Being fired from a broadcasting gig is something to which I can speak with great authority. It’s happened to me 8 times, most recently just a couple years ago. Some of the whackings were more classy than others; some, like my last one, were downright nasty. I’m sure Juan Williams knows the feeling.
Not only did Williams’ boss, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller fire him over the phone, she told the media hours later that Williams’ unacceptable behavior was between him and his conscience, or his psychiatrist. Real classy, that Schiller woman. A high-profile ten-year NPR veteran fired over the phone. Fox immediately hired him for a couple million bucks a year, and the pushback from NPR listeners began.
It got so heavy, this feedback or pushback or whatever you want to call it from the millions of NPR listeners (latest radio ratings say 34 million people listen to NPR every week, many of them spending six hours a day with NPR) that NPR’s e-mail servers and website crashed. There was genuine anger expressed from the NPR listeners. Many of the e-mails said something like “whether he deserved to be fired or not is one question, but there’s no question that the way you did it, stinks.”
To not have the common courtesy to ask Williams to come in for a face-to-face termination meeting is bad enough, but then to imply publicly that the man needs psychiatric help is WAY over-the-top. Williams, of course, had the last laugh here, and NPR finally did what it’s no doubt wanted to do for years: fire this insolent bastard who had the unmitigated gall to consort with Fox News, the antithesis of NPR. (Schiller claims NPR does not lean left at all; but then again, it’s a matter of perspective, since her formative years were with the New York Times.)
My last firing, which will have been two years ago next month, had similarities to Williams’. It was more about house politics than anything else, and for my 30 years of service to the company, I wasn’t even thanked. A couple days after I was whacked, the CEO (who was in hiding on the whacking day, on “legal advice”) went on the air and libeled me. I, too, had the last laugh, since my lawyer taught the company a very expensive lesson, and the person behind my demise met her own cosmic karma a few months after I was whacked.
As to what the real cost to NPR will be for so poorly handling the Williams termination, we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s a lot of sabre-rattling right now, and threats to cut NPR off the federal teat, but these things tend to blow over pretty quickly. I suspect it might just be a medium-sized public relations headache that will soon dissipate. Regardless, it was a classless act, and Williams –whether you agree with his sentiments about air travel or not – deserved better.