NPR Chief Vivian Schiller Resigns; NPR Board Confirms She Was Forced Out

March 9th, 2011 3:00 PM

NOTE: Updates will be posted below the break as they come in. Check in for all the latest developments.

In the wake of a video sting showing NPR executives making disparaging comments towards conservatives, National Public Radio announced Wednesday morning that it had accepted the resignation of its president Vivian Schiller. "The Board accepted Vivian’s resignation with understanding, genuine regret and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past 2 years," said Board Chairman Dave Edwards.

The hidden-camera video, released Tuesday, showed NPR exec Ron Schiller, no relation to Vivian, calling the Tea Party "racist" and "xenophobic" and insisting that NPR would be "better off in the long-run" without the federal dollars that congressional Republicans have been seeking to rescind. A pair of NPR statements disavowed Ron Schiller's comments, and specifically rejected his claims regarding NPR funding.

Vivian Schiller was also the target of criticism for her handling of the firing of Juan Williams from NPR for comments he made about Muslims that the station considered inappropriate. Schiller acknowledged in a speech at the National Press Club on Monday that the firing was not handled correctly.

Williams appeared on the Fox News Channel, where he is a contributor, on Tuesday night to denounce NPR for the revelations in the undercover video. "They prostitute themselves for money," he had told Fox Nation earlier in the day. Appearing on Tuesday's "Hannity", Williams blasted NPR's leadership for "destroying NPR":

These people are so rude and condescending and they say people like me are bigots because i tell you what I feel. These folks are not only attack the tea party as anti-intellectual and racist and bias. They attack anybody that disagrees with their point of view –this elitist, this NPR point of view that time rest of us are a bunch of dummies, a bunch of rubes from the country, we don’t understand what going on. he thinks we lack education and only his group up there, on the executive floor of NPR really understand. These folks are doing damage, Sean, to real good journalists at NPR the people who gather the news. Because they are destroying the brand. These people are just destroying NPR.

UPDATE (9:40): Here is the full text of Board Chairman Dave Edwards's statement:

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.

UPDATE (9:44): "I'm told by sources that she was forced out," NPR media reporter David Folkenflik claims.

UPDATE (9:53): Given Folkenfilk's claims, some on Twitter are noting that Schiller is essentially playing the same role than Williams played in his firing: a scapegoat in the midst of an onslaught of bad press. But Schiller (Vivian, not Ron) maintains a healthy share of the responsibility for her situation, if for no other reason than Juan Williams's ouster motivated the video sting behind the current controversy.

James O'Keefe, the conservative filmmaker responsible for the effort, told CNN on Tuesday:

"My colleague Shaughn Adeleye who posed as one of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood was pretty offended with what happened with Juan Williams and he suggested looking into NPR after that incident back in the fall," O'Keefe said to CNN Correspondent Brian Todd on Tuesday.

"My other colleague Simon Templar came up with the idea to have a Muslim angle since Juan Williams was fired due to his comments. So we decided to see if there was a greater truth or hidden truth amongst these reporters and journalists and executives."

UPDATE (10:04): "So which is it?" asks Ed Morrssey. Did Schiller resign, or did the board force her out, as Folkenflik insists?

This is no point of mere semantics. NPR holds itself out as a news organization, and asks its consumers to give it credibility. Is Folkenflik misinformed, or is the board lying about their “regret” at accepting Schiller’s resignation? I’d guess it’s the latter, as NPR desperately attempts to save face after a series of scandals and botched management decisions, starting with the termination of Juan Williams last year.

UPDATE (10:08): Jim Geraghty notes the colossal severance packages that have been given to previous outgoing executives - former CEO Kenneth Stern received $872,189 when he stepped down. Considering NPR's claims regarding the absolute necessity of maintaining its federal funding, the severance pay Schiller receives is a tangentially-relevant political question.

UPDATE (10:35): On Twitter, NYU journalism professor and prominent media critic Jay Rosen quips: "Maybe the NPR board should open peace negotiations with Breitbart, Bozell and Michele Bachmann. Or better yet, absorb them onto the board."

