NPR concludes Juan Williams review, news exec is out


The NPR Board, along with legal firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, has concluded its review of the controversial firing of commentator Juan Williams over remarks made on Fox News Channel, and along with tweaks to NPR policy, SVP Ellen Weiss is following Williams out the door and CEO Vivian Schiller is staying on but forgoing a bonus for 2010.

NPR said in a statement, “In light of the review and feedback provided to them, the Board has adopted   recommendations and remedial measures designed to address issues that surfaced with the review. The recommendations and remedial measures range from new internal procedures concerning personnel and on air-talent decisions to taking appropriate disciplinary action with respect to certain management employees involved in the termination.  Some of these changes have already been made and others are in process.”

Among the steps are establishment a well-rounded committee to update NPR’s ethics code, improving training about and application of the ethics code, review and definition of the roles of NPR journalists and commentators when taking part in proceedings on other outlets, and ensuring that practices encourage a wide variety of viewpoints.

The review stated that the Williams dismissal may not have been handled well but was done within terms of his contract.

It then said, “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 Chair Dave Edwards said, “We have taken this situation very seriously and the Board believes these recommendations and remedial steps address the concerns raised in connection with the termination of Williams’ contract. The Board regrets this incident’s impact on NPR and will work with NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller, to ensure that these actions will be expeditiously completed, examined, and monitored on an ongoing basis.”

Discussing Weiss’s exit in a memo to NPR staffers, Schiller said, “NPR SVP for News Ellen Weiss has notified me that she will be leaving her position. Over her decades at NPR, Ellen has made meaningful and lasting contributions to the evolution of NPR and our newsroom. She is a strong journalist who has brought her considerable talents to how NPR covers the world and meets the ever-increasing expectations of today’s audiences. Ellen exemplifies journalistic professionalism and integrity. I’m grateful to her for what she has accomplished at NPR, and I encourage you to reach out to her in the days ahead with your own thanks. I’ve asked Vice President for Programming Margaret Low Smith to step in as acting senior vice president for news until we’ve found Ellen’s replacement.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Will this move take Republican heat off NPR? No. And it wouldn’t if Schiller was also on her way out – NPR in particular and public broadcasting in general are perennial targets of many Republicans. This incident mainly served to increase the volume of the calls for defunding, and maybe decreased the elapsed time since the last time it became a hot topic on Capitol Hill.

We will be very surprised if the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, or its Communications Subcommittee, doesn’t find a little time on the schedule to do a little public grilling of public broadcasting executives this year.