National Public Radio has dropped Vivian Schiller, its chief executive officer, and put its general counsel, Joyce Slocum, in her place. Can we expect a fresh pair of eyes on NPR’s bias now that Slocum’s in charge?
Well, Slocum told Super Lawyers in July 2009 that she “had been an NPR fanatic for many, many years.” She explained her fanaticism thus: “I love getting the news in an unbiased way, and without anyone shouting.”
The 52-year-old Dallas native has loved the news since childhood, when her mother, a high-school government teacher, taught
her and her two older brothers “not to shy away from talking politics,” as Inside Counsel
put it in December 2009. “Discussions commonly centered around such topics as civil rights and First Amendment issues.”
Slocum imbibed her mother’s civic passion. “I believe a true impartial press is an absolute requirement of a democratic society,” she told the magazine. She even tried her hand at substitute teaching before settling on a career in the law.
After only two years of high school, Slocum’s stellar academic performance earned her a spot at Southern Illinois University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with high honors in 1978. Three years later, she graduated cum laude from St. Louis University School of Law.
Her first job out of school was as a tax lawyer at Johnson & Swanson — and later Winstead, McGuire, Schrest, & Minick. Tax work tired Slocum, so a friend recommended that she get an in-house-counsel job, where her team spirit would thrive. When Slocum agreed, the friend found her a gig dealing with franchising and international-licensing contracts for the Southland Corporation (the ancestor of 7-Eleven) in Dallas. Slocum worked there for ten years.
In 1994, Slocum changed bosses. She shared a favorite cab driver with Sheryl Leach, the creator of Barney & Friends. After hearing about Slocum through the driver, Leach called her to offer the general-counsel job at Lyrick Studios, which distributed the purple dinosaur’s merchandise. Slocum accepted.
She stayed with Lyrick through much corporate shape shifting (it eventually became HIT Entertainment). During her tenure, her biggest accomplishment was shepherding a deal among HIT, the Public Broadcasting System, Sesame Workshop, and Comcast Cable to create a children’s-programming channel, PBS Kids Sprout, in 2005.
While working on that project, Slocum met Barbara Landes, chief financial officer of PBS, who heard in 2008 that NPR’s general counsel was retiring. Landes suggested Slocum for the job. In July of that year, Slocum took over as vice president for legal affairs and chief ethics officer. With such an all-encompassing title, Slocum handled “pretty much everything except family and criminal law,” she told Super Lawyers.
As for Slocum’s political views, she appears to be a committed Democrat. According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, she donated $1,980 to Regina Montoya Coggins, Rep. Pete Sessions’s Democratic challenger, in 2000. She also donated $1,500 to Ron Kirk, currently the U.S. trade representative, who ran for the Senate in 2002.
She also swims in liberal circles — namely her colleagues’. Of NPR legal correspondent Nina Totenberg, Slocum once gushed: “It’s a little intimidating to be at someone’s house for dinner and see snapshots lying on the breakfast bar of them with Supreme Court justices. . . . I tell people in a very G-rated way, I feel like a groupie with a backstage pass.”
Slocum is accomplished in her field, and her appointment is only temporary until NPR’s board can find a permanent replacement. But if her donations and her comments are any indication, NPR’s new CEO seems as reliably liberal as her forebears.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.