The other Juan Williams shoe drops on NPR executive

NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller took a ton of heat for the way she fired former commentator Juan Williams after he appeared in his role on FoxNews and acknowledged being nervous when Muslims are on board.

There were more than a few people who wondered whether Schiller would survive the public relations mess. Now we know. She did. A lower executive didn’t.

Today, NPR issued this memo, which buries the news that Ellen Weiss, the senior vice president for news, was resigned.

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.

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).”

Schiller then issued her own memo which praises Weiss. If you’re in any sort of corporation, you’ve probably seen this before: A person “resigns” followed by a wink and nod. If Weiss departure wasn’t because of the Williams fiasco, why mention it in a memo about the Williams fiasco.

“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.”

None of the official material says what it is that Weiss did wrong. For that, however, we have this tweet from NPR reporter David Folkenflik.

folkenflik_tweet.jpg

Weiss gave this lecture at Stanford four months before the controversy:

Update 3:50 p.m. – James Fallows, who occasionally does some work for NPR, writes:

Is letting her go, for one episode (with Williams), any worse than letting Williams go for one comment on Fox News (that he got nervous when people in “Muslim garb” got on an airplane)? Structurally they might seem the same. But NPR’s day-after explanation about Williams was that this was the culmination of years-long disagreements with him about his role as a Fox commentator. I know nothing first-hand about the merits of that explanation; but its essence is different from Weiss’s situation, in which one instance of misjudgment appears to trump her reputation and achievement over the decades. I am sorry for her and for NPR — and for the likelihood that in the politicized battle over the meaning of “news” I wrote about originally, she will be presented on the Fox side as a “liberal” scalp collected in atonement for Williams’s. That’s political reductionism, of which we have so much these days, when we need more people who, like Weiss, have been trying hard to send explanatory reportorial probes out into the world. [For the record: I’ve had outside roles as a commentator or analyst on NPR shows over the years, never as a staff member.]

Update 5:37 p.m. : Weiss has made her first comments to the Los Angeles Times. “What I would say is that the decision to terminate the Juan Williams contract by NPR, of which I was a participant, was based on the highest journalistic standards,” Weiss said Thursday.

  • Bob Moffitt

    You know how it is in this business…here today, Juan tommorow.

    Personally, I have no problem in William’s firing, or how it was handled. Or in Weiss’s “resignation.”

  • jfh

    Heh. Weiss still doesn’t get it, does she?

    It’s not about her journalistic and management skills, it’s about her commingling them with her politics.

  • John P.

    “She accepted responsibility as CEO and cooperated fully with the review process. ”

    Am I the only one who is really tired of people accepting responsibility but then suffering no consequences? What does that exactly mean? It seems to me the Ms. Weiss is the one who has been given the responsibility, whether she accepts it or not.