Jul 25, 2011

Juan Williams's account of his NPR ouster hits bookstores today

Fox News analyst Juan Williams is back in the news -- promoting his new book Muzzled: The Assault on Honest Debate, which tells his version of events that led to his abrupt dismissal as an NPR analyst last October.

Former NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard, whose tenure of as the listeners' representative at NPR coincided with a heavy volume of complaints about Williams's dual news analyst roles at Fox News and NPR, has written two pieces reacting to Muzzled, which hit booksellers' stands on July 26.

On, Shepard fact-checks Williams's one-sided account of his increasingly tenuous relationship with NPR brass. In the book, Williams plays the victim card by taking no responsibility for his gradually on-air diminished role, Shepard writes, but she agrees with his assertions that NPR selectively applied its ethics code to him.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Shepard pens an hopeful analysis of how NPR leadership responded to the controversy over Williams, and she recommends that Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation undertake a similarly painful self-examination to recover from the phone-hacking scandal.

But Shepard also takes issue with one of the central premises of Muzzled: that NPR's decision to immediately dismiss him as a news analyst exemplifies how political correctness and censorship are stifling civic discourse.

Williams "is being disingenuous in calling his contract termination a free-speech issue," Shepard asserts. "It was not because, as Williams writes, he 'did not fit their view of how a black person thinks.' It was a case of management snapping after years of warning him to be more careful. It was a fraught relationship that had outlived its usefulness, and NPR should have quietly let his contract expire rather than fire him over the phone."

Politico's July 21 feature on Muzzled gives an overview of Williams's experience at NPR, as well as his insights on the political orientation of Fox News. Reporter Keach Hagey asks the author, a veteran journalist in Washington, why he stayed with NPR so long if he was treated so badly. “I guess I was an abused kid,” Williams answered. “I just kept thinking they just made this mistake today, but it will get better.” NPR's Dana Davis Rehm responded to the piece in a letter to the editor published July 26.

In other advance promotion of Muzzled, Williams appears both on The Diane Rehm Show and O'Reilly Factor. And in an extended Q&A with National Review Online, he describes within NPR's newsroom an intolerance towards viewpoints of politically conservative African Americans. "They see any black conservative as a weirdo," he says.

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