It was announced today that Ellen Weiss, National Public Radio's news chief, has "resigned" in the wake of an internal report that found that NPR didn't do anything wrong in the firing of the commentator Juan Williams. Yes, I'm also confused.
Williams's firing seemed rash -- among other things -- to me, but I'm not sure how NPR is served by forcing out (does anyone believe this is anything but a forced resignation?) a news executive with an otherwise sterling reputation? I don't know Ellen Weiss; I don't think we've ever met, but I have friends at NPR who speak highly of her. In any case, even if my friends didn't think highly of her, it doesn't seem that her removal is actually warranted. She made a mistake of judgment, and she certainly shouldn't have fired Williams by telephone, but really, are there no second chances anymore in journalism? Rick Sanchez shouldn't have been fired; Dave Weigel shouldn't have been fired; Juan Williams shouldn't have been fired; and Ellen Weiss shouldn't have been fired. (About Helen Thomas we can have a separate discussion, though I see she is employed again by someone who has exonerated her of anti-Semitism). I obviously don't know the internal dynamics of NPR, but it seems as if a good person was removed from her (three-decade) place of work for no particularly good reason. Fallows, as usual, says it better than I do:
Is letting her go, for one episode (with Williams), any worse than letting Williams go for one comment on Fox News (that he got nervous when people in "Muslim garb" got on an airplane)? Structurally they might seem the same. But NPR's day-after explanation about Williams was that this was the culmination of years-long disagreements with him about his role as a Fox commentator. I know nothing first-hand about the merits of that explanation; but its essence is different from Weiss's situation, in which one instance of misjudgment appears to trump her reputation and achievement over the decades.