NPR’s CEO is apologizing to colleagues for how she handled Juan Williams’ firing, saying she stands by her decision to sack the longtime news analyst over his comments about Muslims but should have done more to help member stations cope with the fallout.
NPR fired Williams Oct. 20, two days after he appeared on Fox News saying he gets “worried” and “nervous” when he sees people “in Muslim garb” on airplanes. Since then, NPR has come under fire from the right and left, with conservative commentators and media personalities alike defending Williams’ right to free speech and decrying his former employer as being too “politically correct.”
CEO Vivian Schiller’s apology came in a memo to member stations sent out late Sunday, according to Politico.
“I want to apologize for not doing a better job of handling the termination of our relationship with news analyst Juan Williams. While we stand firmly behind that decision, I regret that we did not take the time to prepare our program partners and provide you with the tools to cope with the fallout from this episode,” she wrote, acknowledging that NPR stations felt “reverberations” from the public.
This is actually Schiller’s second public apology over the Williams debacle. On Oct. 21, Schiller spoke at the Atlanta Press Club, where she told the audience that Williams should have kept his feeling about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.” Hours later, she issued a statement apologizing for speaking “hastily” and making a “thoughtless remark,” according to an NPR blog.
The same day, NPR’s own ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, said she agreed with the decision to fire Williams but wrote on her blog that she believes “NPR handled this situation badly” and that Williams deserved “a chance to explain himself.”
In Schiller’s memo to member stations, she said she regretted the fact that she fired Williams over the phone rather than meeting with him in person, and said his firing was the result of “a series of deeply troubling incidents over several years.”
“He was explicitly and repeatedly asked to respect NPR’s standards and to avoid expressing strong personal opinions on controversial subjects in public settings, as that is inconsistent with his role as an NPR news analyst,” she wrote. “After this latest incident, we felt compelled to act.”
“The process that followed the decision was unfortunate — including not meeting with Juan Williams in person — and I take full responsibility for that,” she wrote.
Williams has accused NPR of firing him for “telling the truth” and for his appearances on NPR’s more popular rival Fox News. Williams has since signed a $2 million contract with Fox.