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News chief at NPR to leave post

The top news official at National Public Radio announced Thursday that she would leave her post, as the news network concluded an investigation into last year's firing of analyst Juan Williams.

Ellen Weiss agreed to step down as senior vice president for news after 28 years with the network. Weiss had fired Williams for his comments on Fox News about fearing some people in Muslim garb who board airliners with him.

Williams' termination set off a furor and an admission by NPR President and CEO Vivian L. Schiller that Williams had been let go too quickly, without a face-to-face meeting. The NPR board began a review and announced the results Thursday.

Schiller has been admonished for her part in the controversy and will not receive a bonus for 2010, according to a statement from the NPR board that was e-mailed to employees Thursday. She will remain in her post, though, and received a vote of confidence from the NPR board, according to the statement.

The statement also said that "concerns regarding the speed and handling of the termination process" led the board to recommend other actions "with regard to management involved in Williams' contract termination." It did not say whether those actions concerned Weiss but that seemed evident when she tendered her resignation.

Weiss could not be reached to comment.

The departure of Weiss and the board's announcement that it would revamp its ethics rules are bound to resurrect the controversy that exploded around cable television and the blogosphere late in October.

The controversy began with an appearance Williams made in late October on the Fox News program "The O'Reilly Factor." Conservative host Bill O'Reilly had recently appeared on the ABC program "The View," where he said that "the Muslims really killed us on 9/1 1," causing two of the co-hosts to walk off in protest of a statement they considered bigoted.

O'Reilly asked Williams, one of his regular guests, to comment on his thoughts on Muslims. Williams said "political correctness" shouldn't stop Americans from expressing their real fears about terrorism. "When I get on a plane, I got to tell you," Williams added, "if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Two days later, Weiss called Williams and fired him for violating a provision in the NPR ethics guidelines against its news staff expressing personal opinions. NPR journalists, the code says, "should not participate in shows that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis."

Though Williams had been warned about expressing opinions before, the radio network seemed to apply the rule unequally, letting some of its other personalities offer opinions on Fox and other outlets. The one-time Washington Post journalist reacted furiously, saying he had been censored. He soon had a full-time job at Fox, where he reportedly will receive $2 million over three years.

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