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NPR CEO Apologizes For Handling Of Williams' Termination

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller apologized to the organization's employees Sunday night for the handling of  the termination of the contract of former senior news analyst Juan Williams.

But Schiller again said the decision to part ways with Williams was the right call.

In the memo, Schiller said she failed to adequately prepare the staff for the move — and to prepare her public explanation of it. Williams' termination last Wednesday night followed remarks he made about Muslims on the Fox News Channel. Though he said on the network's The O'Reilly Factor that it is wrong to brand all Muslims as terrorists, he also said he gets nervous when he sees someone in "Muslim garb" on an airplane.

NPR said the comment was just the most recent in a series of things Williams has said while offering commentary on Fox that violated NPR's standards because they venture into the realm of opinion rather than analysis. His firing has stirred public criticism, largely from conservatives and from Fox News personalities — but from other journalists and listeners, too.

Williams said last week that he believes he was fired because "I appear on Fox" — where he has been a paid contributor and had his contract extended following the dismissal by NPR.

In Sunday's memo, Schiller also said she regrets that NPR executives did not meet with Williams in person to discuss their decision. But Schiller said the comments represented "the latest in a series of deeply troubling incidents" — and that Williams had previously been warned that the things he had said violated NPR standards.

Schiller said she was apologizing for the situation's handling separately to NPR member stations, many of which were in the middle of fundraising drives last week.

On Thursday, Schiller issued a statement of apology after saying that Williams should have kept his feelings about Muslims between himself and "his psychiatrist or his publicist." She conceded that she "spoke hastily, and I apologize to Juan and others for my thoughtless remark."

"Dear Colleagues,

"I want to apologize to you for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with Juan Williams. While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to better prepare our messaging and to provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode. As I’m telling our Member stations in a separate memo today, I also regret that this happened when the staff and volunteers of many stations were deeply engaged in pledge drives. 

"This was a decision of principle, made to protect NPR’s integrity and values as a news organization. Juan's comments on Fox News last Monday were the latest in a series of deeply troubling incidents over several years. In each of those instances, he was contacted and the incident was discussed with him. He was explicitly and repeatedly asked to respect NPR's standards and to avoid expressing strong personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings, as that is inconsistent with his role as an NPR news analyst. After this latest incident, we felt compelled to act.  I acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree about timing: whether NPR should have ended our relationship with Juan earlier, on the occasion of other incidents; or whether this final episode warranted immediate termination of his contract. 

"In any event, the process that followed the decision was unfortunate — including not meeting with Juan in person — and I take full responsibility for that. We have already begun a thorough review of all aspects of our performance in this instance, a process that will continue in the coming days and weeks. 

"The news and media world is changing swiftly and radically; traditional standards and practices are under siege. This requires us to redouble our attention to how we interpret and live up to our values and standards. We will also review and re-articulate our written ethics guidelines to make them as clear and relevant as possible for staff, Member stations and the public, and we will look for productive ways to include many of you in that endeavor.  

"It was clear from Friday's all staff meeting that you have deep feelings about NPR’s culture, our commitment to diversity and how we communicate. I have deep feelings about those things too. We are working to tackle them, though clearly this latest incident has given them fresh urgency. 

"In the meantime, I want to express confidence in NPR's  — in your! — integrity and dedication to the highest values in journalism, and our shared commitment to serving as a national forum for the respectful discussion of diverse ideas. They are why we will continue to earn the support of a growing audience. 

"I stand by my decision to end NPR's relationship with Juan, but deeply regret the way I handled and explained it. You have my pledge that your executive team and I will reflect on all aspects of our actions, and strive to improve in the future.

"Respectfully,

"Vivian"

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