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Wed March 9, 2011
NPR CEO Vivian Schiller Resigns After Board Decides She Should Go
(5:25 p.m. ET: This post has been given an end-of-day write-through and re-ordering. After the following introduction, it lays out our updates in chronological order.)
Vivian Schiller, NPR's CEO and president since January 2009, left that job today in the wake of the second high-profile controversy to hit the organization in the past six months.
Dave Edwards, chairman of NPR's board, said directors came to the conclusion that the controversies under Schiller's watch had become such a distraction that she could no longer effectively lead the organization. She had told the directors that they should take the action they felt was appropriate, and Edwards said the board decided it would be best for her to depart.
The controversies in recent months that led to Schiller's departure have given NPR's critics opportunities to accuse it of liberal bias and to push for elimination of any federal funding for public broadcasting:
-- Tuesday, a videotape surfaced of then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) slamming conservatives and questioning whether NPR needs federal funding. His comments were secretly recorded by men posing as members of a Muslim organization (they were working with political activist James O'Keefe on a "sting").
-- Last fall, NPR dismissed news analyst Juan Williams after he said on Fox News Channel (where he was also a paid contributor) that he gets nervous when he sees people in "Muslim garb" on an airplane. Williams went on to say it's wrong to profile or sterotype anyone based on their appearance, but NPR said it was the latest in a series of comments he had made that violated NPR's standards. The handling of his dismissal and the controversy surrounding it ultimately led to the resignation of NPR's top news executive at the time, Ellen Weiss.
We live-blogged today's developments. Here is how things happened and the news along the way:
Our original post, at 9:19 a.m. ET:
NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned after NPR's board of directors decided that she could no longer effectively lead the organization.
This follows Tuesday's news that then-NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller (no relation) was videotaped slamming conservatives and questioning whether NPR needs federal funding during a lunch with men posing as members of a Muslim organization (they were working with political activist James O'Keefe on a "sting").
Vivian Schiller, 49, quickly condemned Ron Schiller's comments, and he moved up an already-announced decision to leave NPR and resigned effective immediately. But Ron Schiller's gaffe followed last fall's dismissal of NPR political analyst Juan Williams, for which Vivian Schiller came under harsh criticism and NPR's top news executive, Ellen Weiss, resigned.
NPR just sent this statement from NPR Board of Directors Chairman Dave Edwards to its staff and member stations:
"It is with deep regret that I tell you that the NPR Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Vivian Schiller as President and CEO of NPR, effective immediately.
"The Board accepted her resignation with understanding, genuine regret, and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years.
"Vivian brought vision and energy to this organization. She led NPR back from the enormous economic challenges of the previous two years. She was passionately committed to NPR's mission, and to stations and NPR working collaboratively as a local-national news network.
"According to a CEO succession plan adopted by the Board in 2009, Joyce Slocum, SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel, has been appointed to the position of Interim CEO. The Board will immediately establish an Executive Transition Committee that will develop a timeframe and process for the recruitment and selection of new leadership.
"I recognize the magnitude of this news – and that it comes on top of what has been a traumatic period for NPR and the larger public radio community. The Board is committed to supporting NPR through this interim period and has confidence in NPR's leadership team."
We'll have much more on this as the story develops.
Update at 9:30 a.m. ET: "I'm told by sources that she was forced out," NPR's David Folkenflik just said on Morning Edition.
Update at 9:43 a.m. ET. More from NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik,via Twitter:
"The board for NPR NEWS has just ousted CEO Vivian Schiller in the wake of video sting by conservative activist of a top exec."
Update at 9:47 a.m. ET. On Vivian Schiller:
-- She joined NPR in January 2009.
-- Before that, she was senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com.
-- In previous years, she worked in top posts at Discovery Times Channel and CNN Productions.
Update at 9:55 a.m. ET. What some others are writing:
-- The Associated Press: "NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller resigned Wednesday in the wake of comments by a fellow executive that angered conservatives and renewed calls to end federal funding for public broadcasting."
-- The New York Times' Media Decoder blog: "Controversy has swirled around NPR in recent months, as Republicans in Congress have sought to reduce or eliminate money for NPR from the federal budget and as conservatives have accused the network of having a liberal bias."
Update at 10:25 a.m. ET: As we reported, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik was on Morning Edition earlier and said that he's been told Schiller was forced out.
Here's the entire conversation he had with host Renee Montagne (it's also posted here):
Update at 11 a.m. ET: NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards "confirms board ousted her — said Schiller set tone by saying board should take any action it felt necessary," our colleague David Folkenflik reports via Twitter. He just interviewed Edwards. We're on the phone awaiting a conference call that the board chairman is supposed to be on. We'll pass on more from that shortly.
