9/11. My question is this: "Muslim garb"? Could you have picked a more dismissive and derisive term?

Williams: Well, Renee, I was just making a general statement. That, you know, when I go on a plane, and I see someone wearing some sort of Muslim scarf, or jewelry, or what have you -- you know, they have those headdress-like things they sometimes wear -- and they are identifying themselves first and foremost as a Muslim. . .

Montagne: So all Muslims are basically the same to you.

Williams: Well, yes, Renee, that was my point . . .

Montagne: And everyone who wears a scarf is a Muslim?

Williams: Well, also, they usually have brown skin, Renee. Let's not forget that.

Montagne: I think I get it. And all such people must be seeking to identify themselves "first and foremost" as Muslims? They're not expressing their taste in fashion, or expressing their individuality in some other way?

Williams: What I'm saying is, you go on a plane, and all you can think about is 9/11, and that they are out to get you. And then there's this woman wearing a black scarf, and you instantly think, "Muslim." There's no other reaction you can have but fear.

Montagne: And this has bothered you for nine years? You haven't confronted these feelings and dealt with them in all that time?

Williams: But you know me, Renee. I'm not a bigot.

Montagne: But prejudice comes with its own blinders, Juan. Plus, that's not really an excuse for what you said.

Williams: I'm just saying . . .

Montagne: You're saying you don't like Muslim people. They make you nervous.

Williams: Renee, can we move on?

Montagne: Here's a question. The next time you feel this way on an airplane, why not approach the other person and politely say hello? You might discover that he or she is actually very friendly, and that you have more in common that you think. That might be a way of dealing with your issue.

Williams: But I don't have a problem, Renee. Why is this about me?

Montagne: Because you're the news analyst, Juan. This is your job. To analyze the news.

Williams: All I did was honestly admit a fear we all have . . .

Montagne: But isn't that another aspect of your prejudice, your assumption that it's universal?

Williams: But who hasn't felt this way?

Montagne: Well, the one-fourth of the world's population that is Muslim, just for starters . . .

Williams: But they don't count, Renee. They're not part of this discussion.

Montagne: I think we're at the heart of it now.

Williams: You know, Renee, when I made those remarks, I was only trying to sympathize with Bill O'Reilly . . .

Montagne: Maybe that was your mistake. Do you think you owe the Muslims of the world an apology? That might be another first step.

Williams: Renee, I am sorry. I am sorry I ever made those remarks. I am sorry for acting as an apologist for anti-Muslim bigotry on Fox. And, yes, your questions have made me think that I might have some issues to work on.

Montagne: Thanks, Juan. And I understand you have a new assignment?

Williams: Yes, Renee. NPR is sending me to India, Indonesia, Northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, and select London and Parisian suburbs.

Montagne: Good luck!

Williams: Thanks, Renee.

Montagne: That was recently-disgraced NPR news analyst Juan Williams, talking about bigoted comments he made on Fox News about his fear of Muslims. I'm Renee Montaigne and this . . . is Morning Edition.