Vivian Schiller, NPR’s president (who spoke to the National Press Club a few days ago), “resigned,” today according to NPR. It’s clear, however, that this was closer to a firing than a happy resignation.
Here’s the statement from NPR board:
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.
Here’s the statement from the committee of affiliates:
All of you are absorbing the recent quick turn of events. We want to share a few thoughts from where we sit.
Vivian Schiller has been an inspiration for many inside NPR and organizations around the country.
The most recent events, however, have undermined efforts to protect funding for public broadcasting; have further damaged the already shaky working relationship between NPR, APTS, PBS, and CPB; and we suspect will have negative repercussions on the standing of your organization with your community.
In the long-run, we believe that Vivian Schiller’s decision to resign as President and CEO of NPR, and the NPR board’s decision to accept her resignation, is in the best interests of both NPR and the station community.
The NPR board will have to make several important decisions in the coming weeks, all in the continuing context of the federal funding challenge. We want SRG to be a source of good strategic thinking in all of this and look forward to your best thinking and support in this process.
A conference call is reportedly scheduled soon with reporters and I hope to monitor that and we’ll update this post through the day as need be. In the meantime, share you thoughts.
This latest incident stems from the conservative filmmaker’s video of NPR’s chief fundraiser, reported on here yesterday.
9:51 a.m. – Media critic Jeff Jarvis has a think-piece about the relationship between NPR and its affiliates. It’s more of a “this is what I think” than a “this is what I know” piece in that it suggests the role of affiliates as content producers/distributors is ebbing. That’s not really true. NPR only control four public radio shows in the nation. And affiliates have increasingly been turning to new ways to distribute their content to other public radio stations. It also suggests an increase chasm between NPR and its affiliates, when actually that long-standing angst has lessened significantly in recently years. Arguably, there’s been more symbiosis than in recent years.
10:00 a.m. Dave Edwards, the chairman of the board of NPR is about to hold a conference call. I’m live blogging it here.
Edwards: The board accepted Vivian Schiller’s resignation last night. It was a difficult decision for the board to accept. She came to NPR at a time of great economic difficulty and led the board back from enormous financial challenges.
10:04 a.m.: Edwards: The organization has faced significant challenges. Vivian is not responsible for the mistakes that were made, but the CEO of any organization is responsible for the actions.
10:06 a.m. – Joyce Slocum, the VP of legal affairs for NPR, is now in charge pending a search for a new CEO.
Edwards: It was the wisest decision we could make.
Q: We’re hearing from critics of NPR that NPR has a problem and that its executives don’t understand how to conduct themselves in ways that are consistent with NPR’s mission. What do you think about that?
A: Edwards: When I watched a portion of the video that I saw yesterday — I’m told its two hours in length and was edited — but I have to tell you watching that video, I felt that the comments being made were so opposite, so … I cannot tell you how much it bothered to me to my core as to what was being said. What was being expressed there has never been expressed to me by anybody from the NPR staff, the NPR board. NPR, I believe, is a welcoming organization to a variety of viewpoints.
Q: Obviously the comments crossed the line. But either he accepted it or he was telling the donors what they wanted to hear to get their money. In either case, there’s a question of a management culture.
A: Edwards: We have a responsibility as an organization to point out we don’t support those kinds of views. The comments we made yesterday should telegraph that and the decision to part company with Vivian Schiller should demonstrate that.
Q: Who in the leadership team are you referring to when you say you have confidence in them?
A: Edwards: The board’s primary responsibility is always with the CEO. We are very comfortable with Joyce Slocum moving into this position in an interim capacity simply because she has a relationship with the leadership team and knows what’s going on.
Every member of the adminsitrative team in place, including the interim VP of news, we feel is an absolutely incredible team of individuals who care deeply about the future of news and the future of our industry.
As I have said, we will be establishing a transitional committee with the board to make determinations as to how we move forward.
Q: It’s been reported that Vivian was asked to resign.
A: The board had a wideranging conversation last night about what has transpired in recent months and about how the organization needed to move forward. Vivian… offered to step aside if that was the board’s will and the board decided that was in the best interest of the organization.
Q: What message does this send to Congress?
