NPR Exec Resigns After Juan Williams Fiasco

Host Michel Martin and Tell Me More's "digital media guy", Lee Hill, discuss listeners' responses to a recent conversation about body image among Asian-Americans as well as to a profile of freshman Republican Congressman Allen West. Hill also offers an update on the story of NPR's controversial firing of news analyst Juan Williams. The company's top news official, Ellen Wiess, has resigned following results of an independent review of Williams' termination.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

And now it's time for Backtalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere, and get to hear from you, our listeners. Lee Hill, our digital media guy is here with me, as he is most Fridays. Hi, Lee, what's up?

LEE HILL: Hey, Michel. Well, this week we talked about Asian-Americans and the quest to be thin. Magazine publisher Lisa Lee joined us to talk about a piece she wrote about the pressure on Asian-Americans, particularly women, to be very thin.

LISA LEE: I've always been big compared to, like, people in my family, in my extended family. And compared to my mom, you know, when she was my age, she used to brag about how she was a size zero. And I don't think it's really so much that I'm a size 10, but compared to everybody else, that's where things really matter.

HILL: And that touched off a spirited debate in our online forum. And here's a post from Tiffany, who's Korean-American. She writes: I stay between a size four to six and to this day I refer to myself as a big Asian. My parents praising me for having a healthy appetite, then blatantly telling me that I have to lose weight. And I can laugh about it now, but culturally I don't think it will ever go away. Thanks, Tiffany.

But we also received this comment from Narin(ph), who's Cambodian. I really hate when Asians try and speak for all other Asians as if we are all one and the same. It's like a South African, white or black, speaking for all Africans across the continent of Africa. And, Michel, Narin says of our guest, she sounds like an angry and self-conscious chubby Asian girl. Get over it.

MARTIN: Talking about making assumptions about people, Narin. But, thank you for writing.

Switching gears to politics. Lee, you and I and a number of other members of the staff were on Capitol Hill Wednesday. We hosted a special broadcast from the Hill to mark the swearing in of the new Congress. And we spoke to Tea Party favorite, Allen West. He's an African-American Republican congressman and one of the most talked about new members of the House. We were talking about civility and I asked him about comments where he was previously quoted calling President Obama dumb.

ALLEN WEST: I think that when you look at the rules of engagement, when you look at what type of strategic goals and objectives that we're going to have in Afghanistan to lead toward victory, those are the type of things that leaders, that principle leaders, visionary leaders are focused on. So there have been some dumb decisions that have come out of this administration and, as well, out of this Congress.

MARTIN: His comments prompted this note from listener Algerie(ph). She's also African-American, she tells us, and she writes: I love blacks who think differently and have diverse political viewpoints, but I don't respect people who showcase arrogance and ignorance in comments they make disrespecting the president.

HILL: Thanks, Algerie. And, Michel, we also have some housekeeping to do. A few points of clarification for our listeners. Monday we reported how the Indian government recently expressed outrage over the pat down of its ambassador to the United States. It happened at a Mississippi airport. And some say Meera Shankar was targeted because she was wearing a sari, a traditional dress. Well, one of our guests, Shikha Dalmia, criticized the ambassador's being singled out for a number of reasons, but also had this to say.

SHIKHA DALMIA: It is hard for Americans and Westerners in general to understand what a sari means to Indian women. You know, it defines to them, both who they are and also defines to the world who this person is. You know, there has never been a single terrorist incident involving a sari.

HILL: And after hearing that, we received a message from listener Susan who told us, that simply wasn't true. So, I did some digging, Michel, and I called up a terrorism expert, Bruce Hoffman. He's a professor at Georgetown University and has studied terrorism in this country and abroad for over 30 years. And here's what he had to say.

BRUCE HOFFMAN: Women wearing saris have been implicated in suicide terrorist attacks, especially in Sri Lanka, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam used to have a dedicated women's suicide unit. But more specifically, is the assassination in May 1991 of prime ministerial candidate and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by a woman belonging to the Tamil Tigers, of which there is innumerable, either moving images or still photographs of her standing, waiting for Rajiv Gandhi to pass in front of her and then to detonate the explosive that was concealed onto her sari.

MARTIN: Lee, thank you for that reporting and thank you for the listener who brought this to our attention.

Lee, something else we need to clarify. In our December 27th program where we talked about airport security, I incorrectly stated that the September 11th hijackers had been in this country for some time on legitimate student visas, for the most part. That's not true. Listener Ursula Oaks, who is a media relations director for a group that promotes and supports international education, told us the majority of the 9/11 hijackers were not in the United States on student visas. One of the 19 hijackers used a student visa to enter the United States. Later, two others applied for a change of status to student. But the rest of them, 16, held tourist or business visas.

HILL: Thanks, Ursula, for that. And now an update to a story that raged for days, just three months ago. That's when NPR was at the center of a media firestorm over the abrupt dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams. Now, you may recall that on the Fox News Channel program "The O'Reilly Factor," Juan admitted to being nervous when he sees Muslims dressed in, quote, "Muslim garb" at the airport.

Now, Michel, the staff here at NPR learned yesterday that our senior vice president for news, Ellen Weiss, has resigned following the completion of an independent review of that situation. And for her role in the matter, and the aftermath, the NPR board of directors expressed, quote, "concern," and also voted to deny NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller a 2010 bonus.

MARTIN: Thank you, Lee.

HILL: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And, remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Please remember to leave your name. Or go to NPR.org, click on Programs, then on TELL ME MORE, and blog it out.

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