Thursday, October 21, 2010

VPR Responds to Dismissal of Juan Williams by NPR

Dear Listeners:

This morning we began to hear from listeners who were concerned about NPR’s decision to terminate news analyst Juan Williams’ contract after remarks he made on the Fox News program, The O’Reilly Factor.

You can learn more about NPR’s decision, and the attention that it has generated, by visiting their website. The rationale that NPR has provided for their actions today is based on their view that his comments were, “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a News Analyst with NPR.”

NPR produces many of the programs that Vermont Public Radio (VPR) chooses to broadcast, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered. As a separate independent news organization, VPR holds its staff to the highest standards in professional ethics. Issues such as these are complex and weighed very carefully. We abide by the NPR News Code of Ethics which includes the following statement: “Our coverage must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest.” As journalists, “we are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that leaves no question about our independence and fairness.”

This is not the first time that a decision at NPR has generated a response by our listeners. We have reached out to NPR asking for more details on the rationale for their dismissal of Williams and await their reply. If you would like to contact NPR directly you can do so by calling the NPR Listener Care Line at (202) 513-3232 (open from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) or via their website.

As always, we appreciate hearing from our listeners, whether it is positive feedback or constructive criticism.


Robin Turnau
President and CEO
Vermont Public Radio

UPDATE (10/25/10): NPR CEO Apologizes For Handling Of Williams' Termination.

UPDATE (10/22/10): NPR's Ombudsman Alicia Shepard shares her view in a post titled, "NPR's Firing of Juan Williams Was Poorly Handled."


  1. NPR has had a history of "turning a blind eye" when there are people from the far left saying something terrible. There is a woman who said something to the effect she wished a politician would get aids or his grandchildren would as poetic justice, she still works for NPR. NPR also hired a person who had been convicted for killing a cop and hired him as a talking head. Is this latest Juan Williams thing related to George Soros' recently claimed "War on Fox"?

  2. Journalist Bob Woodward shares about his TBI, Journalist Harry Smith shows the insides of his colon, but Journalist Juan Williams can't be empathetic with viewers who have had an uncomfortable feeling?

    What Williams expressed was only the very human feeling related to "fight or flight" that each of feels -- regardless of politics, race, religion, etc -- simply because we are human beings in a setting where we encounter people or things that are unfamiliar. Period. Did NPR do a study to see if Muslims are initially uncomfortable being on a plane with mostly people in non-Muslim garb? Did they study or open a textbook on human response when in transition or other new experiences? If the decision-makers on this had bothered to check the facts, then they might have empathy for Williams' honesty. Thank you, Mr. Williams for telling the truth, even it is politically incorrect in some circles. The only way that America can come to grips with this Muslim v. non-Muslim issue is by having honest discussions and not by threatening people who have unpopular opinions or experiences to share (it's a little thing we like to call free speech).

  3. Shame on NPR. No pretense of being fair and unbiased here. Polical agenda. . .you bet. Sorry VPR, you've just lost a sustaining member for your lack of doing the right thing and not supporting an important American values - free speech.

  4. Journalist Bob Woodward discussed his feelings about his TBI when reporting on that topic and Journalist Harry Smith was way too close up and personal with film of the inside of his colon on TV. VPR, did you distance yourself from them for crossing the same line as you claim Juan Williams has done? His situation was to disclose that he once had a very human "fight or flight" feeling and he got over it.

    All 3 "Journalists" were connecting empathetically with their audiences in the name of presenting personal information in a credible way that was on task. Do you need to be reminded that acting with integrity IS acting ethically? Just because you HAVE a policy does not automatically mean it's a good or just one.

    Journalists are biased -- all 3 had something to add because they were honest about their perspectives. Mr. Williams appears to have been in a dialogue mode when he made his comments about his having had a normal, human "fight or flight" feeling. Even though I am not a FoxNews fan, I am truly puzzled by NPR's insistence on political correctedness that outweighs that of Fox!

