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.

Schiller repeated during the two-day meeting that believes she was justified in terminating Williams' contract but that "the matter was handled badly. I take full responsibility."

Board members, who met mostly in executive session but twice opened the meeting to public view, betrayed no indication of displeasure with Schiller. Nor did any NPR listeners or critics; no one came to the microphone in the time designated for public comments.

Williams' status as the only African American staff voice on the air throughout most of his NPR career gave the episode racial implications. Some black staffers asked whether a white employee would have been treated as Williams was and wondered aloud whether African Americans were disappearing one by one.

In August, however, NPR hired Corey Dade, a Wall Street Journal reporter and a black journalist, as a Washington-based digital news correspondent. Now Kellogg, who has covered urban Detroit, the auto-company bankruptcies and other Michigan topics for the Wall Street Journal's Detroit bureau, has been hired to report on diversity and other issues, spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm told Journal-isms.

Kellogg was actually hired before the Williams firing, though it is only now being disclosed. He first appeared in this space in 2007 when he was working for the Detroit Free Press and Barack Obama'sracial bona fides were being questioned. Kellogg, whose mother is a white American and father a black Eritrean, wrote about being an "African American" like Obama. He worked as a journalist in East Africa for three years, and the Sierra Club published an 5,000-word essay from him on the irony of being black in America yet considered closer to white in Africa.

Rehm also said NPR was in the "final selection process" for a senior editor to increase the diversity of sources used by NPR journalists. Referring to Keith Woods, picked by Schiller last year to be vice president of diversity in news and operations, Rehm said the senior-editor idea came from "a pilot project that Keith and News management initiated. A rotation of news staff were taken off their regular jobs to focus on finding new sources and voices; it worked so well that the decision was made to find a way to create a full time senior position devoted to this."

The senior editor's jurisdiction would be "newsroom wide and also across all the shows."

Meanwhile, the network moved to make redress after its embarrassment over the exclusion of Michele Norris, co-host of its popular afternoon news show "All Things Considered," from "This is NPR," the network's holiday-timed book about NPR's 40 years.

"Norris was asked to contribute a chapter, along with other staffers or people who appear regularly on NPR for the book, which weaves the stories into a chronological history. Other contributors includeCokie RobertsNina TotenbergP.J. O'Rourke and Paula Poundstone. But because she was on sabbatical writing her own book, 'The Grace of Silence: A Memoir,' Norris couldn't contribute an essay and was not included anywhere else, said NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm, media writer Eric Deggans reported last week for his St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times blog.

Rehm told Journal-isms that Norris would be in the next available edition. The first, of 18,000 copies, is already in stores, and a spokeswoman for Chronicle Books, the publisher, said the second printing is due out at the end of the month.

Journal-isms reached Norris by e-mail in California, where she is on book tour. For "This Is NPR," she said she was told that "Morning Edition" co-host Steve Inskeep "is writing a lovely essay about our work together on York."

Norris’ own "The Grace of Silence: A Memoir" grew out of an NPR reporting project on race during the 2008 presidential campaign. She and Inskeep recorded conversations with a cross-section of York, Pa., area residents.

Michele Norris blog: A Veteran's Day Remembrance

First Lady to Host White House Screening of 'Colored Girls'
First lady Michelle Obama, just back from a relatively noncontroversial trip to Asia with her husband, is wading into a cultural thicket on her return. She is hosting a private White House screening of Tyler Perry's film "For Colored Girls," Journal-isms has learned.

The Perry film, based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 "choreopoem" "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf," has been criticized for its portrayals of black men but praised for giving voice to black women's struggles with emotional obstacles.

Obama plans to show the film primarily for staff at a Tuesday gathering in the White House theater. No word on whether the president will attend. It is White House policy not to comment on activities in the residence, a spokeswoman said.

The first lady accompanied President Obama abroad last week, dancing and playing hopscotch with disadvantaged children in Mumbai, India; joining schoolgirls in New Delhi on a field trip through a museum of Indian craft work; paying a first-time visit to Indonesia, where her husband spent part of his childhood; and surprising U.S. servicemen and women in Germany on Veterans Day, serving them steaks at a special meal.

Mark Corece, theDailyVoice.com: For Colored Girls, No Seriously it is

Hill Harper, theRoot.com: Not Dealing With Depression 

Gregory Kane, BlackAmericaWeb.com, Hate the Male-Bashing, Love the 'Colored' Cast 

Rashod Ollison, Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.: It’s time for better black movies than Perry’s tales of woe 

Courtland Milloy and Vanessa Williams, Washington Post: On 'For Colored Girls' (video discussion)

Salamishah Tillet, theRoot.com: Black Feminism, Tyler Perry Style 

Miki Turner, myjet247.com: On 'For Colored Girls' 

 

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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.