Roundtable: NPR CEO Steps Down

By Jess Bidgood


Mar. 9, 2011

BOSTON — The media world is reeling after news of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller's hasty exit from her post.

NPR CEO Vivian Schiller resigned Wednesday. (AP)

Schiller's resignation, announced this morning, follows Tuesday's news that NPR development executive Ron Schiller was secretly video-taped by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe, making disparaging comments about the Tea Party and the Republican party. It also comes against a backdrop of Congressional debate over whether to continue to provide funds to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports NPR and PBS member stations across the country (including WGBH).

In January, NPR's senior vice president for news, Ellen Weiss, stepped down on the heels of a review saying she had mishandled the dismissal of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, who was fired from NPR last fall after making comments NPR said were disrespectful to Muslims on FOX News.

Whew. You got all that?

We asked several media experts to join us on The Emily Rooney Show to give us their take on this chain of events. Jay Rosen,  professor of journalism at NYU; Al Thompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute; and TIME media writer James Poniewozik offered their analysis.

On Schiller's Tenure At NPR

Al Tompkins:

"She brought some great things to the NPR. I would say the single best thing that she brought was a real awareness of multimedia. The online site, the interactivity of NPR is so much better than it was when she got there two years ago. I mean, it's really dramatic. And she would have to be credited with bringing that awareness and that wonderful delivery online."

On Schiller's Exit

Jay Rosen:

"I think it was an act of cowardice by the board of NPR. I think they don't recognize that the people who did this to them want NPR destroyed, just as they want to destroy the rest of the mainstream news media. And that they are going to invite more surreptitious attacks and tricks like this. And that they failed to stand up for a visionary leader at a dangerous time in their history.

"People within NPR, devoted as they are to professional detachment and what I call the view from nowhere, fail to understand that they actually have political enemies in this culture. And they just allowed their political enemies to win. And that's why I think it's a dark day for NPR."

Al Tompkins:

"She was already on pretty thin ice here, and you just can't take that many hits.

"The fact of the matter is this: NPR relies principally on donations from the public and good will of the public, and anything that gets in the way of that is troublesome. NPR is fighting to keep federal funding... and if (Schiller) is battling for her name, it makes it more difficult for the larger organization to do the work that it needs to do.

On What's Next For NPR:

Jay Rosen:

"I think they'll probably bring a weaker person in. Somebody who is more pliable and she or he is going to preside over the organization where every single employee of NPR who has a conversation in a bar is going to have to think about whether they're being taped or not. And whether they'll get their bosses fired through what they're saying. I mean, they've just invited acts of intimidation on a massive scale by the cowardice that they've shown, and the lack of political insight."

On The Ron Schiller 'Sting'

Al Thompkins:

"There is a place for undercover journalism, but it follows a protocol. It's not the first tactic, it's the last tactic. There are a lot of questions that we ask before we go undercover... That's not what happened here. This is entrapment and, for what purpose? It's only to get the information, the side of your story, that helps to fulfill your point of view."

"You have to acknowlege that activists have done this for a long time."

On NPR And Politics:

Jay Rosen:

"Stop claiming that NPR people have no politics, have no view. Wean yourself away from the view from nowhere and instead, make a shift in the official philosophy of NPR to emphasize that it is a place with many voices, people who have many different views on all kinds of issues. And that, 'We are no longer expecting our people to pretend that they don't have political lives and political souls and points of view. But instead we are going to demonstrate in a variety of ways that the full range of voices in American culture is represented in our organization.'

"And if you do that successfully — which would be a very hard, very difficult transition to make, then the exposure of one person or another as somebody with a political life won't acutally hurt you."

James Poniewozik:

"One thing that James O'Keefe has an advantage over NPR in this situation is that he's allowed to say where he's coming from. And NPR, according to its traditions, isn't."

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