A: Everything that has transpired in the last six months has complicated our fight to maintain federal funding. We established a public media collaborative to make the case to Congress for why federal funding is so critical to our industry. That does not change with the departure of Vivian Schiller. The board will continue to make the case that without federal funding, a lot of our public radio/TV stations could go dark.
Q: Has anyone in Congress changed their mind about funding after this?
A: I haven’t talked to anyone in Congress.
Q: Is this the worst threat ?
A: The funding is so absolutely critical as an industry. We have to articulate that in the best way possible.
Q: Do you still have support from Democrats and the Obama adminstration?
A: I would certainly hope so.
Q: Do you feel NPR was unfairly targeted by the filmmaker? Was this an ambush?
A: Edwards: I haven’t focused on how it was staged and set up. The process worked. When NPR was originally contacted by this supposed organization, there was a lot of due diligence done when dollars are offered to NPR. In terms of researching the organization, and making sure the organization understood the firewall when any organization offered a donation. That process worked. It was the comments of the individuals at the table — presuming they weren’t edited — those comments are what ran counter to the way NPR operates and what NPR believes.
Q: By pressuring your CEO to resign, it seems the problem goes beyond one guy who was leaving NPR anyway. Doesn’t that mean there’s a problem beyond someone who misspoke at a lunch meeting?
A: Edwards: The events that took place created such a distraction that it hindered Vivian Schiller’s ability to lead the organization going forward.
Q: This organization was fictitious. I have trouble understanding how due diligence was conducted to the point your VP even met with them?
A: Edwards: This alleged organization contacted NPR development and I would say… it would be appropriate for an NPR executive to have a conversation with a potential donor. But NPR never accepted a check from this organization and I’ve been told following the luncheon is when the checking began.
Q: Any changes to that process now?
A: The process worked. We’re talking about the comments made by an individual at lunch.
Q: There’s been criticism that NPR is bowing to the “right” on this. And that it’s going to weaken the organization in the long run.
A: I don’t believe it weakens the organization at all. People will believe what they want to believe. If people hold certain beliefs strongly enough, I ‘m not going to change that. I live in Wisconsin, take a look at the papers. The interim executive team is going to be able to move forward on the initiatives that took place. We continue to be a preeminent news organization. Nothing stops that.
>>> This concludes the conference call. <<< 10:28 a.m. — Minnpost’s David Brauer tweeted today, wondering if Bill Kling could be convinced to step in as NPR’s CEO. The response from APM/MPR’s communication director, Bill Gray:
I know that Bill plans to remain involved in the continuing evolution of public media in the United States. He hasn’t discussed any specifics beyond that with me. And with the NPR development so new I don’t think he’d see it as appropriate to speculate around that.
10:45 a.m. – Bill Kling’s message to his staff, e-mailed today:
There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for public media on many levels. But we all need to keep reminding ourselves that these problems are National Public Radio’s problems – not ours. Do they affect us? Absolutely. Do they threaten our efforts to make the case for the importance of federal funding? Yes. But do they reflect on APM|MPR? No they do not. We have a deep pool of talented people that have built this organization through the years into a recognized leader in the public media industry, and we will retain that reputation for leadership moving forward.
At this time it is incumbent upon us and our public media partners to step up and provide counsel and leadership to the system as it begins its recovery from these events on the national level. We also need to remember the most important focus of all – the 900 thousand listeners to our regional services and 16 million listeners to our national programming that tune us in each week.
10:49 a.m. – Vivian Schiller talked to writers of the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog:
“I obviously had no prior knowledge” of the executive’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.
10:56 a.m. – Ron Schiller, the former NPR development boss whose comments led to Vivian Schiller’s (no relation) resignation, was leaving NPR anyway to take a job with the Aspen Institute. He has now decided not to take that job.
11:34 a.m. – NPR’s Talk of the Nation is going to pick up the discussion during today’s show.
11:40 a.m. – MPR doesn’t carry the Diane Rehm show but you can find today’s broadcast with NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard on the Schiller firing here. Other guests were:
Tucker Carlson political commentator and founder of The Daily Caller
Patrick Butler President and C.E.O of the Association of Public Television Stations
Brooke Gladstone host of “On The Media”
David Edwards director and general manager, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
chair of the NPR board
Stephen Moore member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.
Paul Farhi Staff writer at the Washington Post covering media
1:28 p.m. – NPR’s ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, really let’s NPR have it.
