For an excellent essay that perfectly mirrors my feelings on the issue, I refer you to Jeffrey Goldberg. I'm taking the quotes that got Williams fired from that source, but you can find them everywhere:
I mean, look, Bill [O'Reilly], I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.First of all, as I've read somewhere or other, if you start a sentence with "I'm not a bigot, but..." you should probably not finish that sentence.
However dumb and impolitic Williams was in making this statement, he's not actually saying that all Muslims are terrorists. He's acknowledging an anxiety of his own. Given that he was voicing these feelings on Fox News Channel, where the rhetoric dial is always set at "overheated," it's easy to conflate those two things, but if he's going to get fired it should be for making a statement that's actually bigoted instead of just being ignorant.
I won't miss Williams on NPR, where I never found him particularly enlightening. (I should be honest and admit that part of my dislike for him is probably based on his being a conservative commentator, with whom I am likely to disagree as a matter of course.) But his statement does not rise to the level of firing offense, and giving him the axe has only made him the latest conservative media martyr.
Update: Strong work, Sen. DeMint, for taking a situation where liberals look back and going completely off the deep end, thus reminding me where my loyalties ultimately lie.