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NPR News Chief Quits After Williams Inquiry

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Board Finds No Undue Influences, but Schiller Loses Bonus

"In the coming weeks we will begin a search for Ellen’s replacement," CEO Vivian Schiller said of Ellen Weiss, the senior vice president for news who resigned. "The position will be posted on, and we expect a strong slate of both internal and external candidates."

Board Finds No Undue Influences, but Schiller Loses Bonus

Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news, has Vivian Schiller, left, Juan Williams and Ellen Weissresigned in the wake of the NPR board of directors' examination of the firing of Juan Williams, NPR staffers were told on Thursday. Vivian Schiller, NPR's president, will not receive a 2010 bonus considering "her role in the termination process," the board said.

It was Weiss who told Williams he was fired. Williams said on Fox News later Thursday that her leaving "was good news for NPR" and that Weiss was "the keeper of the flame of liberal orthodoxy. She was pushing out everyone who had a different point of view. She has kept along her pals, her friends who all think alike."

Williams said of Weiss' departure, "it was quite a contrast to the way they treated me."

For her part, Weiss told the Los Angeles Times that, "What I would say is that the decision to terminate the Juan Williams contract by NPR, of which I was a participant, was based on the highest journalistic standards."

The Times' James Rainey wrote, "Weiss, 51, would have hit her 29th anniversary at NPR next month, [and] stressed that she did not make the decision to fire Williams alone, referring to Schiller's approval of the firing."

In the staff message, Dave Edwards, who chairs the board, said, "We have taken this situation very seriously and the Board believes these recommendations and remedial steps address the concerns raised in connection with the termination of Williams’ contract. The Board regrets this incident’s impact on NPR and will work with NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller, to ensure that these actions will be expeditiously completed, examined, and monitored on an ongoing basis."

According to her bio, Weiss "has served as head of the NPR News National Desk and Executive Producer of the top-rated daily NPR News magazine All Things Considered, moved into NPR's top news management position in April 2007."

"In this role, Weiss oversees NPR's worldwide journalism operations, including 19 domestic and 17 foreign bureaus; more than 400 staff members; more than 40 hours of news programming weekly; and NPR's award-winning investigations, longform series and other special reporting."

Williams was a news analyst on NPR and a commentator on Fox News Channel. His Oct. 20 firing over his remarks on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" about Muslims 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. ' Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes said he wanted to compensate Williams because he was "mad" at NPR executives, whom he called "Nazis," a characterization for which he apologized to Anti-Defamation League.

NPR's board of directors approved hiring a law firm to review the network's handling of the termination of Williams' contract.

Williams did not cooperate with the inquiry, the staff members were told on Thursday. "I didn't know if they were going to further defame me," Williams said on Fox on Thursday. Still, Williams had consistently been outspoken in denouncing the "current crew" at NPR.

On "Good Morning America," Williams said of NPR, "This current crew was really getting vicious. I’ve always thought the right wing were ones that were inflexible and intolerant. And now I'm coming to realize that the orthodoxy at NPR, if it's representing the left, it's just unbelievable that, you know — and especially I think for me as a black man to somehow, you know, say something that's out of the box, they find it very difficult."

The board statement said, "Williams’ contract was terminated in accordance with its terms. The contract gave both parties the right to terminate on 30 days’ notice for any reason. The facts gathered during the review revealed that the termination was not the result of special interest group or donor pressure. However, because of concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process, the Board additionally recommended that certain actions be taken with regard to management involved in Williams’ contract termination."

It also said:

"In light of the review and feedback provided to them, the Board has adopted recommendations and remedial measures designed to address issues that surfaced with the review. The recommendations and remedial measures range from new internal procedures concerning personnel and on air-talent decisions to taking appropriate disciplinary action with respect to certain management employees involved in the termination. Some of these changes have already been made and others are in process. Specifically, the Board adopted recommendations that NPR:

  • "Establish a committee comprised of NPR personnel, respected journalists, and others from outside NPR to review and update NPR’s current Ethics Code (the 'Code').

  • "Develop policies and procedures to ensure consistent application of and training on the Code to all employees and contractors.

  • "Review and update policies/training with respect to the role of NPR journalists appearing on other media outlets to ensure that they understand the applicability of the Ethics Code to their work and to facilitate equitable and consistent application of the Code.

