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NPR Responds To Juan Williams' Comments About Michelle Obama

Reported by Ellen - February 12, 2009 -

NPR has gotten so many complaints about Juan Williams' distasteful remarks about Michelle Obama (likening her to "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress") that it wants FOX News to stop identifying him as an NPR Political Analyst.

On January 26, Williams said on The O'Reilly Factor, “Let me just tell you this. If you think about liabilities for President Obama that are close to him, Joe Biden is up there. But Michelle Obama's right there. Michelle Obama, you know she's got the Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress thing going. If she starts talking, as Mary Katherine (Ham, a conservative writer) suggested, her instinct is to start with this 'Blame America,' you know, 'I'm the victim.' If that stuff starts to come out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O to being something of an albatross.”

NPR's ombudsman responded yesterday. It was obvious that the suits were not amused.

"(Williams.) 'Stokely Carmichael' comment got the attention of NPR's top managers. They are in a bind because Williams is no longer a staff employee but an independent contractor. As a contract news analyst, NPR doesn't exercise control over what Williams says outside of NPR.

'Juan Williams is a contributor to NPR programs as a news analyst,' said Ron Elving, NPR's Washington editor. 'What he says on NPR is the product of a journalistic process that includes editors. What he says when he is not on our air is not within our control. But we recognize that what he says elsewhere reflects on NPR, and we have discussed that fact with him specifically in regard to his remarks on Fox News regarding Michelle Obama.'

...But in the end, NPR must decide -- as it apparently already has -- whether giving its listeners the benefit of Williams' voice is worth the cost of annoying some listeners for his work on Fox.

As a result of this latest flap, NPR's Vice President of News, Ellen Weiss, has asked Williams to ask that Fox remove his NPR identification whenever he is on O'Reilly."