Jan 6, 2011

NPR news exec resigns in wake of Williams firing

NPR released two memos today. The first says NPR must update its ethics guidelines based on an independent review of news analyst Juan Williams's firing. The second says Ellen Weiss, senior vice president of news at NPR and the person who called Williams to give him the boot, has resigned. The two memos are connected, obviously, though its not yet clear whether Weiss was forced out or bolted because of the NPR board's blatant meddling in news business.

Copies of both memos are here.

According to the first memo, the NPR board has demanded the news division establish a committee to review and update its code of ethics, both to ensure NPR journalists doing work for outside media outlets have more free rein and so the news division's "practices encourage a broad range of viewpoints to assist its decision-making, support its mission, and reflect the diversity of its national audiences"

The NPR board also gave CEO Vivian Schiller a renewed vote of confidence, but has withheld her bonus for 2010.

The second memo, written by Schiller, offers some background on Weiss's tenure at NPR and says who will step in for her until a new senior vice president of news is named, but it offers no detail on why she left. Was she forced out to give House Republicans their pound of flesh? Or is her exit a protest over how NPR has handled the Williams affair?

Here's more from NPR's news blog, which steps lightly around the connection between Weiss and Williams:
For background on the Juan Williams dismissal, you might start here. Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudsman, previously said that the firing "was poorly handled." Williams previously said he thinks he was fired because "I appear on Fox." Weiss was the NPR executive who informed Williams of his dismissal, which came after he said on Fox News Channel that he gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" on airplanes. NPR said the remark was the latest in a pattern of problem comments made by Williams over recent years.

As NPR's David Folkenflik reports for our newscast, after Williams' dismissal "conservatives blasted NPR, and Fox News' most prominent opinion hosts made a cause of it. Republican lawmakers threatened to cut federal funding for public broadcasters."

As for the review done by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, David summarizes the findings this way: "It found that the termination of Williams' contract was entirely legal. But the board said the report called for a full review of the company's policies on ethics and outside appearances and for them to be applied consistently to all personnel."

He adds that 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."

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