Update at 11:06 a.m. ET: NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards just told reporters, on a conference call, that "the CEO of any organization is accountable for all of the operations of that organization." So, he said, even though Vivian Schiller wasn't personally responsible for all the mistakes made in recent months "we determined that it was the wise move for us to accept her resignation and move on."
Update at 11:10 a.m. ET: The comments made by Ron Schiller in the video produced by Project Veritas "were so opposite" to what NPR stands for that "I cannot tell you how much [they] bothered me to my core," NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards just told reporters.
And he said the decision to part ways with Vivian Schiller should prove the board's commitment to NPR's standards.
Update at 11:15 a.m. ET: On the issue of whether Vivian Schiller resigned or was forced out, NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards just told reporters that:
"The board had a wide-ranging conversation with Vivian last night," about recent events and "how the organization needed to move forward."
Schiller, he said, told the board members that they should have "the flexibility to do what [they] felt was important." She "offered to step aside if that was the board's will," he said, "and the board ultimately decided that was in the best interest of the organization."
Update at 11:22 a.m. ET. As NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards continues to talk with reporters, The Associated Press reports this:
"National Public Radio President and CEO Vivian Schiller is not saying whether she offered to quit or was forced out by the organization's board of directions. Schiller told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she resigned after a discussion with the board."
Update at 11:25 a.m. ET. More from NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards on why Vivian Schiller has departed:
"The events that took place [particularly Ron Schiller's statements and Juan Williams' dismissal] became such a distraction to the organization that in the board's mind it hindered Vivian Schiller's abilty to lead the organization going forward."
Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. Ron Schiller is no longer going to take a job at the Aspen Institute. Yahoo's The Cutline reports that:
" 'Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it's in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here,' [an institute] spokesman said in a statement to The Cutline."
Update at 11:48 a.m. ET: Based on what NPR Board Chairman Dave Edwards has said in the past hour about Vivian Schiller's departure, we've added a phrase to our headline — "after board decides she should go." That reflects his statements that she told the board members to do what they thought needed to be done, and that they decided the wisest thing would be for her to leave.
Update at 12:02 p.m. ET: The issue of whether NPR and PBS should receive any federal funding has been front-and-center in recent months, with conservative lawmakers in particular saying it should be cut.
Aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who has been among those calling for the funding to be eliminated, just released this statement from him:
"Our concern is not about any one person at NPR, rather it's about millions of taxpayers. NPR has admitted that they don't need taxpayer subsidies to thrive, and at a time when the government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar that it spends, we certainly agree with them."
Update at 1:20 p.m. ET. More from Vivian Schiller:
"I did not want to leave NPR. There's a lot of pressure on NPR right now," Schiller said today in an interview with The Associated Press. But, she said, "it would have made it too difficult for stations to face that funding threat in Congress without this change."
And, according to the AP:
"Schiller said she and the board concluded that her 'departure from NPR would help to mitigate the threat from those who have misperceptions about NPR as a news organization. NPR is one of the finest news organizations I've ever encountered. Our journalists are unassailable in their work.' "
Update at 1:45 p.m. ET. NPR's David Folkenflik has now spoken with Vivian Schiller and reports that:
"In an interview, now ex-NPR CEO Schiller said she recognized her departure might help public radio get past controversies of recent months."
Update at 3:40 p.m. ET: On today's edition of All Things Considered, NPR's David Folkenflik will report that Vivian Schiller "helped NPR emerge on firm financial footing from the recession with deep, but targeted cuts." And NPR's radio and online audiences continued to grow when she was CEO.
"But some at NPR found Vivian Schiller's leadership under fire wanting," David will say. Susan Stamberg, who has been with NPR nearly 40 years, tells him that "we have not been well served by recent management. Many of our managers are talented and solid, but others have not been — and have exposed us to some terrible, terrible hits."
Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams ATC.
Update at 3:55 p.m. ET. PBS Was Also Targeted:
The Associated Press writes that "PBS said it also was contacted by the same fake Muslim group that met with Ron Schiller. PBS spokeswoman Anne Bentley said an executive there had an initial conversation with the Muslim Education Action Center, but concerns were raised about the group and PBS couldn't confirm the organization's credentials, so they halted discussions."
Update at 4:10 p.m. ET. More On PBS:
The New York Times' Media Decoder blog writes that "Anne Bentley, a PBS spokeswoman, said PBS' senior vice president for development, Brian Reddington, attended a lunch with the fake donors in February. ... Ms. Bentley said that Mr. Reddington came back from the lunch with 'profound concerns about the organization' and began what she called a routine vetting process 'when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest and to ensure they meet requirements of transparency and openness.' "
Update at 5:20 p.m. ET. David Folkenflik's report for All Things Considered: Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.