Commentary Magazine


NPR Keeps Digging

Vivian Schiller, NPR’s CEO, who will be remembered for her firing of Juan Williams and her slander of him thereafter, has apologized. Sort of. Not to him, mind you. She has sent a letter that reads somewhat like a Dilbert cartoon — evidencing all the ham-handedness and nastiness you would expect, coupled with a little dollop of obsequiousness. She has written a letter to her “program colleagues,” revealing that Juan Williams had been warned (i.e., issued a verbal discipline) in the past — another inappropriate disclosure:

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.

She concedes that others could disagree with the decision. (Like every newsperson in America and about 90 percent of the public.) She then vaguely apologizes for the way in which the firing was handled:

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 stand by my decision to end NPR’s relationship with Juan Williams, but deeply regret the way I handled and explained it.

I think she means she’s sorry she didn’t give them talking points, but she’s not ashamed she smeared Williams by suggesting that he talk to his psychiatrist (which he does not have). Not clear whether she also regrets the squirrelly manner of the firing — over the phone (classy, guys). She closes by asking for suggestions.

Here are three. First, fire Schiller, who has brought disgrace (well, more than before) on NPR. She fired a valuable commodity, slandered him, incurred the wrath of the journalistic community, and put her organization’s funding at risk. Forget the morality of it; she’s simply incompetent.

Second, fire all the NPR “analysts” who do precisely what Juan Williams does — offer opinions in public (does that cover cocktail parties, by the way?). If she’s serious about the grave nature of Williams’s offenses, she shouldn’t have singled him out, right? (If a conservative news outlet did this, the NAACP would have picket lines around the building.)

And finally, she promises that “[w]e 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.” That’s a good idea — because if you have no guidelines or hopelessly vague ones, arbitrarily applied, you get yourself in a lot of hot water.