Ellen Weiss' first comments on her NPR resignation
Ellen Weiss called her decision to step down Thursday as the top news executive at National Public Radio "extremely hard" but declined to criticize NPR or back away from her decision to fire Juan Williams, the action that led to her downfall.
Weiss, 51, would have hit her 29th anniversary at NPR next month, but she agreed to leave her post under pressure after an internal investigation found that Williams' firing had been hasty and not well executed.
Weiss stressed that she did not make the decision to fire Williams alone. She acted after the comentator went on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" and described his occasional discomfort flying with people in "Muslim garb." NPR Chief Executive Vivian Schiller, who remains in her job, approved the firing.
"What I would say is that the decision to terminate the Juan Williams contract by NPR, of which I was a participant, was based on the highest journalistic standards," Weiss said Thursday.
The NPR ethics code requires employees to withhold their personal opinions both on the radio network and in other public apperances. But critics have noted that Williams, and other NPR personalities, were routinely asked to give opinions as guest commentators on cable television.
Speaking haltingly and with obvious emotion, Weiss said she was proud of her long tenure, which included 12 years as executive producer of the news magazine "All Things Considered." She said she thought she had prepared NPR well for the future.
Meeting with a small group of confidantes inside the network Thursday, Weiss said she previously had advised others that any organization had to prepare for the loss of the boss.
"If you get hit by a bus, you want to make sure you have the right people in place, you want to make sure it doesn't end," Weiss said. "I feel I have an incredible newsroom in place, with fantastic leadership and unbelievably courageous reporters. I am glad I followed my own advice. Because the bus came, and I am gone.”
Weiss said she had no plans yet for the future but that she would continue to "love and admire NPR." She added: "It's an incredible institution that is way bigger than one individual."
Weiss said she could not say whether her departure would help clear the air and deflate political pressure to cut NPR's government funding, but she hoped it would.
"It was extremely hard," she said of her decision, finalized with NPR chief Schiller on Thursday. "It was not the hardest decision I ever made in my life but certainly one of the hardest."
-- James Rainey