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.

PBS dishes up new food site

A preview version of the upcoming PBS Food website went online today (July 25), according to the PBS Station Products and Innovation blog. The site is aiming to "unite cooking shows, blogs and recipes from PBS and local stations across the country." First up are its two Fresh Tastes bloggers. Jenna Weber graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in 2008 and has worked as a pastry chef, bread baker and freelance food editor; she also blogs at Marc Matsumoto is a food blogger and photographer at websites and, whose worked has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. This is the first phase of PBS Food's rollout, which will continue later this summer with the full launch.

Few pubradio licensees considering sales or mergers, survey finds

The vast majority of stations responding to the University Station Alliance's most recent economic survey reported that they're not likely to be sold or make changes in their governance structure this year.

Of 141 stations responding to USA's fourth annual survey, 88.4 percent indicated that station sales or other ownership changes were not under consideration. Only a handful of stations indicated that talks of consolidation (4 percent), local management agreements (4 percent) or frequency sales (5 percent) were in the works, according to the survey. It was conducted among public radio licensees earlier this summer; a few respondents also operate public TV stations.

Almost 40 percent of stations will be receiving less direct support from their educational licensees this year, but most (72 percent) said the funding cuts have not prompted changes in their programming or public service. Fifty-nine percent of station respondents said they expect to earn more revenues from audience support; 46 percent are projecting increased underwriting sales.

USA, an affinity group for stations owned by university licensees, has published summaries of the survey findings as PDF files on its homepage.