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Kai Ryssdal: This next story comes with a disclaimer of sorts. You hear me make it every day. Marketplace is produced by American Public Media, not NPR. So we approach the Juan Williams story with no inside information. The longtime NPR news analyst was fired Wednesday night for violating NPR’s ethics policies. For public radio stations, the timing and the ensuing backlash is less than ideal. A lot of them, as you may have been hearing on your station, are in the middle of their pledge drives.
Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports.
Janet Babin: Juan Williams clarified his controversial remarks on “Good Morning America.”
JUAN WILLIAMS: If I’m at the gate at an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb, who are first and foremost identifying themselves as Muslims, in the aftermath of 9/11, I am taken aback, I have a moment of fear.
But many Muslim groups were outraged by the comments, and NPR took swift action to terminate Williams. That controversy led to another one: People upset by the firing threatened to withhold public radio contributions. And this is fall fundraising week.
In Austin, KUT’S general manager Stewart Vanderwilt says he’s heard from about 50 listeners.
Stewart Vanderwilt: Some are expressing concern, some are seeking more information, in a few cases canceling their support, or informing us that they will not be contributing to the station.
The complaints didn’t affect KUT’s fundraising. But the Williams fallout could have other consequences. Some politicians have called for cuts in NPR’s federal funding. Less than 2 percent of NPRs revenue comes indirectly from federal sources. Most funding comes from member stations. But at rural stations, federal funding can account for close to 40 percent of revenue.
Andy Brimmer is at crisis management firm Joele Frank, Wilkinson Brimmer Katcher.
Andy Brimmer: You don’t pick a fight with someone who has a very large bully pulpit, and Juan Williams obviously has a very large bully pulpit.
Willams has reportedly signed a deal with Fox News for a figure large enough to fund the annual budgets of many public radio stations.
I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.
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