NPR News VP Ellen Weiss Resigns
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, to a story that hits us close to home here. NPR's top news executive, Senior Vice President Ellen Weiss, submitted her resignation today. It comes in the wake of an external review of the firing of former senior news analyst Juan Williams.
As NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik reports, NPR's board of directors also announced it would pursue additional reforms.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The report concluded today was conducted by the law firm Weil, Gotshal, Manges. It determined that the termination of Juan Williams back in October was perfectly legal, that he was given adequate notice and that NPR donors and interest groups played no part in influencing the decision in any way.
VIVIAN SCHILLER: This has been a very difficult episode for everyone involved at NPR and at our public radio stations, and I regret the impact it's had.
FOLKENFLIK: That's NPR's president and CEO, Vivian Schiller.
SCHILLER: We are looking to accept the board's direction in terms of the recommendations, and many of those are well underway, and they will make NPR even better than it is today.
FOLKENFLIK: The fallout from the incident was unexpected and severe.
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 is credited by many for helping to guide the network through an era of wrenching changes, but the way she dismissed Williams, by phone, became a flashpoint in the debate. Dave Edwards is the chairman of NPR's board of directors.
DAVE EDWARDS: I think we all know that the termination was not handled in the best possible way. Management has previously acknowledged that fact. They've admitted the fact that it was done hastily. And I think we all know that that contributed to a lot of the misunderstandings and criticisms of NPR because of it.
FOLKENFLIK: The episode occurred back in October. Williams appeared on the Fox News Channel, where he was also a paid commentator, and spoke of his fears whenever he saw fellow airline passengers dressed in what he called Muslim garb.
His comments sparked some criticism from Muslims and liberal advocacy groups, who called that racial profiling.
But the termination of Williams's contract quickly became a political firestorm. Conservative commentators called foul, as did some journalists. Republican lawmakers threatened to target funding for public broadcasters, an act that would threaten NPR member stations far more directly than NPR.
Nowhere was the criticism stronger than on Fox News, where opinion hosts made it a cause. Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes gave Williams a three-year, $2 million contract and then called NPR executives Nazis.
Williams declined to comment for this story but spoke to Fox's Megyn Kelly earlier this afternoon, after Weiss's resignation was announced.
Mr. JUAN WILLIAMS (Fox News): I think everybody knows the real story here, and the real story is that you can't go around, you know, treating people like trash and pretending that anybody who has a different point of view is illegitimate.
FOLKENFLIK: Several conservative critics argued the network had been hypocritical, pointing to controversial remarks by other NPR news figures in other outlets. The network says it will review policies about what is appropriate for NPR news staffers to say on other platforms or media outlets with an eye to enforcing them consistently.
NPR's CEO, Schiller, had also come under attack for her own verbal gaffe when she said that Williams, as a journalist, should not be voicing his views but suggesting he should confide them privately, perhaps to a publicist or a psychiatrist. Fox hosts and anchors portrayed that as an effort to paint Williams as in need of psychiatric help.
The NPR board publicly rebuked Schiller, too, saying it backed her but was withholding her bonus for last year. Schiller says she respects the board's take and has apologized for her remark.
As for Ellen Weiss, when asked whether her departure was voluntary, she told me, quote, "Let's just say I made a choice, and I chose to resign."
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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