NPR Picks Sesame Workshop CEO (and Former Kennedy Aide) as President

Even as House Republicans plan to zero them out, National Public Radio has picked a new president with Democratic Party connections on his resume. The choice is Gary Knell, the CEO of Sesame Workshop, which makes Sesame Street “and other highly regarded children’s shows” for PBS, as NPR said.

The Washington Post mentioned Knell is “a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee when it was chaired by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Before his stint in Washington, he worked as a legal adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) during Brown's first term, and for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).” NPR has a long history of Democratic party men as presidents.

Back in 1993, the MRC noted they chose a Democratic operative in Delano Lewis, a longtime associate of former Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. Lewis replaced Carter official Douglas Bennet, who left to join the Clinton Administration as an Assistant Secretary of State. Bennet had taken over in 1983 for Frank Mankiewicz, who managed ultraliberal George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.

NPR announced the choice on its newscast Morning Edition on Monday, but NPR media reporter David Folkenflik sounded like he was the network publicist. Only Knell and the people who chose him were allowed to speak, and it was praise for NPR all around, about how tremendously professional and influential it is, with 27 million listeners a week.

“That’s Knell, brought to you by the letter K,” Folkenflik lamely began. Folkenflik mentioned that Knell worked for Senate Democrats, but tried to offset that by claiming that as Sesame Workshop CEO, he had worked with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on global issues. (She named him to the US Commission on UNESCO.)

Knell told Folkenflik he wanted to “depoliticize” the NPR debate. "I'm not naively walking into this...I think, obviously, [NPR has] been caught somewhat in the political cross hairs in Washington. Some of that is undeserved, I think. And what I would really like to see is depoliticizing NPR a little bit, so that it's not caught in those cross hairs."

Vivian Schiller, the former NPR chief executive who is now the chief digital officer for NBC News, wrote on Twitter, "New @npr CEO Gary Knell is an experienced leader, a good man and a friend. Best shot to liberate pubradio from untenable reliance on fed $$." That tweet was quoted on the NPR website, but didn't make it on the morning airwaves.

That's surely not the company line. Knell won the job with the usual promises that NPR would seek more money from every source: federal and state governments, corporations, foundations, listeners, and surely eccentric leftist billionaires from Hungary who want to destroy Fox News Channel. Otherwise, he said, he wants to get out of the way of its journalists, whom he called "amazingly fabulous."

"I think the point here is that it's not about liberal or conservative. It's about fairness," Knell said. "And I think we've got to make the case that we're delivering a fair service — not only in the way we do our jobs but in the way we disseminate the news."

It's too bad that the Knell era began with a slavishly corporate story with no dissenters allowed to speak.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis