Stations Inundated With Complaints About Williams’ Firing

Published October 21, 2010

WBUR has received more than 30 calls and a slew hundreds of e-mails from listeners to complain about the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, and three people have received refunds for their donations.

That number might not sound like a lot, but it is meaningful — rarely do people make good on threats to cancel their support.

Member stations around the country — many of them in the middle of fundraising this week — live on the front lines. We get credit and, in this case, blame for NPR’s decisions. Many listeners don’t understand the distinction between the member station (WBUR) and the network (NPR).

WBUR, of course, played no part in the decision to fire Williams.

NPR has created a special website for member stations with talking points, contact information for media and listener inquiries and a link to NPR’s ethics guidelines.

NPR says it is so inundated with complaints, the “Contact Us” page has crashed.

The Latest:

Williams has signed a 3-year, $2 million contract with Fox News.

The AP has a full accounting of what went down, including remarks from the CEO in Atlanta today:

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said that controversial opinions should not come from NPR reporters or news analysts and that whatever feelings Williams has about Muslims should be between him and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.”

Speaking Thursday at the Atlanta Press Club, Schiller also said Williams had veered from journalistic ethics several times before Monday’s comments.

Update: Schiller has apologized for the “psychiatrist” remark.

Williams re-appeared on Fox News today to respond to his firing:

Williams said he received a phone call on Wednesday afternoon from NPR’s Ellen Weiss, the vice president of news, and tried to explain his comments. He said Weiss refused to listen.

“I said, ‘You mean I don’t even get the chance to come in and we do this eyeball-to-eyeball, person-to-person, have a conversation? I’ve been there more than 10 years,” Williams said. He said Weiss responded that “there’s nothing you can say that would change my mind.”

As NPR’s Two-Way reports, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard says Williams should have been given a choice:

Rather than terminating news analyst Juan Williams’ contract, “probably the better thing for NPR to have done is to have said ‘Juan the situation is not working,’ ” NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepherd just said on Talk of the Nation.

Then, she continued, Williams could have been given a choice: If he wanted to stay at NPR, he would have to stop doing commentary on Fox News Channel. Or, if he preferred to continue with Fox, he and NPR could part ways.

Shepherd plans to file a column this afternoon.