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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

First interview with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller on Juan Williams firing

20090302_schiller_33Call me lucky. I had a pre-scheduled interview this morning with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller this morning before her speech at the Atlanta Press Club Newsmakers luncheon at the 191 Club in downtown Atlanta.

So lo and behold, the entire Juan Williams firing blew up the past 24 hours. I happen to be the first person to talk to her about it. She basically said he was on NPR as a news analyst and wasn’t supposed to express opinions, something he had done time and time again on Fox News. This was just the final straw. Commentators, in contrast, are specifically called that on NPR and are supposed to be opinionated.

She said this has nothing to do with Fox News or his particular views of Muslims. She is also sorry NPR did this while most public radio stations (including WABE-FM) are in the middle of their fall pledge drives.

After the luncheon, John Weatherford, senior chief operating officer at WABE-FM, acknowledged the Williams flap has been a “distraction” for the pledge drive, and he has gotten many emails and calls from WABE listeners who won’t give money because of it. He also said today is the matching day for Atlanta Community Food Bank and he hopes it doesn’t hurt them.

[Williams himself spoke about the situation on Fox News today and said he couldn't believe he was let go without even a face-to-face conversation. He was terminated by phone.]

UPDATE@ 5:25 p.m. The Los Angeles Times reports that Fox has signed Williams to a new three-year contract worth nearly $2 million.

Here is part of the Q&A:

Q: Okay. What happened?

A: Let’s state a couple of facts. Juan is not an employee of NPR. He’s an independent contractor. He’s not NPR staff. He’s an NPR analyst. We have a contract with him for analyst opinions to provide news analysis. He is not a columnist or commentator. He also has an on-going relationship with Fox News. Mara Liasson is also on Fox News and is a full-time staffer. We accept that’s a whole other issue. However, we expect our journalists, whether they are news analysts or reporters to behave like journalists.

Q: So did Juan really get fired over just those Muslim comments? [He said he was uncomfortable with Muslims dressed in traditional garb on airplanes during a Fox News telecast yesterday.]

A: There have been several instances over the last couple of years where we have felt Juan has stepped over the line. He famously said last year something about Michelle Obama and Stokely Carmichael. [The quote on Fox News early last year: "Michelle Obama, you know, she's got this Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going" and that she'll be an "albatross" for President Obama.]. This isn’t a case of one strike and you’re out.

Q: So this is obviously not an isolated incident.

A: There’s so much misinformation on the blogosphere, it’s nuts. This has been an on-going issue. [Here's NPR's ombudsman's piece on him last year after the Obama comment.] When he does that, when anybody does that, it undermines their credibility as a journalist or in Juan’s case, a news analyst for NPR. Those two things cannot go together.

Q: Have you done this before with other analysts or reporters?

A: It’s impossible to answer that. Every circumstance is different and would create false parallels.

Q: As you mentioned, Mara Liasson appears on Fox News. Is there an issue with Fox News?

A: No. She behaves on Fox as a journalists.  I have no issues with anything she has said on Fox. This is not about Fox News. It’s not about a political agenda. This is not about even validating or invalidating [Williams'] feelings.

Q: Mike Huckabee is now saying NPR has discredited itself and should have federal funding revoked.

A: Yes, I heard that. This has become a political issue.  My God, I’m shocked!

Q: Could NPR live without federal funding?

A: Let’s go on a sidebar. There’s a misperception about federal funding and public radio. There’s the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They receive $90 million a year and a vast majority goes to member public radio stations. Those stations pull in more than $1 billion collectively a year. It’s significant and important but not even close to the lion’s share of revenues for public radio. NPR gets no allocation from CPB. Zero. We are a private 501(c)3. We’ve had journalists call up and ask what department of the government we report to.  That’s laughable. Have you listened to our shows? We do apply for competitive grants from  the likes of the Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation. As a result, some money from CPB does come to us when we win grants. Depending on the year, it represents just one to three percent of our total budget.

Q: What is your annual budget?

A: $160 million a year from station fees and dues, corporate underwriting, philanthropic contributions from individuals and corporation and  earned income and earnings from our endowment.

Q: How healthy are you?