    What's next? Will VPR lockstep agree with NPR if it shut down Garrison Keillor for lack of journalistic integrity for his reporting of the news from Lake Wobegon?

    Will VPR censor me in this blog for not supporting the dominant paradigm?

    As a result, I cannot support giving VPR my money to spend on NPR at this time. I am comfortable with VPR or NPR giving me information or views that challenge my thinking, even if I don't agree, I am not looking for doctrine from you.

    Dave, Westminster West

  5. Very disappointed with NPR decision to fire Juan Williams. If appearing as a commentator on Fox News is not a violation of his contract with NPR, he shouldn't have been fired for what he said on Fox News.

    Margo Howland

  6. Juan Williams shouldn't have been fired for this, but he should have been let go a long time ago. Being on Fox and NPR was not appropriate, and it's especially inappropriate for Mara Liasson, who also should be let go. I would like to know how much NPR paid Juan Williams for being a senior analyst or whatever he was. Can someone tell me?

  7. I find this response simply passes the buck back to NPR. You as the President of VPR, and a customer of NPR, should be able to make more of a statement on this unfortunate rush to judgement firing of Juan Williams. As a new resident of Vermont, I was going to donate this week as part of your pledge week. Now I find it lucky that I didn't earlier this week as I now decline to donate and help support NPR though donations to VPR

  8. George Soros just gave NPR 1.8 million. He has a crusade (oops, dare I say that word?) against Fox. Juan Williams is fired. HMMMM. Why don't they fire the CEO who made a snide remark about William's sanity? Or Nina Tottenberg who wished outloud that Sen. Jesse Helms --or his grandson--would get infected with HIV Aids? This is not about Williams or any journalistic "standards". I listen to NPR in the morning, and then Fox when I am in the car. The difference is profound. NPR is so biased I can predict how their stories are going to be presented before they begin. For example, this morning when they started with a story about "negative" campaign ads, and I knew it would be about a Republican negative campaign ad, and of course it was. Therefore there are no standards on NPR except to follow the leftist agenda.

    This firing was a message to all who work at NPR not to stray from the party line. This is McCarthyism redux.

  9. With all due respect Robin, this response is not very enlightening with regard to how VPR (whether it be the collective feeling of the board, staff, etc...) feels about this decision. And to be perfectly honest, it's affecting my decision to pledge. NPR's explanation, as expressed by it's CEO seems very clear, and from my point of view, it's flat out wrong, as was the decision to fire Juan Williams in the first place. But more importantly, the response seriously undermines NPR's credibility and their ethos that states “Our coverage must be fair, unbiased, accurate, complete and honest.” I listen to VPR (and NPR) because it's one of the few news outlets that is somewhat balanced when it comes to news coverage. This decision by NPR and how it was handled puts this all into question. I was just listening to OnPoint about this story and was struck by the lack of courage that the guest speakers had with regard to expressing their opinion on the firing. They didn't answer Tom's question! All three sounded like politicians to me which makes me wonder if they were feeling pressured not to speak their mind and how they truly feel. Is our "free press" and democracy so messed up that analysts (they are not journalists in this role as they are on here to express OPINIONS) can longer express how they feel? I feel that Williams' fear is irrational, but isn't it his right to be honest when he's on Fox News to express his opinion? What does this have to do with NPR anyway? I'm interested in hearing if NPR responds with more detail on their rationale and then what VPR's response will be to this explanation. Please keep us informed and thanks for listening.

    Joe Bourassa
    Colchester, VT

  10. My husband and I will not be pledging any future funds to VPR and we have asked to be removed from the mailing list effective immediately. This is outrageous and unjust. I never used to watch Fox News, but will start to see Mr. Williams and watch his expanded role he will be given there. Vivian Schiller should be ashamed of herself and her remarks. What a poor excuse for a CEO. I am so disgusted with this whole thing. You've lost two good listeners.

  11. I've been listening to Juan Williams since he hosted "Talk of the Nation" in the Monica Lewinsky days. He's the best thing NPR has had going for it for years. Now that Danial Schorr is dead and Juan Williams has been fired (with a phone call, no less) it's time for me to find other news sources.

