Politics

What if NPR had a Juan Williams soul-searching party and nobody came?

Chris Moody Contributor

The National Public Radio Board of Directors held a public meeting Thursday in part to discuss the company’s decision to fire news analyst Juan Williams, giving listeners a chance to voice their concerns directly to board members.

One problem: No one showed up to comment.

NPR terminated Williams’s contract last month after he said during a Fox News interview that he gets “worried” and “nervous” when he sees people in airports who “identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims.”

The board gathered at NPR headquarters Thursday morning for its semi-annual business meeting and after a short speech in which newly seated Chairman Dave Edwards said that he hopes NPR will “emerge from this episode a stronger and a more significant national and regional civic institution,” he opened the floor for public comments.

Silence.

“Going once?” he said, looking around the room.

“You may want to note that it’s not on the agenda for tomorrow, Mr. Chairman,” said NPR general counsel Joyce Slocum. “And so this will be the opportunity to comment on this particular issue.”

Still nothing.

With that, Edwards said he appreciated “the fact that there is significant interest” in the issue and the board adjourned for a series of executive meetings to address other business.

Despite the lack of interest among Washington, D.C. residents at 9:30 a.m. on Veterans Day, the decision received an outrageous negative reaction from critics at the time, and even led some Republican members of Congress to call for the government to end funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which subsidizes NPR and member stations through taxpayer-funded grants. NPR receives about two percent of its funding directly from the CPB, and relies heavily on dues from member stations.

In the aftermath of the decision, NPR ombudsman Alicia C. Shepard, who said the firing was “poorly handled,” received more than 22,000 e-mails and hundreds of phone calls about the issue.

Williams also suggested that NPR should lose its public funding, and was offered a three-year, $2 million contact from Fox News.

NPR has hired an independent consulting group to examine the process that led to Williams’s firing and will make the groups’ findings public when they become available.

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