  • "Review and define the roles of NPR journalists (including news analysts) to address a changing news environment in which such individuals have a myriad of outlets and new platforms for their talent, balancing the opportunities presented by such outlets and platforms with the potential for conflicts of interest that may compromise NPR’s mission.

  • "Ensure that its practices encourage a broad range of viewpoints to assist its decision-making, support its mission, and reflect the diversity of its national audiences. The Human Resources Committee of the Board is working in conjunction with key members of NPR management on this issue."

In her own note, Schiller added:

"I’ve asked Vice President for Programming Margaret Low Smith to step in as acting senior vice president for news until we’ve found Ellen’s replacement. Margaret is an accomplished newswoman. She spent nearly 14 years in the news division, ultimately as a senior producer for All Things Considered, before she joined NPR’s senior management team. She knows our programming, staff, and stations well, and she is a talented executive and leader.

"Eric Nuzum will oversee the programming division during this interim period. Margaret and I will be meeting with different departments in News over the next few days. I will distribute a proposed schedule for those meetings shortly.

"In the coming weeks we will begin a search for Ellen’s replacement. The position will be posted on, and we expect a strong slate of both internal and external candidates. Margaret has indicated that she will not be a candidate for the position."

OWN Moves Up Projected Profit to First Year

January 5, 2011

Ads, "Good Performance" Cited for Winfrey's Network

Carole Simpson Recalls the Sexism, the Racism, the Triumphs

NAHJ Executive Board Asserts Its Actions Are Transparent

Internet Beats TV as News Source for Those Under 30

David Paterson Ties "Accidental Governor" Label to Race

Judge Sets Trial in Claim of Double Standard on "N-Word"

Obama Administration Tries to Foil "Obamacare" Searchers

Series Relates Nomadic Migration and Skin Color

Short Takes


Oprah Winfrey took viewers behind the scenes of the "Oprah Winfrey Show" for its final season. (Photo credit:

Ads, "Good Performance" Cited for Winfrey's Network

"Discovery Communications expects Oprah Winfrey’s cable channel to achieve profitability in its first year," Brian Stelter reported Tuesday night for the New York Times.

"Discovery and Ms. Winfrey flipped the switch on OWN, short for the Oprah Winfrey Network, on New Year’s Day. The new channel enjoyed heavy sampling among viewers over the weekend, though executives have cautioned that they expect a bumpy ratings ride in the beginning.

"Brad Singer, the chief financial officer for Discovery, said at an investors’ conference Tuesday that OWN should be 'Ebitda positive' in 2011 'because of ad acceptance and good performance.'

"Ebitda is shorthand for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and is a standard measure of operating profitability.

"Discovery had previously told analysts and reporters not to expect the joint venture to turn a profit before 2012 or 2013.

"Nielsen data showed that about 770,000 people tuned in for the first hour of OWN on New Year’s Day, and almost 1.2 million watched two prime-time episodes of 'Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes,' a reality show about the last season of her talk show."

"Programs that did not feature Ms. Winfrey did not fare quite as well, but OWN said that 'Ask Oprah’s All Stars,' a special featuring Dr. Phil McGraw and others, attracted 968,000 viewers on Sunday night."

Simpson Recalls the Sexism, the Racism, the Triumphs

Carole Simpson turned to a self-publishing house after literary agents turned her down.Former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson declares in a new memoir that "I was denied opportunities more often because I was female than because I was African American" and details examples of sexual harassment from male co-workers and her race-related battles with ABC News.

Recalling in "News Lady" how she was pushed out the door after a 25-year career battling racism and sexism, Simpson says, "It struck me that a white woman and a black man were the two people who first began to cast doubts on my talent. I felt both of them owed their jobs to me. I put my own career on the line to get more women and minorities into positions of authority, the kind of authority they exercised against me.

"Fortunately, I have been around long enough to see many of the people, who tried to hurt me, experience their own declines and falls. Both of them suffered that fate."

Writing about the book on Monday for the Daily Beast, Howard Kurtz said, "What’s most striking about the book is that some of the most cringe-inducing incidents occurred not just in the early phase of her career, when black women were a rarity in the senior ranks of television news, but years after you would assume that the fried-chicken jokes had stopped. Even if Simpson is enlarging these episodes through the mists of memory, her anger — and sometimes her tears — shows they left an indelible mark."

After recounting comments such as "Boy, if you weren't married, I could spin you around the world and you know on what," Simpson tells readers, "I talked to other women and they had similar experiences but they didn't seem as crude as mine. The myth of the 'easy' black female, I believe, prompted them to display their most stupid and juvenile behavior."

