WASHINGTON – “I’m not a bigot,” longtime news analyst Juan Williams said. Then he talked about getting nervous on a plane when he sees people in Muslim dress. Fair game for one of his employers, Fox News Channel, but a firable offense for the other, NPR.

Muslim groups were outraged, saying that Williams’ remarks Monday on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor” endorsed the idea that all Muslims should be viewed with suspicion. But conservatives and even some liberals said NPR went too far in firing him for being honest about his feelings in an interview where he also said it is important to distinguish moderate Muslims from extremists.

The opinions Williams expressed on Fox News over the years had already strained his relationship with NPR to the point that the public radio network asked him to stop using the NPR name when he appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show. NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said Thursday that Williams had veered from journalistic ethics before Monday’s comments.

Controversial opinions should not come from NPR reporters or news analysts, Schiller said, adding that Williams was not a commentator or columnist for NPR. She said whatever feelings Williams has about Muslims should be between him and “his psychiatrist or his publicist — take your pick.”

In a memo to staff and affiliate stations, Schiller said Williams violated NPR’s code of ethics, which says journalists should not participate in media “that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

Fox News, meanwhile, announced it had re-signed Williams to a multiyear deal that will give him an expanded role. Chairman Roger Ailes described Williams as “a staunch defender of liberal viewpoints” and “an honest man whose freedom of speech is protected by Fox News on a daily basis.”

Williams stood by his remarks Thursday. He told Fox News his statement was not bigoted, as he said NPR news executive Ellen Weiss implied Wednesday when she fired him by phone.

“I said, ‘You mean I don’t even get the chance to come in and we do this eyeball-to-eyeball, person-to-person, have a conversation? I’ve been there more than 10 years,” Williams said. He said Weiss responded that “there’s nothing you can say that would change my mind.”