National Public Radio is without a President/CEO following the resignation of Vivian Schiller. The last several months of her tenure have been marked by almost constant turmoil. It traces back to the sacking of commentator Juan Williams for comments made on Fox News Channel back in October 2010, followed by legislative efforts to defund all public broadcasting, and culminated this week with the release of a Michael O’Keefe video which included inflammatory remarks from NPR fundraiser Ron Schiller.
The announcement came from the NPR Board of Directors. 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.” The resignation is effective immediately.
SVP of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Joyce Slocum will be interim CEO under terms of a plan put in place in 2009. Meanwhile, the Board will put a committee together to “…develop a timeframe and process for the recruitment and selection of new leadership.”
The spark for NPR’s problems came when Williams said on Bill O’Reilly’s FNC program, “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Williams was out at NPR almost immediately, and he was not shy about discussing his displeasure about being fired and the way his firing was handled.
By January, NPR had assessed the situation and ended up accepting the resignation of NPR veteran SVP Ellen Weiss, who was directly responsible for the firing.
Schiller’s contribution to the controversy had been during remarks about Williams during which she publicly stated that his personal feelings should have remained a matter for himself and his “psychiatrist or publicist — take your pick.”
Republicans immediately attempted to defund NPR during the 2010 lame duck session of Congress, and all of public broadcasting funding has been a target for defunding during the current session.
The O’Keefe ambush video captured Ron Schiller making disparaging remarks about the Tea Party, among other things. Ron Schiller also said that NPR did not require federal money and that perhaps it would be better to do without it.
Vivian Schiller had just participated in a session at the National Press Club where she defended NPR and said that federal funding was an important part of its budget.
RBR-TVBR observation: Much of this was not directly Vivian Schiller’s doing, but it did happen on her watch, and at some point, her office is where the buck stops. But will her resignation take the heat off NPR? Not a chance.