A: We had some issues the last couple of years and went into deficits. But we’ve regrouped and we’re back on track.

During the luncheon, she repeated much of what she told me.

“We are for civil liberties,” she said. “If you want to be a political activist, you may not also be a reporter or news analyst for NPR.”

Schiller also said it’s “sophomoric”  to deride objectivity as a lie of omission, that hiding a journalists’ biases is a bad thing: “Yes, we are humans. We have opinions. None of us are impartial, that objectivity and absolute truth as concepts are unattainable. It does not follow that providing the most objective and most impartial work possible is not a worthy goal for professional journalists.”

She continues: “This is where the Juan Williams story enters. We have checks and balances to serve that goal. That’s why we have editors. We have an ombudsman and corrections. It’s why we let readers comment on stories. It’s why we run opinions and commentaries and label them as such. Commentaries are different from news analysis. It’s certainly why we practice journalism and prohibit journalists from certain activities, not just to protect the appearance of objectivity… it’s to protect the ideal of fair-minded journalism… People have strong opinions and professional journalists have developed procedures and standards and practices to counter them. It’s to draw a fine line between reporter and commentary and punditry.”

On a brighter note, she also noted that NPR public radio stations have seen their audience grow 60 percent over the past decade to 34 million people and that doesn’t include users who access NPR shows via mobile devices, the Web and podcasting. She is also proud that NPR has expanded its coverage in international news, the arts and sciences and other topics that have been reduced in other media.

“Our goal is simple,” Schiller told more the luncheon audience. “Deliver more news and information to more people in more ways.”

NOTE: I am a board member of the Atlanta Press Club.

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

524 comments Add your comment

Charles Stevens

October 21st, 2010
12:36 pm

It is amazing when she said that if behave when you go on other networks it is ok. Who does she think she is talking to? This is still America and if you don’t like the way some muslims dress then NPR should be pulled from the airways and the funding with it

Karen

October 21st, 2010
12:36 pm

Troubled by this. Couple this sort of thing with Anderson Cooper’s report about how candidates are refusing to be interviewed or held accountable by media, and we all ought to be troubled. Very troubled.

jeffv

October 21st, 2010
12:41 pm

I love it, the most liberal media outlet carrying out the most obvious act of censorship ever…and by the way, Juan was right!

BRian

October 21st, 2010
12:45 pm

NPR has daily anti Catholic stories on…..and I don’t recall the catholic religion stoning women or crashing planes into our buildings…

But then they fire Juan for stating a fact.

Take funding away from NPR.

Sue

October 21st, 2010
12:47 pm

I believe NPR was wrong in firing Juan. Since when are we not allowed to say anything about the Muslims that is negative without getting into trouble. Remember, freedom of religion AND speech. I could say something negative about Christians without getting into trouble. I’m not sure about the Jewish religion. I’m sure they wouldn’t like it, but don’t believe they would try to kill me.

Tony

October 21st, 2010
12:49 pm

Charles Stephens,

Let me be the first to say, “Huh?” I don’t think anyone understands what you were attempting to communicate there.

I found Ms. Schiller’s answers to be both thoughtful and straight-forward. Juan Williams is free to speak his mind, but must bear the consequences of his actions. There is a difference between what one can say personally and what one can say professionally — and this is especially true of people who work in media.

God, I miss Daniel Schorr.

Atlanta 1

October 21st, 2010
12:50 pm

She came across arrogant and slightly defensive. She fits the bill of a Liberal Elitest, so no one should be surprised with her answers.

Jen

October 21st, 2010
12:51 pm

“He’s an NPR analyst. We have a contract with him for analyst opinions to provide news analysis.”

He provided just that, his OPINION, and NOT even on your show.

NPR is now the new FOX of the liberal wing.

Geko

October 21st, 2010
12:51 pm

they were looking for an excuse. his comments are not offensive and NPR will only be a niche station as long as they only promote one thought process.

T-Bone

October 21st, 2010
12:51 pm

Great interview, Rodney. Hope you’ll be updating it later with more after the luncheon.

