Firing Juan Williams: The Chasm Between Fox News And NPR

November 17, 2010, 2:35 AM UTC

Juan Williams, who was fired by NPR after he made comments about Muslims in traditional garb on Fox News, gets public sympathy in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll – and his comment is something many Americans agree with. 

41% of Americans who have ever traveled by air identify with Juan Williams’ fear: "When traveling by plane, I get nervous when I see another passenger wearing traditional Muslim clothing." 35% disagree. Reaction to that statement also illustrates the gap between those who listen to National Public Radio and those who get most of their news from Fox News on television. Fox watchers agree with the statement by nearly ten to one, while nearly half of NPR listeners say they disagree with it.

American images of Islam itself have changed very little in the last year.   Today, twice as many Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam as have a favorable opinion of it.  More than four in ten believe Arab-Americans are less patriotic than other Americans.

Williams, who was hired by Fox News after his firing, now is known by most Americans and is a sympathetic figure to many of them.  39% of Americans have a favorable view of Williams, while 21% are unfavorable.   Most Republicans are favorable towards him. 

Overwhelmingly, Americans – including NPR listeners – believe Williams should NOT have been fired for his comments.  Only 13% support his firing; 65% do not.  NPR listeners oppose his firing by more than two to one.

NPR listeners tend to be better educated, wealthier, more liberal and more Democratic than the country as a whole (though independents are as likely as Democrats to say they have listened to NPR in the past week). By two to one, NPR listeners would rather the government NOT cut off funds for radio programming (money currently supplied indirectly through grants and that make up less than 10% of NPR funds). However, 40% of Americans overall would cut off any taxpayer money spent to support NPR.

Americans perceive intolerance – from both sides.  Nearly identical percentages see both liberals AND conservatives as intolerant of those with different views.