Washington NPR and its public radio stations around the country got an earful from listeners and angry citizens in the middle of pledge season Friday over its firing of commentator Juan Williams, receiving thousands of complaints and scattered threats to withhold donations.
Still, a number of major stations said they are meeting or surpassing their fundraising goals in the wake of the furor over Williams’ dismissal for saying he gets nervous on a plane when he sees Muslims.
“We find ourselves kind of caught between NPR and the audience,” said Craig Curtis, program director at KPCC in Pasadena, Calif., which won’t hold its pledge drive until next month. He said the station had received about 150 comments on the firing, mostly disapproving, and three people asked to cancel their memberships.
Meanwhile, conservative leaders including Sarah Palin are calling on Congress to cut off NPR’s federal funding — an idea that was also raised in the 1990s and didn’t get very far.
Williams was fired Wednesday over comments he made on “The O’Reilly Factor” on the Fox News Channel, his other employer.
On Friday, Williams said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that NPR had been “looking for a reason to get rid of me” for some time because its executives disapproved of his appearances on Fox.
NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller held a staff meeting Friday to discuss a recent union agreement and said management was standing by its decision, spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm in Washington said. Schiller acknowledged that NPR didn’t handle the firing perfectly and executives would review their process, Rehm said.
Williams kept up his criticism of NPR as guest host of “The O’Reilly Factor” on Friday night, mentioning several remarks by other NPR commentators that didn’t result in firings. Williams noted that commentator Nina Totenberg said on a political talk show 15 years ago that if there is “retributive justice,” former Republican North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren will get AIDS from a transfusion. Helms was a polarizing figure who fought against the civil rights movement.
NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher said Totenberg repeatedly apologized for her comments.
Veronica Richardson, 38, a paralegal from Raleigh, N.C., said the firing revealed that NPR had a “political agenda.” She said she would stop listening and donating to her local station, WUNC-FM in Chapel Hill.
“I think it’s unfair to fire someone for a comment that was innocuous to begin with. It’s how many people feel,” said Richardson, who describes herself as a libertarian.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he will introduce legislation to end federal funding for public radio and television.
“Once again, we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree,” he said in a statement. “With record debt and unemployment, there’s simply no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize a liberal programming they disagree with.”
NPR radio stations are independently owned and operated and, like the nation’s public TV stations, receive government funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got about $420 million this year from Washington.