  12. Suzanne DaningburgOctober 23, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Permit me to add my voice to others who are dismayed with the Juan Williams episode. The statement by Robin Turnau artfully dodges responsibility on this issue. I do not condone Williams' statement on Fox if he did not respect his contractual agreement with NPR. However, the incident has brought to light the degree to which NPR is steeped in middle of the road liberalism and the extent to which it provides predictable slightly left-of-center viewpoints. That's far from objective reporting and casts a veil of irony over the firing of this excellent journalist. I too, may now turn to other sources of news, and will re-think my contribution during your next membership drive.

    Suzanne Daningburg

  13. I have strong concerns to the future funding of NPR in its mishandling the recent firing of Mr. Juan Williams. In the middle of all of the hoopla, NPR and VPR have glossed over the fact that its CEO made fun of people who need and seek psychiatric care in its defense of its firing Williams. CEO Schiller had said that Williams needed to keep his feelings between himself and his psychiatrist! This is an identical level of bigotry that is branding all Muslims as potential terrorists.

    There are many Vermonters that benefit from psychiatric care, from occasional counseling to hospitalization. Ms. Schiller's explanation of her rationale is no less irrational, caustic, insensitive, and unbecoming a head representative of a federally-funded program than anything Mr. Williams could have said.

    VPR,will you courageously call for Ms. Schiller's removal? Somehow, I doubt this. There are far more people who have benefited from psychiatric care in America than that are either Muslims or terrorists of any ethnicity.

  14. I was just wondering if NPR will fire Vivian Schiller re her remark that Juan Williams’ feelings are for his psychiatrist.

    Is this within NPR's "high" journalistic standards?

  15. I, too, would like to know the position of VPR on the firing of Juan Williams. If you think NPR was wrong, what are you doing? If you agree with Ms. Schiller, please let your listeners know. I need to listen to NPR stations and will continue to donate to local stations--perhaps at a lesser level. If the local station allows the inconsistency of NPR to pass without challenge, I will be disappointed. There should be a lot local pressure on Ms. Schiller to resign. Please clarify your position on this to your listeners.

    Robert Cricenti
    New London, NH 03257

  16. I am pleased with this decision by NPR. Am I not alone in feeling Juan Williams should have been let go a long time ago for simply being a poor journalist? Mr. Williams took over Talk of the Nation several years ago from the very good Ray Suarez and the show turned into a simplistic dialog that highlighted the lack of in-depth thinking practiced by Mr. Williams. His ramblings on NPR have continued to add little or nothing to the conversation and I reach for the dial as soon as I hear his voice. His comments on Fox highlighted his ineptness as he clearly crossed the line between stating an opinion and stating a bigoted opinion. (i.e. He could have been a bit more tactful and still gotten the same point across.) He deserves to be at Fox News where he is now free to continue to stick his foot in his mouth and add little to constructive dialog.

  17. We have heard from many listeners on this issue; thanks for taking the time to comment. We believe that NPR could have done a much better job in handling the termination of Mr. Williams' contract. However, we also believe strongly in the need to uphold the high standards that our listeners expect. While some have portrayed this as a free speech issue, at it's core is whether or not Mr. Williams could maintain a commitment he made to follow the NPR Code of Ethics. The decision to dismiss Mr. Williams came after a number of incidents over the past few years that brought into question his ability to abide by the terms of his employment with NPR. To learn more about the rationale for the decision, you can read Ms. Schiller's memo to NPR staff and local public radio stations, which was issued on Sunday, Oct. 25.

    Brendan Kinney
    VP of Development and Marketing
    Vermont Public Radio


    NPR Code of Ethics -

    Schiller Memo to Staff -

  18. I see vpr is in a hard place in responding. But the reponse is inadequate. The current response is inadequate. We need honest dialog and npr and VPR has become a monolog. VPR need to go after diverse voices not just the old familiar ideological song.

