UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi reports NPR staff are upset with the resignation of Senior Vice President of News Ellen Weiss, who spent her entire career at NPR, rising from the ranks to lead a resurgence of the storied news organization. Some inside public radio see it as a capitulation to conservatives.
Some blamed congressional conservatives and Fox News – which had repeatedly denounced NPR since the October firing – for inflaming the situation, which led to the resignation on Thursday of Ellen Weiss, NPR’s senior vice president for news. Weiss was the NPR executive who terminated Williams for saying he was "nervous" flying on a plane with people in "Muslim garb" on Bill O’Reilly’s TV program. Since his firing, Williams signed a three-year contract with Fox for almost $2 million.
"We have allowed Fox News to define the debate," wrote Peter Block, a member of the board of Cincinnati Public Radio, in a posting to an e-mail group consisting of public radio managers. He added, "I do not think this kind of capitulation [by NPR] assures the future of an independent press. . . . Democracy is on the line and NPR is one of the last bastions of its possibility." Block said in an interview that NPR’s reaction "lacked integrity." NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, also pointed to Fox, noting in her column, that the Williams "incident has become a partisan issue in Washington’s hothouse atmosphere, with Republicans (egged on by Fox News) using it as a rallying cry to demand that NPR be ‘defunded’ by the federal government."
Staffers wouldn’t be quoted criticizing NPR’s action, though it is typical of its lack of courage. They were probably afraid of retaliation from Schiiller and the board. Instead the staff remind us of what was lost
Guy Raz, who hosts the weekend edition of "All Things Considered," called Weiss "the finest journalist I ever worked for. . . . She’s a pretty legendary figure in the newsroom. For many people, she’s an inspiration that you could start at the bottom and make it to the top if you worked hard it. It’s a cliche, but she really set the standard for integrity."
Some employees interviewed Friday steered clear of criticizing NPR’s upper management, but Raz said there was some anger in the newsroom. "It’s a pretty natural reaction," he said. "Yeah, I think we’re angry because she was such a good leader. She really knew how to lead this organization," he said.
Economics reporter Adam Davidson said Weiss had "the single most important role in the development of NPR over the past 20 years. . . . I don’t think there’s anyone in the history of public radio who has had as positive an impact. I’m shaken and shocked" by her exit.
In the last day, however, we learn that the dog didn’t eat NPR’s records. At least we know what Vivian Schiller, the chief executive who, of course, kept her job, even though she agreed with the firing and made sarcastic remarks about Williams at the time.
According to tax records released by NPR on Friday, Schiller received a bonus of $112,500 in May 2010, about 17 months after she was hired by the Washington-based organization. This was in addition to a base salary of $450,000. The bonus was included in her hiring package, NPR said.
Don’t you love it when news organizations exhibit the same blatant obfuscation that they deplore when practiced by corporations, politicians or other organizations?
Take NPR, for the latest example. Yesterday, NPR released a report finding that the news editor who fired Juan Williams over his controversial remarks and NPR’s president who supported the action, while acting within the law, had a quick trigger finger. The board, of course, wouldn’t exactly say that the firing was justified or that it was unfair. It was just too, oh, decisive. I guess the bleeding heart softies at NPR would have preferred bringing in Williams for a chat and letting him down easy. Maybe giving him an NPR coffee mug with his pink slip.
Meanwhile, they let the news editor Ellen Weiss take the fall, forcing her to resign, while NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller was punished by withholding her bonus for this year.
When asked by The Washington Post about that bonus:
Schiller said she "fully accepted" the board’s decision to cancel her bonus, which she said had not been determined for the current fiscal year. (Schiller could not recall the amount of her bonus in fiscal 2009, and NPR said it did not have that information.)
Really? Schiller couldn’t remember the size of her bonus? OK, maybe it was figured by some kind of arcane formula down to the precise cent. Which wouldn’t be unexpected at NPR where they probably have tortured their accountants to come up with a calculation that is “fair.” But she couldn’t give us a ball park figure? Say, $2,000, or $200,000 or $2 and an NPR tote bag? But then NPR says it “did not have that information”? Do they burn their books after each fiscal year? Did the dog eat the records?