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NPR executive Vivian Schiller resigns under pressure from board and CPB

NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller resigned Wednesday in the wake of comments by a fellow executive, who has since resigned, that angered conservatives and renewed calls to end federal funding for public broadcasting. (March 9)

Vivian Schiller's sudden departure came a few hours after Ron Schiller resigned and about two months after Vivian Schiller pushed out her top news manager, Ellen Weiss, after a review of Weiss's role in the Juan Williams episode. The tumult has left staffers at Washington-based NPR "shellshocked," as one newsroom employee put it Wednesday.

NPR "is a wounded animal," said Alicia Shepard, the organization's ombudsman, or in-house critic.

Vivian Schiller joined NPR from the New York Times Co. in early 2009, just a few weeks after NPR cut about 7 percent of its staff, or 64 positions. At the time, NPR said it was running $23 million in the red.

She reorganized NPR's management (hiring Ron Schiller, among others), beefed up digital newsgathering and worked to repair the organization's sometimes strained relationships with its affiliated stations, which pay for and air the programs that NPR produces. With cost controls and a somewhat improved economy, she helped put NPR in the black. "I think she did an amazing job in the two years she was here," said Shepard, who is is employed by NPR to offer impartial criticism.

After the damaging video circulated Tuesday, it was clear to the board that Schiller had to go, said Edwards, its chairman. "Vivian was not responsible for the many mistakes that were made, but the CEO of any organization is accountable for anything that emerges," he said during a morning news conference. "We determined that it was a wise decision to accept her resignation and move on."

Public TV and radio stations receive - on average - about 15 percent of their annual operating budgets from Congress (the balance comes from state funds, viewer and listener donations and corporate sponsors). But that's on average: Stations in large urban areas, such as WETA-TV in Arlington and WAMU-FM in Washington, receive far less than 15 percent, while those in some rural areas receive as much as half their operating funds from Washington.

"If funding is eliminated entirely, there are going to be a number of stations that will be hard-pressed to stay on the air," said Paula Kerger, the president of PBS. "States are cutting back, too. This is not an easy time."

NPR's public stumbles may have hurt the organization, but they may not have a decisive effect on the funding fight in Washington this year, said Pat Butler, the chief executive of the Association of Public Television Stations, which lobbies for federal money.

"As far as I can see, no one has changed his or her mind" as result of Vivian Schiller's resignation, he said. "The people who were for us are still for us, and the people who were against us are still against us. I still feel pretty good about our prospects."

Butler said he believes that public broadcasters have support from 10 Republican senators, whom he didn't identify, along with the Democratic majority. "In the end, I think we'll have a good bipartisan majority. The public likes public broadcasting. It's like apple pie."

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