NPR’s board of directors has approved hiring a law firm to review the network’s handling of the termination of Juan Williams‘ contract, and the network has taken steps to address concerns raised by journalists of color.
NPR has hired a second African American on-air reporter, Alex P. Kellogg of the Wall Street Journal, plans to make up for its omission of “All Things Considered” co-anchor Michele Norris from its 40th-year anniversary book and is in the final stages of hiring a senior editor whose job will be to find diverse sources and voices for NPR stories.
The firing of Williams hovered over the first meeting of the NPR board of directors since last month’s events. And while the erstwhile “news analyst” was nowhere in sight, it was obvious that he had emerged the clear winner in the episode.
Williams’ Oct. 20 firing over his remarks about Muslims on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” prompted a backlash that forced NPR to admit that it handled the situation badly. Moreover, Fox News gave Williams a three-year contract worth nearly $2 million. And Natasha Lennard reported Wednesday for Politico:
“. . . According to an e-mail sent by the American Program Bureau to clients and obtained by POLITICO, since his NPR dismissal ‘the demand for Juan Williams as a speaker has been unprecedented; APB’s phones have been ringing off the hook with calls from associations, corporations and universities looking to secure Mr. Williams as a keynote speaker at their next event.”
In his last remarks as NPR board chair, Howard Stevenson said: “Nobody is thankful for where we are, but the past is prologue, and now we have to look to the future. I tend to wish my term had ended two weeks ago,” the blog Current Public Media, which covers public broadcasting, reported on Thursday.
Selected to conduct the review was the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, a 20-office multinational law practice, “highly regarded with considerable expertise in governance issues,” incoming board chair Dave Edwards of Milwaukee Public Radio told the board.
CEO Vivian Schiller added in a note to the NPR staff, “We recommended and the board agreed that it would be prudent to commission an independent, objective third party to review both the process by which the decision was made, and the way it was implemented and communicated.” Williams, a contract employee who was no longer on staff, was fired in a late-night telephone call. Working as a news analyst on NPR but a commentator on Fox News Channel, Williams had said on “The O’Reilly Factor” that Muslims dressed in Muslim garb on planes made him nervous, though it was wrong to discriminate against them.