Kurtz wrote, "Interestingly, Simpson is bringing out the book through the self-publishing firm AuthorHouse. She says she began sending her proposal to literary agents before leaving ABC. 'All of them turned me down over a three-year period and said things like, "it wasn't sexy enough," "I could get sued and publishers are fearful of that," and similar rejections . . . I think there was concern about the people and institutions I criticized.' So she decided to do it herself."

Contemporaries of Simpson, born in 1940 or 1941, depending on which source one believes, will relate to her recollections of being admonished not to seek a career in the mainstream media. "They aren't going to hire a Negro girl to work for the Chicago Tribune, except maybe to sweep up,"  she quotes her mother saying. She also recounts her shock at the achievement level of the products of Alabama's segregated schools. She worked at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute after her 1962 graduation from the University of Michigan. "When they turned in writing assignments, it was the rare surprise to find a complete sentence or a sensible thought," she wrote.

Kurtz wrote, "Despite the setbacks, slights, and outright racism, Simpson had a remarkably successful career." But he acknowledged, "The obstacles she faced have not entirely disappeared; there are still no black hosts in primetime cable news, and the only African American to have broken the barrier on the network evening newscasts, Max Robinson, was part of an ABC triumvirate in the late 1970s and early ’80s."

NAHJ Executive Board Asserts Its Actions Are Transparent

Next convention: OrlandoReacting to an "open letter" from a board member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists criticizing the organization's leadership for "working against transparency and accountability," the executive board of NAHJ issued its own statement Wednesday saying that just the opposite is true.

"We respect and practice transparency. The claims of a lack of board transparency are unfounded," it said. "For the first time an NAHJ president routinely gives an account of each major vote, usually within 48 hours of passage by means of a website posting. Those messages are still available on The messages were also e-mailed to all members. Members are able to communicate with the president or the members of the board at any time to raise questions or make comments. Contact information for the president and e-mail addresses for each of the board members are posted on

"When it comes to communications with the media and the public at large, however, it is the policy of the NAHJ, like that of many other organizations, to have one or more designated spokespersons. In the case of NAHJ, the spokespersons are the president and the executive director and not individual directors. The reason for this policy is not to restrict the flow of information. Rather, it reflects the consensus of the board of directors who feel that it is important to ensure that the information that’s released to the media and the public at large is correct and contextual and presents a coherent image of the organization."

The New Year's Day open letter from Patricio G. Espinoza, the board's at-large online officer, came in the wake of a projected $240,000 deficit for the organization. "A fiscal crisis has now turned into 'thug tactics' to silence the voice of those of us speaking on behalf of our membership," Espinoza said. "Now NAHJ Financial Officer, Russell Contreras, is actively seeking my removal . . . " he wrote.

The executive committee response was praised by former president Rafael Olmeda, who told Journal-isms in a message, "The executive committee crafted a reasoned, professional statement that handled a difficult situation with diplomacy and tact. Board politics can be difficult and strained at times, and it's disappointing when those strains are put on public display. Mature leaders seize on these opportunities to remind themselves and each other who and why they're serving. The executive committee showed mature leadership. I won't second-guess Patricio Espinoza's need to pen his open letter, but the response to it could not have been handled better."

[Espinoza messaged Journal-isms on Thursday, "Speaking as an NAHJ member, I would agree NAHJ's response is well crafted but the response from only 5 board members out of 15 elected clearly fails to address what we the members need to hear: a plan of action and change. 'Diplomacy and tact' are a good start but actions speak louder than words."]

President Michele Salcedo told members in a Dec. 22 message that the NAHJ board had approved in a Dec. 18 conference call a $25,000 bridge loan to be taken from its stock fund. The vote was 8-4.

The revelation of the board vote and the extent of the deficit came in the sixth and seventh paragraphs of a "Season's Greetings" message.

Word of the conference-call vote reached Journal-isms on Dec. 20, but NAHJ officers declined to confirm on the record that such a vote was taken.

Board members then received a strongly worded message from Contreras that " 'leaking' info about NAHJ isn't being noble. It's pathetic. This ain't wikileaking inform about the war in Iraq. . . . We're not trying to hide anything. . . . where I come from, snitches get stitches."

Conference calls are presumably limited to board members, so the "Season's Greetings" message was apparently the first notice to NAHJ members.

