After the mediasphere firestorm and political attack over last month’s firing of news analyst Juan Williams, critics of the controversial decision by NPR management were no-shows at this morning’s public session of the NPR Board at the network’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
NPR, which received a bomb threat after Fox News host Bill O’Reilly denounced the Williams firing and declared that he was taking NPR down, had security guards checking visitors with a metal detector and inspecting their bags. Those who wished to address the board were asked to sign-in, but no one did.
In his last remarks as NPR Board chair, lay director Howard Stevenson said: “Nobody is thankful for where we are, but the past is prologue, and now we have to look to the future. I tend to wish my term had ended two weeks ago.”
Milwaukee Public Radio’s Dave Edwards succeeded Stevenson as chair in a unanimous vote of the board. “I am very proud to sit as chair of this board at this table,” Edwards said, after taking the gavel. “NPR is a very important institution, a vital source of original reporting and cultural programming. Our goal must be to build a stronger public service for our audience.”
Edwards quickly got to the agenda item that drew so many new observers to the meeting — NPR’s badly handled Oct. 20 dismissal of Williams, a non-staff news analyst who has long appeared as a pundit on Fox News.
The internal review initiated after the firing is being conducted by an outside party, the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Edwards announced.
The 20-office multinational law practice, is “highly regarded with considerable expertise in governance issues,” Edwards said. Its team will review internal documents, interview everyone involved in the dismissal and “report to the board,” he said. The review is underway, but has no set deadline.
The firm has handled many high-stakes jobs for NBC, Universal, Fox, CBS and other media companies, including NBC’s purchases of the Lifetime, Oxygen and Weather channels, and the NBC-Comcast merger. Years earlier the firm defended CBS against the Brown & Williamson tobacco company’s attempt to subpeona materials used in 60 Minutes’ reporting on the company.
Edwards invited public comments, but no one from the standing-room-only audience stepped up to speak, and the board adjourned the open meeting for an executive session. “We appreciate the fact that there is significant interest in what the board is talking about, and is going to be talking about” over the next two days, Edwards said.
Various committees of the NPR Board convene this afternoon, and another public session of the board is scheduled for Friday morning.