Or maybe NPR could just give up its federal funding, and insulate itself from claims that it uses taxpayer dollars to fund a politically-lopsided news operation. As CEI's Lee Doren noted: "I love how the Left is incredulous that people might object to being taxed to fund media against their political interests."

Rosen also tweeted (and Folkenflik re-tweeted): "Today is the high point for 'please don't hurt us, we'll be good' journalism." Wouldn't it be more accurate to call it "please don't take our federal funding, we won't slander millions of taxpayers" journalism?

UPDATE (10:57): This from Jack Ohman of the Oregonian:

UPDATE (11:02): The news networks' reaction to yesterday's sting video was pretty much what you'd expect. As NB's Scott Whitlock documents, CBS simply ignored the video, while NBC tried to downplay its significance. What do you suppose their reaction to Schiller's ouster will be?

UPDATE (11:04): Jim DeMint doesn't really care about the makeup of NPR's senior staff. In a statement Wednesday morning, he reiterated his support for a measure to remove NPR's federal funding.

The issue about taxpayers funding public broadcasting isn't about who gets hired or fired, it's about two simple facts: we can't afford it and they don't need it. We're facing a $1.5 trillion deficit and spending hundreds of millions on public broadcasting makes no sense today when they are raising millions from private donors and Americans already have thousands of media choices.

UPDATE (11:07): Folkenflik just tweeted: "Board chairman Edwards confirms board ousted her - said Schiller set tone by saying board should take any action it felt necessary." In other words, Edwards lied this morning when he claimed that Schiller had resigned.

UPDATE (11:10): Make sure you check out Noel Sheppard's full report on Juan Williams and his scathing criticism of NPR, outlined breifly above.

UPDATE (11:19): As reported on NPR's website, here's some more detail on Edwards's admission that Schiller was, in fact fired:

"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."

Edwards also noted that a CEO is responsible for the actions of his or her subordinates, so while Schiller was not directly respionsible for the content of the sting video, "we determined that it was the wise move for us to accept her resignation and move on." Edwards maintained that NPR is steadfastly opposed to the positions espoused by Ron Schiller in the video, and insisted that "the decision to part ways with Vivian Schiller should prove the board's commitment to NPR's standards," in NPR's words.

UPDATE (11:31): According to ABC's Jake Tapper, "Aspen Institute says Ron Schiller informed them that 'in light of the controversy' not in best interests of AI to work there". Schiller had been slated to head up a new arts program there. The press release announcing the hire has been taken down, but you can still see a cached version here.

UPDATE (11:49): In a statement to the New York Times, Schiller accepted responsibility for recent developments:

“I obviously had no prior knowledge” of [Ron Schiller's] comments, “and nothing to do with them, and disavowed them as soon as I learned of them all. But I’m the C.E.O., and the buck stops here,” she said in an interview Wednesday morning.

She added, “I’m hopeful that my departure from NPR will have the intended effect of easing the defunding pressure on public broadcasting.” Ms. Schiller has been campaigning in recent months against potential funding cuts.

UPDATE (12:27): David Folkenflik spoke in more detail about the controversy and the decision to force Schiller out on NPR this afternoon. Here's full audio of that segment, compliments of Yid with Lid:

UPDATE (12:39): Michael Barone has a very interesting column at the Washington Examiner on what NPR could learn from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Barone's advice: "Don't fight defunding. Instead work with Congress to get NPR and CPB off the public payroll."

UPDATE (12:46): House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed Sen. DeMint's tone in a release his office put out a short while ago:

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.

Republicans are clearly trying to avoid the perception that they are gloating over the past few days' events (not that that perception existed, but Cantor and DeMint did well to pre-empt it).

UPDATE (1:38): In the wake of Schiller's ouster, NB publisher Brent Bozell has sent a letter to House and Senate leaders asking them to withdraw federal support for NPR. You can read the full text of that letter here.

UPDATE (4:04): Surprise! The interim CEO appointed to replace Schiller has a record of contributing money to Democrats.