He’s right. Schiller comes across as an effete, well-educated, liberal intellectual – just exactly the stereotype that critics long have used against NPR and other bastions of the news media. It’s also a stereotype that NPR journalists try hard to combat every day in their newsgathering.
One has to wonder why NPR’s head of development and another senior staffer would meet with a prospective donor who had no history of philanthropy and nothing more than a phony web site as credentials. Don’t they research potential donors?
People at NPR yesterday were angry and dazed by this episode, which is just the latest in a series of events that put the company in the worst possible light. Doesn’t anyone in NPR’s top management think of the consequences before they act?
1:41 p.m. – Shepard has just concluded a “chat” at the Washington Post site. Not much new, but this is probably the essence of it:
Q.How many Republicans work for NPR?
A. Don’t know. I wasn’t asked that when I joined NPR. And I’m not sure it’s relevant. Diversity is more than political beliefs. I’m more interested in how many people NPR has working for it who have blue collar backgrounds, or were in the military, or come from Nebraska.
2:01 p.m. – David Edwards, the NPR Board Chair is now address reporters at public radio stations around the country. I’m live blogging this, too. I’m not going to retype all of his previous comments but I will relay the questions and answers.
Q: How does NPR need to be repositioned?
A: The series of events of the last six months have become a distraction and the board felt it hindered her ability lead the organization.
Q: How does NPR begin to clean up the damage that’s been done to the stations who have had nothing to do with this?
A: There are clearly challenges we face. I manage a public radio station in Milwaukee and we’ve been careful to explain our relationship with NPR. NPR has to make clear that we’re an organization that has strong corporate values….we’re obviously a very important journalistic organization to the American people. We must have credibility at all times, and we have a very strong executive team in place.
Q: Do you feel Schiller leaves NPR in a more difficult situation than when she arrived?
A: The difficulties are different; I don’t know which are worse. She accomplished a lot. We’re much further ahead. The collaboration between NPR and stations in journalism and fundraising are in far better shape now than they were two years ago. I don’t want to give the impression that Vivian was not an effective leader.
Q: Are you confident that the tape that’s out there is complete and accurate?
A: I have not see the two hours. I have to believe that it’s somewhat of a portrayal.
Q:There’s a feeling among a segment of Americans that NPR has a political bias, and it’s not just a few people. How do you combat that?
A: What I heard (on the tape) bothered me to my core. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I like many of us embrace the values of an organization and an industry that is open to a wide variety of views. They were clearly the views of an individual. Those views are not representing any of the views of anyone inside the company. I found them to be repulsive.
2:13 p.m. Q:Is NPR going to provide training to staff about expressing personal opinions in public?
A: We’ve asked for a review of our news ethics policy. We obviously have to have a sensitivity to the comments that are shared with different publics.
2:16 p.m. – Q: Do we have a solid top level management team?
A: We have individuals who bring a wide variety of experience. Joyce Slocum has extensive legal experience, the director of news has been in the business for decades. I believe that there is a strong team in place. Once a new CEO is on board, it will be up to that person to take a look at the structure.
2:19 p.m. – We had a tough fall in fundraising because of the Juan Williams situation. Are we getting some help from the network? We’re a rural station, we get 30 percent of our funding from the CPB.
A: The development team released some material this morning on how stations might want to pitch given this situation. I’ll defer to the experts. The head of the public media association are fully engaged in the messaging to members of Congress.
2:21 p.m. – Why the news ethics review when the problem came from your development wing?
A: The ethics review is something the board called for last November. That is purely focusing on news ethics for the organization. That has not changed because of the events of the last few days.
2:27 p.m. – Is there any NPR policy that an organization with ties to Muslim Brotherhood would be considered for a donation?
A: Every donation that is considered is carefully vetted. Anytime a donor calls and says we’d like to talk, we consider that.
2:28 p.m. Why did PBS turn down the conversation altogether?
A: I can’t speak for PBS.
>>That concludes the conference call.
4:10 p.m. – Alicia Shepard just tweeted:
“Ron Schiller said in the full two hour Okeefe video he is a Republican, and was raised as a Republican. that didn’t make it in video.”
5:42 p.m. – Here’s David Folkenflik’s story recapping the day.