Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of NPR, just can’t shake off the fallout from the firing of Juan Williams. After a speech she gave at the National Press Club on Monday, the first question Schiller faced was about Williams, who was fired in October for remarks he made on Fox News Channel.
“We handled the situation badly. We acted too hastily, and we made some mistakes,” said Schiller.
Hoping to prevent incidents like the Williams firing and its attendant controversy in the future, NPR is thinking about prohibiting its staffers from having long-term relationships or contracts with other news organizations, as Williams did with Fox News.
That could be a problem for current NPR mainstays like Mara Liasson—who, like Williams, is a contributor to Fox News—and Cokie Roberts, who also works for ABC News.
Schiller also defended federal funding for public broadcasting, which is currently under fire in Congress. To her credit, she avoided a tit for tat with Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who argued in an op-ed in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal that public broadcasting, backed by liberals, is rich enough to go private.
Even though NPR gets about 10 percent of its revenue from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it “plays a critical role in generating the other 90 percent,” Schiller explained. “You pull out one thread, and the whole thing unravels.”
Public broadcasting has never been more at risk, Schiller admitted. “There were attempts before, but we didn’t have a $1.4 trillion deficit,” she said.