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NPR Apologizes...But Not to Williams

"This was a decision of principle..."

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller has issued an apology in the Juan Williams firing incident. The mia culpa, however, is not addressed to Williams, but to employees who are "on the front lines every day" and are dealing with the fallout.

"I want to apologize for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with news analyst Juan Williams," the letter addressed to employees, and obtained by Politico, begins. "While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode."

Schiller goes on to say that the decision was made to "protect NPR's integrity and values," and that Williams routinely engaged in "deeply troubling" incidents that violated NPR's standards.

What were the egregious acts that violated NPR's standards? According to Schiller, it was Williams expressing his opinions: "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." [Emphasis added]

Recognizing that many have questioned the timing of the firings, including Glenn Beck who has noticed that the axing come at the same time as liberal financier George Soros donated $1.8 million to the news outlet, Schiller somewhat surprisingly suggests that instead of waiting to fire Williams she may be culpable for not firing him earlier:

I acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree about timing: whether NPR should have ended its relationship with Juan Williams earlier, on the occasion of other incidents; or whether this final episode warranted immediate termination of his contract.

The closest thing to an apology to Williams comes near the end of the letter, where Schiller says she takes "full responsibility" for the "unfortunate" decision to fire Williams over the phone instead of in person.

The full letter is available below:

Dear Program Colleagues,

I want to apologize for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with news analyst Juan Williams. While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode. I know you all felt the reverberations and are on the front lines every day responding to your listeners and talking to the public

This was a decision of principle, made to protect NPR’s integrity and values as a news organization. Juan Williams’ 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 its relationship with Juan Williams 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 Williams 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. We will also review and re-articulate our written ethics guidelines to make them as clear and relevant as possible for our acquired show partners, our staff, Member stations and the public.

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 are confident that NPR’s integrity and dedication to the highest values in journalism and our commitment to serving as a national forum for the respectful discussion of diverse ideas will continue to earn the support of a growing audience.

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

Please feel free to share your concerns and suggestions.

Respectfully,

Vivian Schiller

One last thing…
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