I’m glad Ms. Schiller cleared up the bit about federal funding. I’d also encourage folks who have convinced that NPR is a liberal, leftist mouthpiece for socialism to try listening to it. NPR’s reporting is top quality, and i always end up learning something when I listen. WABE’s local coverage is great too. If you’re looking for a bias, I think you’ll find it somewhere down the middle of the road.

I liked Juan Williams when he used to host Talk of the Nation on NPR. He’s certainly entitled to his opinions on Michelle Obama and Muslim plane passengers. But I think he was speaking outside his role as a news analyst when he shared those opinions in public. It’s hard to take any of his future analysis on Muslims in America seriously when he’s told you he has a prejudiced opinion of them. I don’t blame NPR for letting him go.

What's Important

October 21st, 2010
12:53 pm

Another case of freedom of the speech only if you are saying what we want you to say. Juan Williams was the least biased voice of NPR. The NPR has lost whatever credibility they had with me. They man says what his feelings, as an individual, are in a circumstance is fired for it. I think it would be safe to say that 90% of the flying public share his feelings to a certain degree. Have we become so politically correct in the media that we cannot express of unease in certain circumstances. Even though I am white, can I not be uncomfortable if I see people in KKK regalia, or does that not violate their correct thinking policies.

Steven

October 21st, 2010
12:53 pm

Last week I road on a plane and the person sitting next to me (woman) had on the Muslim garb. I too was nervous, thinking to myself, ‘what does she have under all that black’. Does she have a bomb?! So why is NPR being such a jack ass in its dealing with Mr Williams. Oh come on we protect every other religion in this country but Cristianity.

John Galt

October 21st, 2010
12:53 pm

I’m not a big Juan Williams fan but this is PC run amok. Jeffv got it right- censorship from the most liberal media outlet, who is so proud of its tolerance.

The new Congress should pull NPR’s public funding- in today’s saturated media world, there is no reason for tax dollars to keep this outlet alive. If listeners want NPR, they can fund it. If it is not viable, shut it down.

marc

October 21st, 2010
12:54 pm

wow…NPR looks silly….Juan can”t say what’s on his mind??….my advice to everyone?.say exactly what you think..and don”t apologize for it.

Jake

October 21st, 2010
12:54 pm

I will NEVER listen to NPR again… Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, he was honest with his feelings. NPR is showing their true colors, LEFT SOCIALIST face. It’s a sad day for journalism that the one guy who has actually had a good relationship with both the left & right.
Welcome to the free press Juan.

keith weir

October 21st, 2010
12:55 pm

Juan Williams told the truth about his feelings and for the truth he gets fired. to me that means we can’t trust any of your news.
Its a sad day when we we can’t believe a program paid for by the people.

Renea

October 21st, 2010
12:55 pm

Wow, just WOW! This is going to be good. My support is behind JUAN for saying what most Americans have to keep to themselves. I hope political correctness takes a good bashlash from this.

Sopwith Camel

October 21st, 2010
12:56 pm

Jeffv, you are correct. What a farce of humanity Vivian Schiller is.

Renea

October 21st, 2010
12:57 pm

“my advice to everyone?.say exactly what you think..and don”t apologize for it.”

yeah marc! :)

Teacher Reader

October 21st, 2010
12:58 pm

Just called NPR radio to get my donation returned for their fall pledge drive. Juan Williams did not say anything that I myself think. He is the least liberal of the NPR reporters. A good reporter can have his opinions and put them aside when reporting facts. The current liberal media is unable to that. Their beliefs and what they report mesh and blur together.

jack Tourtillotte

October 21st, 2010
1:00 pm

It is disapointing that NPR has taken this position and it flies in the face of what NPR is supposed to stand for, open honest sharing of opinion and appears as long as one shares the opinion of NPR executives they are fine and when the do not they are out. Sad indeed!!

M. Johnson

October 21st, 2010
1:01 pm

Go Rodney! Great timing and great interview!!!

For all those who want to cut NPR’s federal funding, perhaps you missed Schiller’s response: NPR has a $160 million annual budget; possible grants from CPB represent 1-3% of the total budget.

