NPR, running scared from the let's-defund-public-broadcasting stirred up by its firing of analyst Juan Williams three months ago, offered up a couple of sacrificial lambs Thursday. Ellen Weiss (below right), the senior vice president for news who dumped Williams, resigned. And CEO Vivian Schiller lost her annual bonus. (Insert laugh track here from NPR commentators if they were reporting that BP or some other corporate Leviathan was "punishing" an executive by withholding a bonus.)
Those moves were accompanied by a blathery statement from NPR's board of directors that admitted no wrongdoing but portentously announced the formation of various committees and ethics policies. At the same time, another statement -- signed by Schiller -- praised Weiss as her body hurtled overboard: "Ellen exemplifies journalistic professionalism and integrity." Translation: With the Republicans taking over the House, we had to do something, and Ellen drew the short straw."
Williams -- who also worked as a contributor to Fox News at the same time he was on NPR -- was fired after he appeared on Bill O'Reilly's shows and said that Muslims pose a civil rights/national security dilemma for the United States. "I'm not a bigot," Williams said. "You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
NPR, already suffering a collective near-stroke over the fact that one of its people was appearing on Fox News, dumped him almost immediately. "Our reporters, our hosts and our new analysts should not be injecting their own views about a controversial issue as part of their story," Schiller said at the time. Curiously, that policy did not seem to cover Nina Totenberg when she appeared on ABC and said that Sen. Jesse Helms should worry that a retributive God might give him AIDS.
NPR has always been more of a political cult than a news organization, and I don't think Thursday's announcement changes anything. It doesn't sound like Williams does, either. He was particularly underwhelmed by the statement praising Weiss. "If they want to be Pravda and issue propaganda like that, fine, but I think everybody knows the real story here,” he said on Fox News. Check out his full response.