A similar situation took place when in a conference call on Thursday, Aug. 12, the board authorized a bridge loan from an investment fund of up to $50,000 to be tapped as needed to cover up to two payroll cycles. Salcedo and Executive Director Ivan Roman did not respond to requests for comment, but Salcedo issued a statement Aug. 16 after news of the conference-call vote appeared in this column. The two are said to have scolded board members for what Salcedo called "this public sharing of internal information."

She announced, "Fortunately, a sponsor payment arrived in the office on Friday making it unnecessary to activate the bridge loan."

Issues of transparency have also been raised in the other journalist-of-color organizations.

During last year's campaign for the presidency of the Asian American Journalists Association, unsuccessful candidate Neal Justin wrote:

"You should know that I'm proposing that an independent reporter will be present at every board meeting and write a story for members that will be unedited by [the] executive director or anyone on the board. I hope that will help members feel like we're being more open."

The National Association of Black Journalists had such a practice but abandoned it. The communications issue arose again recently when some members complained that they did not know that NABJ had proposed a split of the proceeds from the 2012 Unity convention. These members suggested that the NABJ proposal could work to the disadvantage of other groups in the coalition.

Internet Beats TV as News Source for Those Under 30

"The internet is slowly closing in on television as Americans’ main source of national and international news," the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported on Tuesday.

"Currently, 41% say they get most of their news about national and international news from the internet, which is little changed over the past two years but up 17 points since 2007. Television remains the most widely used source for national and international news – 66% of Americans say it is their main source of news – but that is down from 74% three years ago and 82% as recently as 2002.

". . . An analysis of how different generations are getting their news suggests that these trends are likely to continue. In 2010, for the first time, the internet has surpassed television as the main source of national and international news for people younger than 30. Since 2007, the number of 18 to 29 year olds citing the internet as their main source has nearly doubled, from 34% to 65%. Over this period, the number of young people citing television as their main news source has dropped from 68% to 52%."

"The public never treated me this way," former New York Gov. David Paterson said of the label "accidental governor," but he said the press did. (Credit: WBGO)

David Paterson Ties "Accidental Governor" Label to Race

Former New York Gov. David Paterson, who ascended to the position in 2008 after the resignation of Eliot Spitzer amid a sex scandal, says the print media consistently characterized him as "an unelected or accidental governor.

"I have sometimes wondered if this wasn’t the media playing to fears relating to affirmative action," said Paterson, the state's first African American governor. "In other words, here was a person who is in a job he should not be in or in a position they don’t deserve to be in . . . and I’ve never eliminated the possibility that’s what it was."

Paterson made the comments on "Conversations with Allan Wolper" on WBGO-FM, the NPR jazz station in Newark, N.J. The station plans to excerpt 19 minutes of the interview on Friday night's "The WBGO Journal," but a podcast is available.

"Every two years, on average, a lieutenant governor moves up to governor, but none of them were referred to as accidental governor as consistently as I was," he said.

"When I made this statement publicly, the print media wrote that I was wrong," he continued. "That in some book somewhere, President Johnson was known as the accidental president. Sure, in one sentence, but not every day, as if to mislead the public into thinking this person should not be governor."

Paterson challenged aspects of the New York Times' reporting of a Feb. 5, 2010, phone call between Paterson and Sherr-Una Booker, a woman allegedly assaulted by Paterson's then-aide, David Johnson. The call took place the day before a scheduled court date that Booker ended up skipping.

"The clear implication was that the Governor may have engaged in witness tampering by pressuring Booker to not go to court for an order of protection against Johnson," the website nytpicker wrote at the time.

Paterson said on the show, "The woman called me, I didn't call her," and said telephone records confirm that. "That's never been printed anywhere," he said.

Judge Sets Trial in Claim of Double Standard on "N-Word"

Tom Burlington"A federal jury will be asked to decide whether it is acceptable for an African American person, but not a white person, to use the 'n' word in a workplace," Michael Klein reported Wednesday for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick has ruled that former Fox29 reporter-anchor Tom Burlington's lawsuit against the station, claiming a double standard and alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination, may go to trial. However, Surrick denied Burlington's claim of a hostile work environment.

"Burlington, who is white, was fired after using the 'n' word during a June 2007 staff meeting at which reporters and producers were discussing reporter Robin Taylor's story about the symbolic burial of the word by the Philadelphia Youth Council of the NAACP.