  19. NPR botched the Juan Williams situation. It doesn't follow that VPR is then directly responsible for any part in this. Yes, VPR purchases and airs NPR. It's unfortunate that some feel Robin Turnau must therefore come out with a statement denouncing Schiller and calling for her ouster. I can't think of an intelligent reason for "punishing" NPR by refusing to pledge/listen to VPR. My mother always told me such acts were "cutting off your nose to spite your face."

  20. Esther,

    Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, the statement issued by VPR President Robin Turnau does not call for Vivian Schiller's ouster.

    However, VPR believes that the dismissal of Juan Williams could have been handled in a more prudent and responsible fashion.


    Brendan Kinney
    Vice President for Development and Marketing
    Vermont Public Radio

  21. It greatly saddens me that at this critical juncture in American electoral politics, public broadcasting has given itself a self-inflicted black eye through this unhappy turn of events. Those of us who appreciate and support public broadcasting through it various outlets should not resort to a circular firing squad while the Fox news hacks gloat. We should recognize that a there was a screw up and return to our support of the most thoughtful, fair and balanced reporting available in a time of hideous partisanship. Let it go, people, and forget the punitive pledge withholding in which the only winner is Rupert Murdoch.

  22. Dear VPR,

    Here is an under-reported, glossed-over concern for how NPR handled the situation that needs airing. VPR should comment on this independently of the umbilical connection to NPR.

    Did you notice that NPR CEO Vivian Schiller slammed people with mental health needs in her announcement -- not side comments -- about Juan Williams' firing? At the very least Vivian Schiller needs to go and I would appreciate VPR should be concerned, if not outraged.

    Please review the media interview clips where Vivian "announces" that Juan's feelings should have been left between him and his psychiatrist! Mr. Williams aside, does VPR condone a policy where the CEO of NPR performs her job by defaming the millions of Americans who need and then seek psychiatric care? Her remarks belittled everyone from those needing counseling to psychiatric hospitalization, including Arabs and Muslims who render or use those services.

    Wasn't NPR concerned that Mr. Williams was being unfair to a vulnerable minority in his comments? Then, why does CEO Schiller have the right to do the same, finding another vulnerable minority as cannon fodder, to launch her retribution? Is this not the same uncalled-for remarks that have led to the firing of many a member of the media for good reasons?

    Will VPR have the courage to at least object specifically to this injustice? I think that VPR needs to step up to the plate on this very specific, clear, egregious wrongdoing.

    David Mulholland
    Westminster West, VT

  23. NPR could have handled it a lot differently. Why not have him interview with Brook Gladstone or Bob Mondello or any of the fine reporters at NPR to explain his point on this issue? That would be more in the spirit that I believe is NPR. I'd rather NPR kept an open mind and exposed this issue in more depth. I think it would have been a great opportunity to explore this issue. When I first heard the news I was happy because I'm not a Juan Williams fan, but I felt that there was more to the story. I found out later the rest of the story and had a flashback to the woman at the Dept of Agriculture that was accused of being a racist with the edited tape from some on the far right. Didn't NPR set themselves up for the same criticism? I'll be with John Stuart and Steven Colbert to try to restore some sanity, if not there in person definitely in spirit. It pains me to read that some "devoted" followers of VPR are actually thinking of holding back their pledges because of this incident. Methinks thou protest too much. You know Juan Williams is laughing all the way to the bank with Faux news.

  24. Will Burpee Springfield ILOctober 30, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    NPR's handling of the firing of Juan Williams definitely could have been handled better, but I have absolutely no quarrel with them doing so. Williams himself said NPR had long been unhappy with his working at Fox. If so, why give them any more reasons to fire him? But he's not making out too badly. He gets a lucrative contract with Fox and a chance to play victim.
    His activities with Fox were incompatible with his duties at NPR. Their only mistake wasn't making that clear to Williams earlier. In any debate between Fox and NPR, there's no hesitation. NPR is by far the superior news organization.


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