1:38pm

Thu January 6, 2011
The Two-Way

Review Of Juan Williams' Firing Done; NPR News Exec Resigns

(8 a.m. ET, Jan. 7: We've added quite a bit to this post, as you'll see below. The additions include comments from Ellen Weiss, the NPR news executive who has resigned, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and Juan Williams -- the news analyst who was dismissed last October, setting in motion the events that led to today's announcements. Read through to see how the story developed. We're rearranging things so that it's all in chronological order, starting with our original post.)

NPR just released two statements -- one on the completion of an independent review of last year's dismissal of news analyst Juan Williams and another on the resignation of Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss:

"Washington, DC January 6, 2011 -- The NPR Board of Directors announced today that it has completed its review into the facts and circumstances leading to the termination of NPR's contract with senior news analyst Juan Williams. The review also included an examination of how other NPR analysts and correspondents have been treated under the NPR Ethics Code with respect to on-air comments. The independent members of NPR's Board (the “Board”) worked with outside legal counsel, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP (“Weil”), to gather information related to the contract termination.

"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.  Specifically, the Board adopted recommendations that NPR:

"-- Establish a committee comprised of NPR personnel, respected journalists, and others from outside NPR to review and update NPR’s current Ethics Code (the “Code”).

"-- Develop policies and procedures to ensure consistent application of and training on the Code to all employees and contractors.

"-- Review and update policies/training with respect to the role of NPR journalists appearing on other media outlets to ensure that they understand the applicability of the Ethics Code to their work and to facilitate equitable and consistent application of the Code.

"-- Review and define the roles of NPR journalists (including news analysts) to address a changing news environment in which such individuals have a myriad of outlets and new platforms for their talent, balancing the opportunities presented by such outlets and platforms with the potential for conflicts of interest that may compromise NPR’s mission.

"-- Ensure that its practices encourage a broad range of viewpoints to assist its decision-making, support its mission, and reflect the diversity of its national audiences.  The Human Resources Committee of the Board is working in conjunction with key members of NPR management on this issue.

"-- Williams' contract was terminated in accordance with its terms.  The contract gave both parties the right to terminate on 30 days’ notice for any reason.  The facts gathered during the review revealed that the termination was not the result of special interest group or donor pressure.  However, because of concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process, the Board additionally recommended that certain actions be taken with regard to management involved in Williams’ contract termination.

"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.

" '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,' said Dave Edwards, Chair. '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.'

"In conducting the review, Weil gathered thousands of documents from various sources and interviewed many current and former NPR employees and contractors.  Weil requested Williams’ participation in the review through both his agent and a former NPR colleague.  Unfortunately, these efforts were unsuccessful and Williams was not interviewed.

"The Ad Hoc Committee and the non-management members of the Board met on multiple occasions and deliberated on the information provided to them.  Weil reported to an Ad Hoc Committee of the NPR Board consisting of Dave Edwards (Chair of the Board), Howard Stevenson (Immediate Past Chair), and Carol Cartwright (Vice-Chair)."

In addition, this message just went to NPR staff from NPR CEO Vivian Schiller:

"Dear Staff,

"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. Margaret is an accomplished newswoman. She spent nearly 14 years in the news division, ultimately as a senior producer for All Things Considered, before she joined NPR’s senior management team. She knows our programming, staff, and stations well, and she is a talented executive and leader. Eric Nuzum will oversee the programming division during this interim period. Margaret and I will be meeting with different departments in News over the next few days. I will distribute a proposed schedule for those meetings shortly.

"In the coming weeks we will begin a search for Ellen’s replacement. The position will be posted on NPR.org, and we expect a strong slate of both internal and external candidates. Margaret has indicated that she will not be a candidate for the position.

"The NPR Board of Directors has also completed the review of the events leading to the termination of Juan Williams’ contract as a part-time news analyst. This independent review was undertaken at the request of the NPR Board and performed by the Weil firm. Attached is the Board’s statement. There is no written 'report' aside from this statement, which summarizes the overall outcome of the Weil review. This is typical for this kind of outside review.

"As you will see, the review surfaces important issues that I have committed to address in terms of how we operate internally. Most of the actions to be taken are already in process. The review of NPR’s News Code of Ethics and Social Media Policy is underway to assure that the guidelines are clear, consistent, and relevant to today’s media environment. That will be followed by information sessions for all News staff and some outside the newsroom. We’ve also strengthened our termination procedures and our communications protocols.

"This has been a difficult period for all of us. Now is the time to focus on what we can do to make NPR an even stronger organization and a more meaningful part of daily life for the millions who depend on us each week. I am committed to making NPR one of the best places to work and a rewarding experience for all employees."

- Vivian

We'll have more as this story develops.

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."

Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. Two things to note from the board's statement, in case you read through it quickly:

-- "Williams' contract was terminated in accordance with its terms. The contract gave both parties the right to terminate on 30 days’ notice for any reason. The facts gathered during the review revealed that the termination was not the result of special interest group or donor pressure. However, because of concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process, the Board additionally recommended that certain actions be taken with regard to management involved in Williams' contract termination."

-- The board "expressed concern over [Schiller's] role in the termination process and has voted that she will not receive a 2010 bonus."

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. Here is the audio of David's report for the NPR newscast:

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET: On Fox News Channel (where he now works) Williams just blasted NPR.

He accused the organization of trying to "demean me and make me appear like a lunatic" when he was dismissed, said that NPR -- in its statement about Weiss -- treated her far better than he was treated, and said that "the real story is that you can't go around treating people like trash."

Williams compared Schiller's statement about Weiss to propaganda issues by Pravda.

Update at 3:50 p.m. ET: Fox has posted video of Williams reacting to the news (we passed along some of his comments earlier).

For a different (but still critical) view on how NPR handled Williams' dismissal, we refer you again to this post from NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard headlined "NPR's Firing Of Juan Williams Was Poorly Handled."

Also: As you can see in the statement from the board, a "committee comprised of NPR personnel, respected journalists, and others from outside NPR" has been created "to review and update NPR's current ethics code." Full disclosure: This blogger has been named to that committee. We've had one organizational meeting and will be meeting again several times in coming weeks.

Update at 5:20 p.m. ET. On All Things Considered just moments ago, David added more to the story:

-- Weiss, asked whether her departure was voluntary, answered "let's just say, I made a choice; and I chose to resign."

-- Edwards, the chairman of NPR's board, said of the Williams dismissal that "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."

-- Schiller said "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."

Weiss has also spoken to the Los Angeles Times' Big Picture blog. It says she "called her decision to step down Thursday ... 'extremely hard', but declined to criticize NPR or back away from her decision to fire Juan Williams, the action that led to her downfall."

Update at 8 a.m. ET, Jan. 7: David updated his report for All Things Considered, to include the news that Edwards said the NPR board had no involvement with Weiss' departure, and that Weiss said she only discussed the matter with Schiller. Weiss also told David the decision to resign was traumatic.

Today, on Morning Edition, David followed up with another report: Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.