"Burlington, who began work at the station in 2004 and is now working as a real estate agent, was suspended within days and fired after an account of the incident was published in the Philadelphia Daily News. He alleges that he 'was discriminated against because of his race,' according to court documents. He claims in his lawsuit that at least two African American employees at Fox29 had used the word in the workplace and were not disciplined.

" 'Does this mean we can finally say the word n-?' Burlington asked colleagues, according to depositions.

"Nicole Wolfe, a producer and one of the three African American employees among the nine people at the meeting, exclaimed: 'I can't believe you just said that!' "

Obama Administration Tries to Foil "Obamacare" Searchers

The Obama administration has bought "ObamaCare" as a sponsored search term on Google in an attempt to foil those who coined the word as a disparagement of health-care reform, NPR reported on Wednesday.

Clicking on the term takes the user to, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"I talked to administration aides and they say it's not the first time the government has spent money to direct people to federal websites by purchasing search terms," NPR's Julie Rovner reported. "This one's costing about a dollar a click, which is not that expensive as these sorts of things go.

"What's not clear, however, is whether this is the first time the government has tried to redirect people who are searching for a term used by people who don't like what it is the government's offering, or as one aide said to me, 'We're taking their term and we're turning it against them.' "

Republicans, who on Wednesday took control of the House of Representatives, have said they would repeal the administration's health-care law and labeled it "Obamacare." Most journalists have resisted the term, which has been spelled various ways in print.

Series Relates Nomadic Migration and Skin Color

In a four-part public radio series that is part of "The Color Initiative," Phillip Martin has posted an exploration of nomadic migration and skin color. The series, which airs on Public Radio International's "The World," is a collaboration among PRI, the BBC and WGBH Boston.

"Malta is the smallest of the twenty-seven EU nations, and it is under siege," Martin's summary begins.

"With other routes to continental Europe closed off, thousands of African immigrants in recent years have steered closer to Malta in their torturous and risky journey north from Libya on the waves of the Mediterranean. But most of the approximately 8,000 asylum seekers that have reached Malta in recent years are 'accidental tourists'. Few ever intentionally land on the island nation of 400,000. Rather, it is leaky boats and lack of sea-know-how that LANDS them there.

"Once in Malta, some are detained for nearly two years, essentially living between where they come from and where they'd like to go.

"And many of them believe — rightly or wrongly — that their skin color plays a role in their ultimate fate.

"In the following multi-part series, I interview desperate asylum seekers, a detention camp warden, the new US Ambassador to Malta, fishermen who saved lives at sea and another who said he was instructed not to stop, courageous Maltese naval men, Somali women and children, Malta's Justice Minister, social workers, a Jesuit priest-advocate whose car was firebombed and Maltese who feel they're being overrun by refugees (given the size of their island nation).

"We also travel to Geneva to speak with a representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and to Italy to speak with residents of Pozzallo and Taormina, Sicily, in this exploratory series."

Short Takes

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Black Men with opinons need services of a psychiatrist

Apparently even in white liberal corporate venues the contempt for Black males runs deep. From my perspective Juan Williams was a margainal Black apologist who made a living appeasing white folks at the expense of Black people..His comments and hate speech warranted his termination clearly Vivian Schiller's comments also demand that she be terminated as well..


I celebrate the effort and shout hurrah for Oprah Winfrey. I wish her continued success with programming for her  demographic of sensitive emotive women.  I sampled her shows the first day and without a doubt I'll go back from time to time. But what a bunch of dull retreaded TV concepts, including another talk show for Gayle King to show why she's on the passenger side of her best friend's ride. The only thing that seemed to be original was Kidnapped by the Kids --- but unfortunately the story line was very predictable. Sin and redemption. In the end the father is repentant and mends his ways by agreeing to work less and be home with the kids more. (Af the end the producer noted that dad took a job closer to home --- I'm guessing it's with OWN.) The promos were good enough for me to determine I will not be watching Fergie Dutchess of York trying to reclaim respectability,  Laura Berman trying to outraunch Dr. Ruth, or Oprah's staff trying to make her 25th anniversary  (NOW PAST) spectacular enough for me to want know more about behind the scenes. I don't need to see Oprah eating, and posing, and coifing, and eating and dressing and eating and acting surprised. The final let-down for me is that OWN and NPR seem to be neck and neck when it comes to a commitment to diversity hiring and programming.

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