News analyst Juan William contends that National Public Radio (NPR) promotes an “incestuous” organizational culture that is “not open to real news.” Williams’ scathing comments followed an independent review of his firing in October, which in turn led to the resignation of NPR news executive Ellen Weiss on Thursday.
Weiss fired the affable Williams for confessing on Fox News that he sometimes gets nervous when flying with Muslims dressed in traditional garb.
Shortly after the firing, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said during remarks to the Atlanta Press Club that Williams should have kept his feelings between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.”
On Thursday, Williams told Fox News host Megyn Kelly: “The whole idea was to demean me, and make me to appear as if I was not only a lunatic who needed a psychiatrist, but I was a loose cannon and not a professional news person.”
Schiller later apologized to Williams for what she described as “my thoughtless remark.”
The firing touched off a storm of criticism from conservative leaders who slammed NPR for rampant political correctness and liberal bias.
Among those coming to Williams’ defense: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In November, a GOP proposal to yank all public funds for NPR was defeated largely along party lines, 239 to 171. Some members of the incoming 112th Congress have promised to reintroduce the defunding bill, however, as the tea party-led House puts federal spending under a microscope.
The law firm conducting the independent review made several recommendations, including new policies and procedures to “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.”
“I’m gonna try and stay away from bitter feelings,” Williams said on Fox News, which gave a $2 million contract for an expanded role there immediately after NPR fired him.
Schiller sent a message to NPR staff suggesting that Weiss had decided to resign on her own. She praised Weiss for exemplary “journalistic professionalism and integrity.”
“I can’t help but say, Megyn, it’s quite a contrast to how they treated me,” Williams said. “But you know what, I mean, if they want to be Pravda, if they want to issue propaganda like that, fine.
“But I think everybody knows the real story here. And the real story is that you can’t go around treating people like trash and pretending that anybody who has a different point of view is illegitimate.”
In addition to announcing resignation of Weiss, the NPR board announced that, because of its “concern” about Schiller’s role in Williams’ firing, it had voted not to award Schiller a 2010 bonus. But the board also voiced its firm confidence in Schiller’s leadership, who will continue to lead the organization.
“They’ve made their decision, they can live with it,” Williams said. “All I’m telling you is that they’ve got a culture there that’s not open to real news, that’s not open to all points of view, that’s not open to the real world around us and to the many different dynamic perspectives and life stories that animate the news in America.”
Kelly asked Williams whether NPR’s response to the incident should ease concerns about the organization’s perceived bias.
“They gotta see what comes next,” Williams said. “Because what has happened in the past is you had someone there like Ellen Weiss there at the top of the news division, and she was pushing out anybody who had a different point of view about the world or the news or bringing different kinds of stories to the table . . . she has kept along her pals, her friends, who all think alike.”
Weiss had worked at NPR in a variety of roles since 1982.
“It’s become highly ingrown if not incestuous in terms of their perspectives,” Williams said. “And they protect each other and they push everybody else out, you know: ‘You’re not one of us, you’re not one of the original team.’”
Young people and those of “different races” find NPR “a very difficult environment in which to present and report the news,” he said, adding that NPR needs different leadership in its news division.
He added: “So the question is do they simply go back and get someone else who is also part of that culture? Or do they finally start to break out and acknowledge that, ‘You know what, we have responsibilities to the wider world. We can’t pretend that we’re somehow special, that government funding through the member stations is going to protect us from what the world thinks and what the world views us to be.’”
NPR announced that Margaret Low Smith, programming vice president, will serve in place of Weiss until a permanent replacement is found.
NPR initially claimed that public funding amounts to just 1 to 3 percent of its $166 million budget. A Congressional Research Service report fixed the public contribution at 4 percent, or $6.64 million. Other estimates say the subsidy is significantly higher, however.
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