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NPR Ombudsman Defends Juan Williams Firing

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In a blog post on Thursday, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard defended the network's controversial firing of long-time analyst Juan Williams.

NPR's decision has caused a wave of criticism in some quarters. Williams said the network had acted worse than Richard Nixon in its treatment of him; several prominent conservatives, including Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee, called for NPR's government funding to be cut; and other media figures, such as the hosts of "Morning Joe" and "The View," criticized NPR for firing Williams.

Shepard said that the storm of controversy surrounding NPR's actions led to a far greater listener response than anything else during her tenure.

"Office phone lines rang non-stop like an alarm bell with no off button. We've received more than 8,000 emails, a record with nothing a close second," she wrote.

Shepard felt that NPR had not handled the firing -- which came after Williams' comments about Muslims on Fox News -- well.

"I think NPR owed him a chance to explain himself," she wrote. "I'm not privy to the why this announcement was so hastily made...a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare."

But she also wrote that she thought Williams' firing was justified. She said his comments were "deeply offensive to Muslims" and that "was doing the kind of stereotyping in a public platform that is dangerous to a democracy. It puts people in categories, as types - not as individuals with much in common despite their differences."

Moreover, Shepard said, the latest comments were not isolated incidents, but came after years of tense relations between NPR management and Williams over his statements on Fox News, including one where he called Michelle Obama "Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress."

"In fact," she wrote, "since I became Ombudsman in October 2007, no other NPR employee has generated as much controversy as Williams."

Ultimately, she said, she agreed with NPR leadership that Williams had become more of a liability than an asset.