ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Melissa Block.
NPR's board of directors ousted CEO Vivian Schiller last night after a series of damaging episodes.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports that the move comes as momentum grows among conservatives to eliminate federal funding for public broadcasting.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Yesterday, conservative activist James O'Keefe III posted surreptitious video that captured NPR's top fundraising executive, Ron Schiller, saying NPR would be better off without federal funds. Schiller also sharply condemned conservatives and the Tea Party.
Ron Schiller was already leaving NPR for a job in his Colorado hometown, but his departure was made immediate. And NPR condemned his remarks. It was not enough. Last night, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller lost her job, too. The two Schillers are not related.
Dave Edwards is the general manager of NPR member station WUWM in Milwaukee, and he's also chairman of the NPR board.
Mr. DAVE EDWARDS (General Manager, WUWM; Chairman of the Board, NPR): As we looked at the situation that was unraveling now, while the board felt very confident in what Vivian has accomplished, we felt that the series of unfortunate events that have since occurred have now become such a distraction to the organization. And we felt that that hindered her ability to lead and represent public radio.
FOLKENFLIK: Those distractions began in October with the firing of Juan Williams for remarks on the Fox News channel about Muslims. That triggered an outcry from conservatives and some journalists. In January, the board rebuked Vivian Schiller and the top news executive, Ellen Weiss, resigned. The House of Representatives shortly after voted to strip all funding for the federally-chartered Corporation for Public Broadcasting starting in 2013.
Yesterday, NPR became a political target once again. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is a Virginia Republican.
Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia; House Majority Leader): The statements were that NPR realizes it doesn't need taxpayer funding. That's what this statement was about. And so perhaps, you know, the truth finally came out. And we are going to proceed along those lines because that's what was said and indicated by that organization.
FOLKENFLIK: Ron Schiller did say that some member stations would go dark if federal money disappeared. Officials have estimated as many as 100 would shut down. That fear has driven everything.
Here's Vivian Schiller earlier today.
Ms. VIVIAN SCHILLER (Former CEO, NPR): The organization is under tremendous pressure right now in the face of the federal defunding threat, and the political consequences of what happened yesterday were pretty great.
FOLKENFLIK: Schiller praised the organization's journalists and said she accepted the need to leave as a way of helping public radio get past the current controversy.
In her two years at NPR, Schiller set out a new collaborative path for the broadcaster and its member stations for an evolving digital age. She also helped NPR emerge on firm financial footing from the recession with deep but targeted cuts.
And audiences are continuing to grow. Last fall, a record number of listeners tuned in to NPR shows each week in the nation's largest markets, but some at NPR found Vivian Schiller's leadership under fire wanting.
SUSAN STAMBERG: 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.
FOLKENFLIK: Special correspondent Susan Stamberg is often called a founding mother of NPR. She's been with the network just shy of 40 years.
STAMBERG: The work that we do has been so consistently extraordinary, the strongest news organization in electronic broadcasting, and that has been untarnished. So that's the thing that I'm just trying as a longstanding staffer to keep in my mind and keep focused on.
FOLKENFLIK: Top NPR lawyer Joyce Slocum is the interim CEO, but she won't be a candidate for the job permanently. She said federal funding was vital, relying on an analogy used by Vivian Schiller earlier this week at the National Press Club: Public broadcasting, Schiller said, was like a sweater, pull at a thread and the sleeve comes off.
This afternoon, a White House spokesman said President Obama still supports federal funding for public broadcasting.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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