The National Public Radio board of directors retained the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges to conduct an investigation related to the firing of Juan Williams. The law firm reported orally to the board; there is no written report. Yesterday NPR released a statement regarding the investigation. Here it directly addresses Williams’s termination:
Williams’ contract was terminated in accordance with its terms. The contract gave both parties the right to terminate on 30 days’ notice for any reason. The facts gathered during the review revealed that the termination was not the result of special interest group or donor pressure. However, because of concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process, the Board additionally recommended that certain actions be taken with regard to management involved in Williams’ contract termination.
Because Williams was an at-will independent contractor, he could be fired for any reason that did not contravene his contract itself or otherwise violate applicable employment law. He was given 30 days’ notice and was therefore terminated in accordance with its terms.
Well, thanks. But was he fired because he uttered a politically incorrect statement on Fox News? Search the NPR statement high and low and you will not find a direct answer to that question.
It is a great relief to learn that Williams was not fired because of special interest group or donor pressure. We infer that the termination just reflected NPR’s service to its general audience.
So why did NPR fire Ellen Weiss? So far as we can glean from the statement, it must have been the “speed and handling of the termination process.” Williams should have been fired after a decent interval, and not quite so curtly. His firing, in other words, could have been handled better. It’s for advice like this that NPR pays the big bucks to outside counsel.
This is apparently as good as we’re going to get from NPR, but it’s not good enough. And it should be duly noted so that “certain actions” can be taken by higher authorities than the NPR board of directors.