Peter Riola

October 21st, 2010
1:05 pm

I was a mesmber of MPR for 20-25 years. I left about ten years ago, because of the anti-Bush talk. Their interviewers, even when attempting to ask a question, showed sarcasm in the tone of the voice. Last year, I returned to MPR. Their tones where more accceptable, but it is still clear they have an agenda. Now the Juan williams thing. Their bias always shows, but today they have taken it to a new level. And right in the middle of pledge week, when they are claiming to be the only objective game in town.

Samuel Robert Dunn

October 21st, 2010
1:05 pm

Vivian Schiller’s got a tough sell defending the indefensible. NPR’s firing of Juan Williams is REALLY bad for NPR fundraising. Will George Soros make up the shortfall?

Brett

October 21st, 2010
1:06 pm

Reading some of these comments I wonder if most of these people even read the article.

” NPR gets no allocation from CPB. Zero. We are a private 501(c)3. We’ve had journalists call up and ask what department of the government we report to. That’s laughable. Have you listened to our shows? We do apply for competitive grants from the likes of the Ford Foundation and the Knight Foundation. As a result, some money from CPB does come to us when we win grants. Depending on the year, it represents just one to three percent of our total budget.”

People are just here to espouse their preconceived notions.

What's Important

October 21st, 2010
1:09 pm

Brett, so what if their Federal funding is just a drop in the bucket for their budget. I want my portion of the drop in the bucket back.

Harry Chambers

October 21st, 2010
1:10 pm

Sorry to see Juan go – he was a good unbiased news analyst. I guessed he failed to live up to the federally funded liberal NPR propagandist mindset. NPR does not deserve federal funding when they disagree with what the majority of Americans believe and therefore fire the messenger. Juan’s comments on Muslims was accurate. I will never listen to NPR again since you are biased towards liberalism. Ms. Schiller needs to get a life.

Scott James

October 21st, 2010
1:11 pm

Punishment and censorship of a NPR “analyst” as a result of him sharing his personal opinion on a different media venue…mmmmmm. Isnt it called National PUBLIC Radio? This is in theory the “peoples” radio forum, yet Ms. Schiller feels it fit to place restrictions along with punitive actions on those who have an opinion-personal or otherwise-that may not be so politically correct. Well as those of us that are wise enough to foresee, the end is near for these close minded irresponsible idealists.
I have already begun an anti donor movement in NYC where WNYC is one of the NPR stations in this area and are coincidentially having a donor drive. Please spread the same where you live and let us flex our muscles where they count–in the pocket book. Help put a financial choke hold onNPR and perhaps Ms. Schilling will be sent packing as it has become painfully obvious she is in the wrong profession and position of authority. Ms. Schilling should be employeed by maybe George Soros who I wouldny be suprised if one of his tentacle organizations had a hand in this disgraceful event somehow anyway. God Bless America and America exceptionaliam!!!!

Lauren

October 21st, 2010
1:11 pm

What is your annual budget? A: $160 million a year from station fees and dues, corporate underwriting, philanthropic contributions from individuals and corporation and earned income and earnings from our endowment.

