Vivian Schiller, CEO Of NPR, Steps Down

NPR announced Wednesday that CEO Vivian Schiller has resigned after controversial comments made by NPR's former top fundraising executive came to light in a secret video.

The video of Ron Schiller (no relation to the CEO) made public Tuesday shows him disparaging conservative groups during what he thought was a fundraising meeting. The lunch meeting with two people posing as potential contributors to public radio was secretly taped by conservative activists.

A statement released Wednesday by NPR's board of directors said the resignation by Vivian Schiller, who also faced criticism last fall for the dismissal of commentator Juan Williams, "was accepted." But NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tells Morning Edition host Renee Montagne that the CEO was forced out.

Renee Montagne: David, fill us in on what precisely led to this morning's news?

David Folkenflik: Well the board of directors of NPR have put out a statement saying they accepted Vivian Schiller's resignation. I'm told by sources that she was forced out — that this was, I guess, the final shoe dropping, you could say.

The most immediate back story of course is, as you mentioned, Ron Schiller, the former senior vice president for fundraising, seemingly disparaging conservatives, something NPR executives have said is not part of our core, in fact not any part of our DNA — that we're supposed to be a place of civility, open-mindedness, where people can hear themselves reflected in our coverage and on our air.

It's important to say he used some pretty strong language about the Tea Party in this particular part of his conversation.

Exactly so. And so this was damaging in and of itself, on its face, but it's only the latest in a series of recent episodes.

And those recent episodes began with the firing of Juan Williams last fall.

In a sense, very much, yes. Juan Williams made what are now some famous comments on Fox News Channel, where he was also a contributor, talking about fearing people in Muslim garb on airlines. NPR executives including [Vivian] Schiller but also then-Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss, forced out Juan as an analyst, saying that that's not the kind of comments — it was one in a series of events in which he was making inappropriate comments. Uh, that blew up, as you may recall. It ultimately cost Ellen Weiss her job. ...

And I think it's important to underscore that all of this happened amid a push by Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the House of Representatives, stemming back to last June, to strip public broadcasting of all federal funding. The Republicans took over the House of Representatives and indeed this winter passed a bill to strip public broadcasting of all funds.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting distributes federal funds — a modest amount to NPR directly but a significant amount to its [NPR's] member stations. The fear is that up to 100 stations could go dark without it. That's the real backdrop here. There were renewed calls yesterday on Capitol Hill, intensified calls to take that money away, and I think the board ... a majority of which is controlled by station officials themselves, our clients but also our corporate board members, felt that this was one misstep, one major black eye too many.

And in this instance Ron Schiller, the former fundraiser of NPR, he was talking to what he thought were people who were proposing to give some millions of dollars to NPR. And the very people themselves turned out to be what group?

They turned out to be involved with conservative activist James O'Keefe, who has targeted a number of liberal groups including ACORN and Planned Parenthood and also, in a botched effort, tried to humble or embarrass a CNN investigative reporter. This was one too many hits or blows to the common good, I guess.

Of, here, in this case, of NPR. ... What's next?

What's next is that Joyce Slocum, who is a senior executive at NPR, a top lawyer, is going to take over as interim CEO while the board launches a search [for Vivian Schiller's replacement].

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