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NPR chief ousted after exec's racism remarks

Image: National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller
NPR CEO and president Vivian Schiller has been forced to resign, according to the radio broadcaster's media correspondent.Michael Benabib / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

NPR's CEO and president, Vivian Schiller, has been forced to resign, the radio broadcaster's media correspondent reported Wednesday, following an undercover sting in which a senior executive was videotaped describing Tea Party members as "racist."

A statement from the chairman of NPR's board of directors, Dave Edwards, said the board had accepted Vivian Schiller's resignation "with deep regret." The resignation was effective immediately.

"I recognize the magnitude of this news — and that it comes on top of what has been a traumatic period for NPR and the larger public radio community," he said.

While the board's statement said Vivian Schiller had resigned, David Folkenflik, NPR's media correspondent, said that she was forced to do so.

"The board for NPR NEWS has just ousted CEO Vivian Schiller in the wake of video sting by conservative activist of a top exec," he said.

Vivian Schiller also faced criticism for her firing of analyst Juan Williams over comments he made about Muslims. She told The Associated Press that the recent remarks made by her fellow executive Ron Schiller, no relation, were outrageous and unfortunate and that her staying on would only hurt NPR's fight for federal money.

"I did not want to leave NPR. There's a lot of pressure on NPR right now," she said.

Joyce Slocum, SVP of legal affairs and general counsel, has been appointed interim CEO.

Federal funding
NPR officials have been scrambling to contain the damage caused by political activist James O'Keefe's videotape of Ron Schiller (no relation to Vivian Schiller, the ousted CEO) calling Tea Party supporters "racist" and also questioning the public broadcaster's reliance on federal funding.

He was recorded on Feb. 22 by O'Keefe, a Republican filmmaker who is well known for his undercover stunts targeting various organizations.

On the videotape, Ron Schiller was seen during a luncheon with men who were posing as members of the fictitious Muslim Action Education Center.

At one point, he said Tea Partiers were "xenophobic, I mean basically they are; they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

Ron Schiller also stated that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding," a comment that is in conflict with the organization's position, NPR reported.

Meanwhile, PBS says it was contacted by the same fake Muslim group. PBS spokeswoman Anne Bentley said Wednesday that a PBS executive was contacted and had an initial conversation with the Muslim Education Action Center but had concerns about the group. When PBS couldn't confirm the organization's credentials, the discussions were halted.

After news of the videotape broke Tuesday, NPR issued a statement from Vivian Schiller that said his remark's were "contrary to what NPR stands for and deeply distressing to reporters, editors and others who bring fairness, civility and respect for a wide variety of viewpoints to their work everyday."

On Wednesday, , she said she was sorry to be leaving NPR.

"I think it's an extraordinary organization, and while the organization is on the right track, there's much work to be done. I regret I'm not going to be part of it," she said, praising NPR's journalists as "heroic and uncompromising in their work."

She added that when she arrived in January 2009, NPR was "in terrible financial straits," but now it was "in the black and expanding its journalism."

Ron Schiller, who was hired in September 2009, had announced last week that he would be leaving NPR for a new job. NPR said Tuesday that his departure was "effective immediately."

Folkenflik, speaking to NPR's Morning Edition, said the O'Keefe videotape had been "damaging of itself," but added that it was the latest "in a series of episodes" at NPR during Vivian Schiller's tenure.

Noting the renewed calls on Capitol Hill to take away federal funding from public broadcasting, Folkenflik said, "I think the (NPR) board ... felt that this was one misstep, one major black eye, too many."

In October, NPR fired Williams after he said on Fox News that he got nervous when he got on a plane with people wearing clothes that identified them as Muslim. At the time, Williams complained he was ousted because he appeared on Fox and because "I'm not a predictable, black, liberal."

In January, NPR said Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss, who fired Williams, resigned, but no reason was given.

Vivian Schiller kept her position after the Williams' incident, but the NPR board voted against giving her a bonus because of "concern over her role in (Williams') termination process."

Some members of Congress have called for cutting off federal funds for public broadcasting.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the video proved that tax dollars should stop going to NPR.

"This video clearly highlights the fact that public broadcasting doesn't need taxpayer funding to thrive, and I hope that admission will lead to a bipartisan consensus to end these unnecessary federal subsidies," said Cantor in a statement.

Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., introduced a separate bill Friday to cut off funding for CPB.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration opposes calls to eliminate funding for NPR and the CPB, and characterized both operations as "worthwhile and important priorities." Carney noted both Democratic and Republican presidents have supported such funding in the past.

"There remains a need to support public broadcasting and NPR," he said.