Q: How healthy are you? A: We had some issues the last couple of years and went into deficits. But we’ve regrouped and we’re back on track.
~~~~~~~~~~~
Take note of the information Schiller has so graciously given us and react accordingly. Power of the majority should speak loud and clear. My quess is things won’t look so “healthy” for NPR in the future.

simplythetruth

October 21st, 2010
1:12 pm

The fact that NPR fired Juan Williams, for stating his own personal fear, proves that liberals and progressives don’t practice what they preach. They don’t tolerate other people’s opinions and when left to their own baser instincts, they feed on themselves. Any taxpayer funding of NPR should be pulled ASAP. Shiller is nothing more than a hack for the democRATS.

Tracer

October 21st, 2010
1:13 pm

I, for one, will conitnue to listen to NPR for one simple reason. They expect me to pay them for it in the form of membership dues. As long as they continue to blast their program electrons into my living space without my permission I will listen to or ignore their product at my leisure. By the way, I rarely listen to their news. It reaks of leftist elitism.

Conscious One

October 21st, 2010
1:14 pm

I met Juan Williams about 17 years ago as a young 30 something black female business student at a very prestigious university. Mr. Williams was part of program the school hosted on civil rights. I met Mr. Williams after the program and explained that I was a student. He told me that he was sorry that I could not have gone to school earlier, because being a 33 year old business student , I was beyond my prime to expect a good outcome. His comment was so irrelevant and deflating. My respect for him declined greatly.

I think that he is entitled to his opinions, but if you perform as a journalist, then one is held to professional journalism standards and I think with that in mind that his Muslim comments are unprofessional and help stoke the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. Some very bad people who claim to act as Muslims acted destructively on 9-1-1; but that dastardly act by those few does not represent all people who embrace Islam. Any more so than the KKK using the Christian cross to terrorize others that they do not like represents all Christians.

NPR was right to cut its losses and move on.

RGB

October 21st, 2010
1:15 pm

Wikipedia says this about NPR’s funding:

“Public funding accounts for 16% of the average member station’s revenue, with 10% of this coming in the form of grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a federally funded organization.[14][15][16] Some more of that money originates from local and state governments and government-funded universities subsidizing member stations’ fees and dues to NPR.”

So, MIZ Schiller shouldn’t be concerned about the loss of government funding since she says she gets none. I believe NPR does receive government funding though the funding may make a circuitous route to get there.

There’s a reason I call it “National Communist Radio.”

At least liberals are self-identifying.

sharon zirn

October 21st, 2010
1:16 pm

Juan Williams has a larger following than NPR.

gail

October 21st, 2010
1:17 pm

I was listening to NPR some of the time but if a person cannot express a concern of something that makes them worry then we all need to be afraid. How will we ever know how someone stands on things if we cannot show concern,there was nothing wrong with this remark. Look up what the Germans are saying…

Keith

October 21st, 2010
1:18 pm

In a free market economy we do not need NPR or PBS. When PBS came into existance there were only 3 networks. Now there are hundreds. Defund them and be done with this.

Bracewell

October 21st, 2010
1:19 pm

I don’t always agree with Juan Williams, but I find him to be sincere and truthful. I guess those two characteristics are not acceptable at NPR. Cut their funding; let them live off the Soro’s money.

Roy

October 21st, 2010
1:22 pm

I disagree with some of NPR shows therefore I will fire them and withdraw my funding. Seems that is the way they want it.

Carol Campbell

October 21st, 2010
1:22 pm

NPR shame on you! Juan Williams comment showed no anti-Muslim bias. I happen to agree with his comments. I hope the Muslim organization that prompted this outrageous firing becomes very generous with you during your pledge drives. Vivian Schiller is the one who should be looking for a new job! I think she just sank NPR.

Jay

October 21st, 2010
1:22 pm

NPR should have given Williams the opportunity to apologize – or not. Firing him was a radical and unfortunate move by an otherwise quality organization. A political moderate, I did observe NPR’s leaning way to the left prior to Mr. Obama’s “historic” election. (NPR announcers love to use that word in conjunction with just about everything Obama does – or has done. Elena Kagen, health care reform, blah, blah. All “historic.” Maybe they can use it in regard to his “historic defeat” in 2012.)

RickZ

October 21st, 2010
1:22 pm

Ask that scrunt of a CEO about that Teabagging video they produced — and defended. No one was fired because of that, and the video was truly offensive. Calling regular, everyday Americans seeking redress from their Government (you know, one of those inconvenient Constitutional rights) a slang sexual term shows how shallow and lame that scrunt’s arguments are. If she had any class, she’d resign, but I won’t hold my breath.

