Lots of smart people I like having been writing about Juan Williams. If you don't know, he was an NPR reporter who was fired for admitting on national television that he is uncomfortable when he sees someone on an airplane in Muslim garb.*
Should he have been fired for expressing controversial views?
Personally, I'm asking the question this way: How are Williams' future interviews with Muslim sources likely to go? Even if they make nice with him and try to be understanding, hasn't Williams pretty much completely hosed his chances of having a Muslim source or someone else who thinks he's a racist trust him and open up to him in the future?
That is the crux of why reporters aren't supposed to do what Williams did.
Example from my own brief journalism career: One time, a county official was ranting (in a private conversation with me) about how the departing Clinton staffers had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars in White House property during the Clinton/Bush transition. I said simply that I'd read that the GAO did an investigation and concluded that the damage and missing items were minimal, costing less than the GAO investigation itself.
This guy didn't argue with me then, but never took another one of my calls or gave me any more information and it seriously screwed with my ability to write stories having anything to do with his area of authority in his part of the county. (In a small town, one guy can easily be the hub of information on a given subject.) Eventually, my editor took that beat away from me and gave it to the new reporter. He would talk to the new reporter.
I still think what that guy did was completely insane. I was very young then and remain fairly blunt now, but I don't think I was in any way rude about what I'd said. I really don't think I even gave my own opinion, I simply pointed out in a private conversation that the GAO report disagreed with his assertions. And it cost me my beat and made me look very bad in front of my editor.
So yeah, that kinda stuff happens to reporters, and I can certainly see how what Juan Williams did would seriously hamper his ability to do his job. His comments on national TV hampered also showed that he is a dude with seriously poor judgment willing to do things that hamper his ability to do his job. Y'all know what the state of journalism is these days. Is it really so surprising that his actions go him canned?
Of course, now he works for Fox, where getting the other side of the story from a Muslim source likely won't be that big a part of his job.
*Of course, the 9-11 hijackers didn't wear Muslim garb, they dressed to fit in with other people on the plane. This was the first thing that made me wonder about Williams as a reporter.