NPR Announces Internal Review of Juan Williams Firing, Forces Out VP Who Fired Him Over the Phone

January 6th, 2011 3:50 PM

On Thursday, the NPR Board of Directors announced it has concluded an internal review of the firing of senior analyst Juan Williams for comments on the Fox News Channel. In what a spokesman called “two distinct pieces of news,” the internal review came with the resignation of Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news, the one who fired Williams over the phone. Weiss, whose husband Rabbi David Saperstein is an adviser to President Obama’s faith-based initiative, told Williams he didn’t have enough remorse for his comments admitting fear of Muslims:

"She took the admission of my visceral fear of people dressed in Muslim garb at the airport as evidence that I am a bigot. She said there are people who wear Muslim garb to work at NPR and they are offended by my comments. She never suggested that I had discriminated against anyone. Instead she continued to ask me what did I mean and I told her I said what I meant. Then she said she did not sense remorse from me. I said I made an honest statement. She informed me that I had violated NPR's values for editorial commentary and she was terminating my contract as a news analyst."

Williams chose not to participate in the review (perhaps knowing his view of the firing was already quite public.) The idea that Weiss's departure is coincidental doesn't come across in the Board's findings:

The facts gathered during the review revealed that the termination was not the result of special interest group or donor pressure.  However, because of concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process, the Board additionally recommended that certain actions be taken with regard to management involved in Williams’ contract termination.

The Board has expressed confidence in Vivian Schiller's leadership going forward.  She accepted responsibility as CEO and cooperated fully with the review process.  The Board, however, expressed concern over her role in the termination process and has voted that she will not receive a 2010 bonus.

NPR also announced that Ellen Weiss, Senior Vice-President for News, has resigned.

NPR is already citing tonight's report for All Things Considered, in which media reporter David Folkenflik will explain Weiss "joined NPR in 1982 and rose through the ranks, holding a variety of key positions, such as executive producer of All Things Considered and national editor. She helped lead coverage of some of the biggest stories and highest-impact investigations in recent years. And she is credited with leading the network through an era of wrenching changes in journalism. But her dismissal of Williams — by phone — became a flashpoint in the debate."

Apparently, if Weiss had fired Williams face to face, after hearing his attempts to save his position, then the NPR Board would have kept her.

The NPR board stressed that going forward it would attempt “consistent application” of its Ethics Code about outside media appearances, something conservatives found wildly inconsistent when applied to Juan Williams but not to other NPR liberals like Nina Totenberg or Mara Liasson. The Board also stressed the need to “balance” their media diet so as to avoid “conflicts of interest that may compromise NPR’s mission.” Perhaps they will explicitly put on paper that NPR employees may not appear on Fox News in prime time, which is what the firing of Williams said implicitly.

The passage that most strains credulity is NPR seeking a broad range of viewpoints:

Ensure that its practices encourage a broad range of viewpoints to assist its decision-making, support its mission, and reflect the diversity of its national audiences.  The Human Resources Committee of the Board is working in conjunction with key members of NPR management on this issue.

What the Williams firing really underlined for media-watchers is that when NPR sees its "mission" as compromised by appearances on Fox News programs like The O'Reilly Factor, it is saying that its devotion to its own liberal audience base and its liberal identity is the most important measure of their professionalism.

The announcement of the internal review and Weiss's "coincidental" resignation are clearly designed to provide more a more soothing statement when NPR officials are called before the new GOP House majority to explain their actions and address their budget. These actions are clearly not enough to keep Republican House members from asking tough questions about the intolerance of NPR for conservative opinions and the overt liberal editorializing and news judgment of their taxpayer-subsidized programming.

UPDATE: Jeff Poor at The Daily Caller noted Juan Williams reacting on Fox News:

“Well, I think it’s good news for NPR if they can get someone who I think has been the keeper of the flame of liberal orthodoxy out of  NPR,” he said “I mean the idea that she was someone who just I think had executioner’s knife for anybody who didn’t abide by one single way of thinking, which was her way of thinking. And I think she represented an in-grown, incestuous culture at that institution that’s not open to not only different ways of thinking, but angry at the fact that I would even talk or be on Fox. Angry at the fact that people have different perspectives and that a conservative perspective might emerge on Fox or NPR. So, to my mind this is good news for NPR and people who care about news in America.”