On Wednesday October 20 NPR gave notice to Senior Analyst Juan Williams to terminate his contract with NPR. Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR, and a respected journalist whose work was enjoyed by many listeners and viewers.
The termination was precipitated by Juan’s remarks on The O’Reilly Factor made on Monday evening that NPR management believed violated the NPR ethics guidelines that apply to all journalists working for NPR. That appearance was part of a career as a pundit that often included shoot-from-the-hip conversations that were not in keeping with the more nuanced conversations Juan conducted on National Public Radio. NPR management had warned him numerous times about the conflict with established norms for all NPR journalists and asked him to desist.
WFIU has compiled some of the critical information related to this incident. We are accepting listener comment and posting electronic submissions. We will not be able to contact people for permission to share their comments on this site, so names are withheld. WFIU retains all correspondence in its files.
Journalism on public radio demands accuracy, objectivity, balance, and integrity.
Reporters and analysts working for public radio adhere to these principles and refrain from taking personal public positions on issues they cover to avoid eroding their credibility as objective journalists.
Reporting objectively without infusing one’s own thoughts and positions into the process is a very difficult balance to maintain consistently, and it’s no surprise that sometimes we stumble.
Juan’s comments on the Monday October 18 edition of The O’Reilly Factor were construed by many listeners as an unfortunate stumble, by some as unacceptable stereotyping of an entire group of people, and by others as acceptable reflection of the fears felt by many Americans.
We know that this incident wasn’t the first time that Juan’s public comments stirred controversy, and we understand NPR’s need to address the issue. In particular, we do not believe that Juan, a frequent and eloquent speaker in behalf of civil rights, would have condoned this type of content in NPR broadcasts.
WFIU is not privy to personnel discussions and decisions between NPR and its employees, and we are not in a position to comment about specific terms of the termination.
However, WFIU is troubled with the way the issue was resolved and the abrupt way in which the termination occurred. This was not in keeping with NPR and WFIU aesthetics. We would have encouraged a more thoughtful way of resolution that could have brought about understanding or an amicable parting of ways.
WFIU encourages listeners and viewers to contact NPR directly to express their opinions. Comments addressed to WFIU will be shared with the public.
There are several ways to contact NPR.
NPR Listener Care line (202) 513-3232
Hours: 10am to 5 pm ET, Monday through Friday,
NPR Ombudsman at (202) 513-3245.
To contact WFIU, email email@example.com.
From NPR CEO Vivian Schiller
Wednesday, October 20, NPR gave Juan Williams notice to terminate his contract as a Senior News Analyst for NPR News. NPR did not make this decision lightly or without regret. Juan has been a valuable contributor to NPR and public radio for many years.
However, his remarks on The O’Reilly Factor this past Monday (and others made in the past), violated the NPR ethics guidelines, which applies to all journalists (including contracted analysts). Here’s the language from NPR’s ethics guidelines:
“In appearing on TV or other media… NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows… that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”
Here’s an even more central point – “In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist.”
Unfortunately, Juan’s comments on Fox violated these standards and offended many in doing so.
In addition, note that NPR News analysts have a distinctive set of responsibilities. When an analyst states a personal position publicly on a controversial issue it undermines their credibility as an analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation.
NPR offers views of all kinds on its air and on its website every day, but those views are expressed by those interviewed – not NPR reporters and analysts.
Second, this isn’t the first time NPR had serious concerns about some of Juan’s public comments. Despite many conversations and warnings over the years, Juan has continued to violate this principle, without going into detail.
NPR regrets these circumstances and thanks Juan Williams for his many years of service to NPR and public radio.
Listen to the Morning Edition story on Juan Williams’ termination here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130746229
From NPR’s Ombudsman
NPR’s Ombudsman released a statement yesterday, which can be read here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/. In her statement, Alicia Shepherd writes that:
Juan Williams once again got himself into trouble with NPR for comments he made at his other job, at Fox News. And NPR’s reaction has unleashed an unprecedented firestorm of criticism directed not at Williams – but at NPR.
NPR fired Williams Wednesday night after 10 years with the network for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News.
Thursday was a day like none I’ve experienced since coming to NPR in October 2007. Office phone lines rang non-stop like an alarm bell with no off button. We’ve received more than 8,000 emails, a record with nothing a close second.
NPR’s initial story garnered more than 6,800 comments, many supporting Williams and others asking why it took so long to fire him. Here’s Thursday’s story.
At noon, the deluge of email crashed NPR’s “Contact Us” form on the web site.
The overwhelming majority are angry, furious, outraged. They want NPR to hire him back immediately. If NPR doesn’t, they want all public funding of public radio to stop. They promise to never donate again. They are as mad as hell, and want everyone to know it. It was daunting to answer the phone and hear so much unrestrained anger (via NPR Ombudsman).
An Ombudsman is the public representative for NPR, and serves as an independent resource for NPR programming. As a listener, she is your representative. At the end of her statement, she writes:
I’m not privy to the why this announcement was so hastily made. NPR could have waited until his contract ran out, or possibly suspended him pending a review. Either way, a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.
Even though NPR handled this situation badly, the fact remains that NPR must uphold its journalistic standards, which, after all, provide the basis that earned public radio’s reputation for quality (via NPR Ombudsman).
Listeners respond to NPR’s termination of Juan Williams’ contract:
WFIU will update comments from listeners sent electronically. We do not have the staff resources to place calls seeking permission, so names will be withheld from the website to insure confidentiality. WFIU retains listener correspondence.
A member and supporter of WFIU is concerned that the bad management policies of NPR in DC will adversely affect our fund drive subscriptions. He would like the station to come out with a statement condemning the termination of Williams’ contract. He said NPR was not respecting the First Amendment, and that people in DC live in a vacuum and they appear not to care about local affiliates. He said it was a terrible management style and showed no respect for Williams.
A member from Terre Haute will no longer be listening to NPR because of the Juan Williams termination.
A member called to say he would no longer be donating to our station because of Juan Williams’ firing. He said it was a shame what the national office did to the local station.
Hello, I just recently heard about the firing of Juan Williams, and that’s just shocking to me…it makes me debate heavily whether I want to support NPR, and this is coming from a former NPR employee, I worked there for five years. The likelihood is that I will no longer support NPR. I want to call and register that comment and let you know that someone is paying attention.
Comment from former WFIU employee:
A note to incensed Juan Williams fans: First, your local station had nothing to do with it. Second, it’s really impolite to call the fund drive and excoriate the kindly volunteer who answers. Third, while the Constitution gives you the right to free speech, it doesn’t grant you the right to have the employer of your choice pay you for it. Clear now?
From another listener:
I’ve been a public radio listener for most of my life, back in the 70s I was listening in Chicago. The firing of Juan Williams has outraged me to the point where I am going to be neither a contributor nor a listener any longer. Thank you.