Firing Led to Ethics Code Review
By Samuel Sutlive
NPR’s board of directors examined issues revolving around their Senior Vice President for news Ellen Weiss’s handling of Oct. 20, 2010 firing of NPR’s News Analyst Juan Williams.
Williams was fired over remarks made on Fox News. A factor in Williams firing was the fact that Weiss kept staff members who thought the same as she did and had the same point of view. Weiss told the Los Angles Times that the decision to fire and terminate Williams contract was “based on the highest journalistic standards”. A newsroom employee said “You have to keep in mind that Ellen sees the world through the prism of ‘NPRness,’ which encompasses a certain worldview that may or may not include diversity issues…But more often than not, she spotted that sense of ‘NPRness’ in people like herself — upper middle class or higher, Ivy League or a similarly prestigious schools, even down to a certain temperament, personality and tone of voice”. Vivian Schiller, NPR’s president approved the firing of Williams.
One Public Affairs issue is that news employees need to follow the procedures that are set forth in their organization for a termination of a contract as well as the rules stated in the specific contract. For example the NPR’s contract with Williams gave either party the right to terminate with a 30 days’ notice. However NPR’s board of directors said that they were concerned with the way the termination was handled. The board also said that they would be adopting recommendations for better disciplinary action of management employees in terminating contracts. A second Public Affairs issue that could come up in certain situations would be a lack of consistency in following the ethics code of an organization. NPR’s board said that they would be implementing recommendations that would enforce and secure that all employees and contractors would follow the rules of NPR’s ethic code in a consistent manner. A third Public Affairs issue would be creating a standard rule for employees about what to and not to say or discuss when being interviewed or talking on other media outlets. NPR’s employees will be reviewing the ethics code, using potential outlets for their talent while following the ethics code rules. NPR will “‘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’”.
Should Weiss have made a meeting with Schiller and Williams to see if she could work out the miscommunication before firing him?
Was the NPR’s ethics codebook unclear?
What about management employees being super selective on whom they hire. Would this be a good decision or a bad decision? It is not just NPR, managers who are going to give a raise to an employee tend to subconsciously pick someone that is more like themselves.
If the board found that the contract termination was not handled properly did Weiss really base her decision on the best journalistic standards? Or was she just trying to save face?