NPR CEO: Juan Williams’s views of Muslims should be between him and his shrink; CEO: “I spoke hastily”

Like Andy Levy said last night on Twitter: Polygraph ’em. Take the whole NPR braintrust, wire them up, and ask them if they’ve ever felt momentarily skittish about flying with Muslim passengers since the “unpleasantness” at the World Trade Center. If anyone fails, Williams comes back at double the pay.

NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller is defending the firing of news analyst Juan Williams after his comments on the Fox News Channel, saying his feelings about Muslims are between him and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.”

Schiller spoke Thursday at the Atlanta Press Club. She said Williams’ firing is not a reflection of his comments that he gets nervous when he sees people in Muslim garb on an airplane.

She says she has no problem with people taking controversial positions, but that such opinions should not come from NPR reporters or news analysts. Schiller says Williams is a news analyst, not a commentator or columnist.

In other words, she wants you to believe that he’s not being fired for his thoughts on air travel in the post-9/11 age so much as for the mere fact that he’d opine publicly — presumably on any political matter, in any format — while working for NPR. (Haven’t they been letting him do that on the Factor for years?) That’s version one; version two is what she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this morning before her speech, that “there have been several instances over the last couple of years where we have felt Juan has stepped over the line” and this was the last straw. So … it is about his reaction to Muslims. (In fact, both reasons are cited in NPR’s official memo to its affiliates about the firing.) Or is it about Fox? As Howard Kurtz says, “I suspect that if he’d said the same thing to Charlie Rose, rather than on the O’Reilly Factor, he’d still have his radio job.” Here’s a telling aside dropped into NPR’s story about Williams and flagged by Yid With Lid:

Williams’ presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.

In the memo to affiliates, Schilling writes, “We’re profoundly sorry that this happened during fundraising week.” Are they, though? It’s no secret which way NPR and its audience tilt; if anything, sacrificing the resident Fox-loving liberal at the behest of Think Progress will probably goose pledges. And the calls from Republican pols today to defund NPR will give them a whole new fundraising angle: “Donate now or else Fox News and the GOP win.”

And yet, and yet, I wonder how this will play even with the average Ira Glass fanboy. In a sense, it’s the Ground Zero mosque redux: There’ll be a hardcore 25-30 percent of liberals who spend the next few days congratulating themselves for not being able to fathom how Juan Williams could think such things. And meanwhile the other 70 percent of the population — many Democrats included — will be on his side. In fact, here’s an incomplete list of people who’ve weighed in today to say that, whatever one thinks of his position, he shouldn’t have been fired: Alan Colmes, Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough, Matt Welch, William Saletan, Whoopi Goldberg, and of course GOP pols like Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. It’s the political equivalent of the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” To my big brother Juan — the richest man in town.

Here’s the man himself talking about how he got sandbagged over the phone, without so much as a face-to-face meeting or chance to explain himself. And below that, via Reason’s Michael Moynihan, a second clip to remind you how seriously NPR takes its standards about political opinion and statements that might embarrass the company.

Update: Surely she should be fired for her controversial and not-at-all helpful opinion.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller just released this statement:

“I spoke hastily and I apologize to Juan and others for my thoughtless remark.”

That follows, as you’ll see below, her comment earlier today that now-former NPR news analyst Juan Williams should have kept his feelings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.”