Time for the next Congress, under some sane and fiscally responsible Republicans, to pull all funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Every last dime. Time for PBS and NPR to sink or swim on their own as they are so obviously partisan lacks of the lefty persuasion. This country should never have a publicly-funded ‘national’ news source in the first place. Another idiotic idea from Lyndon Johnson, right alongside The Great Society.

http://gatewaypundit.firstthings.com/2010/10/npr-teabag-videos-are-defended-but-blaming-9-11-on-muslims-will-get-you-fired/

Eye Roll

October 21st, 2010
1:23 pm

“I think that he is entitled to his opinions, but if you perform as a journalist, then one is held to professional journalism standards and I think with that in mind that his Muslim comments are unprofessional and help stoke the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.”

O, Concious One Do you respect the journalist integrity and standards to likes of Cynthia Tucker?

drwitchdoctor

October 21st, 2010
1:23 pm

Sorry Juan, George Soros gave us $1.8 million on Monday and said you had to go.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/18/business/media/18npr.html?_r=1

NPR=Narrow Minded

October 21st, 2010
1:24 pm

After about a decade or more of not listening to NPR after its blackballing of Steven Emerson and his “anti Muslim views” (of course, he was right), I recently began listening to WCLK (I like jazz). Should have realized that NPR would continue its PC run amuck/narrow mindedness/pro Muslim attitudes. Now I’ll just have to listen for the jazz and forget the contributions. Before that it was the non-stop love affair with Mumia Abu-Jamal, etc.

They have a write to fire Mr. Williams for his comments. As he can live with the consequences of his actions, NPR can as well. Just don’t contribute any money to them if you don’t like the platform they are pushing.

Robert

October 21st, 2010
1:26 pm

Juan Williams was fired from NPR for his opinion on Muslims and his perceptions of people who committ terroism. Ever since the American People elected President Obama there seems to be a rise in other terroist groups which are claiming to be Christians such as the home grown terroist group known as the “tea party” who uses the same weapons of choice as the “taliban” which are hatred, fear and rage/mob mentality. I wonder if Juan Williams had been fired if he said the same thing about the home grown terroist known as the “tea party”? Whenever I see these “tea party” extremist, mostly white people (klan, skin heads, etc.), I feel uneasy and watch them very closely. We have a double standard regarding who we label as terroist. The American People are sick and tired of ALL terroist groups whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews.

Not Easily Fooled

October 21st, 2010
1:27 pm

Great Job Rodney,

Q: Have you done this before with other analysts or reporters?

A: It’s impossible to answer that. Every circumstance is different and would create false parallels.

Sorry, Viv, it’s easy to answer that Nina Totenberg didn’t get herself in any trouble at all for wishing AIDS on Jesse Helms. Bill Moyers can compare the GOP to the Taliban without consequence.

The difference, of course, is Juan is Black, and not susposed to leave the plantation.

NPR is unworthy of public support and has been for a lon time.

Selective clips

October 21st, 2010
1:28 pm

What is truly sad is how Ms. Schiller and the NPR executives totally missed Juan Williams point! If they had listened to his entire comments they would have seen a totally different picture. Williams point was that all of us have to push past that initial fear or nervousness that we feel when we see a Muslim on a plane and realize that not all Muslims want to kill us!!! He was trying to chastise O’ Reilly for painting too broad of a picture of Muslims on his View appearance. We have no hope of any honest dialogue in this country because crazies on the left and right jump on clips of what someone says instead of reading and understanding the total context. NPR had been looking for a reason to release Williams for awhile after he dared criticize the First Lady and this gave them cover. The funny thing is how NPR types love to make fun of Faux News and don’t even realize what true bias looks like!!!

Censor

October 21st, 2010
1:28 pm

“I know two types of law because I know two types of men, those who are with us and those who are against us.”–Hermann Goering

“You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” –GW Bush

Nuff Said

AppealToReason

October 21st, 2010
1:30 pm

Juan Williams’ comments were inappropriate. They feed the hysteria about Muslims stoked by Fox News. I would not want any one in my family to wear a veil- but if some prefer to that is their RIGHT. Remember this is the USA. When has a head scarf been a weapon?

The constitution of the USA, with its amendments, is a document that we should respect- especially now that Europe also seems to be on an anti-Muslim, anti-Roma binge. Let us not make the Muslims the new Jews of the world. I

Fox News is adept at bringing on minorities such as Juan Williams, Michele Malkin, Dinesh Desouza and others, who appear to align themselves with extremists. Do they have a yearning to have been born in a paler skin? Leading your life as a “wannabe” must be painful, sad and shameful.

NPR was RIGHT.

John

October 21st, 2010
1:35 pm

What is wrong here?
Is Cynthia Tucker running NPR?