Vivian Schiller resigned as president and CEO of NPR, its board of directors announced Wednesday, a day after news broke of a sting by conservative provocateur James O'Keefe in which a surreptitiously recorded video showed the head of NPR's fundraising arm saying that members of the tea party movement are xenophobic and racist and that NPR would prefer to do without subsidies provided by the federal government.
The fundraising executive, Ron Schiller, no relation to Vivian Schiller, had already planned to step down but made his departure immediate after revelation of the sting. He had planned to start work with the Aspen Institute on April 1, but on Wednesday the institute said he decided not to take the job in light of the controversy over the video, current.org reported.
Vivian Schiller rushed back to Washington from New York Tuesday to deal with the crisis, which occurred as public funding for public broadcasting was under attack by Republicans on Capitol Hill.
In response to the video late Tuesday, NPR spokeswoman Dana Davis Rehm said: "The comments contained in the video are contrary to everything we stand for and we completely disavow the views expressed. . . . The assertion that NPR and public radio stations would be better off without federal funds does not reflect reality," according to Paul Farhi, reporting in the Washington Post.
"The challenge with O'Keefe's video is that it is obviously heavily edited," NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote. "Just as was an earlier video where O'Keefe took on ACORN, a community activist group that eventually lost its federal funding."
For example, she said, Schiller seemed to be saying that conservatives, by and large, are uneducated.
" 'What I meant by "uneducated," for example, were people who viciously attack federal funding and NPR without facts, and people who attack Muslim people because of lack of education about Muslims,' said Schiller in an email to me. 'That, of course, hardly comes through at all.' Even so, Schiller admits he said some stupid things," Shepard wrote.
It was the second recent high-profile crisis for Vivian Schiller.
NPR faced widespread criticism for its abrupt firing of commentator Juan Williams last fall over remarks Williams made on Fox News about Muslims. In that fallout, Ellen Weiss, NPR's senior vice president for news, resigned in January, the board of directors decided Schiller would not receive a 2010 bonus considering "her role in the termination process" and Fox gave Williams a contract reported to be worth $2 million.
NPR issued this statement Wednesday:
"The NPR Board of Directors announced today that it has accepted the resignation of Vivian Schiller as President and CEO of NPR, effective immediately.
"Board Chairman Dave Edwards said: 'The Board accepted Vivian’s resignation with understanding, genuine regret and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years.'
"According to a CEO succession plan adopted by the Board in 2009, Joyce Slocum, SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel, will be appointed to the position of Interim CEO. The Board will establish an Executive Transition Committee to develop a timeframe and process for the recruitment and selection of new leadership."
NPR had been criticized by the National Association of Black Journalists and others for lack of progress on diversity, but during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club on Monday, Schiller declared that diversity is "a very, very big priority for us" and that NPR had "a number of different initiatives" to broaden the diversity of its audience, staff and content. Schiller said she agreed with an October column by NABJ President Kathy Y. Times, "NABJ to NPR: Diversity is Better but Not Enough!"
As an indication of her commitment, she had also appointed Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute, to the new position of vice president of diversity in news and operations.
Bob Butler, NABJ's vice president of broadcast, told colleagues Wednesday that "When Schiller arrived at NPR, she inherited a culture that was, at best, dismissive of diversity. Following some public tongue-lashings from NABJ, Schiller met with President Times and me and committed to creating a more diverse work force and management team.
"She followed through and now NPR is more diverse. It's a shame that NPR's board bowed down to pressure from another James O'Keefe stunt."
Schiller joined NPR as president and CEO in January 2009 after being senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com; senior vice president and general manager of the Discovery Times Channel, a joint venture of the New York Times and Discovery Communications. She had also been senior vice president of CNN Productions, where she led CNN's long-form programming efforts, according to her NPR bio.
- Eric Deggans blog, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times: Latest NPR scandal gives oxygen to untrustworthy information peddlers
- David Folkenflik, NPR: Vivian Schiller, CEO Of NPR, Steps Down
- Jack Shafer, Slate: In Defense of Ron Schiller
- Juan Williams, Fox Nation: Juan Williams Livid Over NPR Sting
Lauren is a former Deputy Editor of The Root.