Politics & Policy

Vivian Schiller Leaves NPR

Looking back at her tenure as a liberal media titan

Today, Vivian Schiller resigned as chief executive officer of National Public Radio. “I’m told by sources that she was forced out,” NPR’s media correspondent, David Folkenflik, has reported. Her sudden departure marks an abrupt end to a long-winding climb up the corporate ladder.

In 1983, Schiller graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in Russian and Soviet Studies. Two years later, she earned a master’s degree in Russian at Middlebury College. Her first journalism gig was translating Russian in the former Soviet Union for Turner Broadcasting. For ten years, she served as Turner’s vice president of development, producing many award-winning documentaries, such as Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream.

The climb continued: Between 1998 and 2002, she served as executive vice president of CNN Productions, where she helped launch People in the News and CNN Presents. Afterward, she worked as senior vice president and general manager at the Discovery Times Channel for four years. From May 2006 to December 2008, Schiller was senior vice president and general manager of the New York Times’ website. Finally, in January 2009, Schiller took the helm at NPR.

Once she sat atop the corporate pyramid, however, Schiller began to feel tremors below. Last October, she bungled NPR’s firing of longtime analyst Juan Williams. The Fox News contributor got the boot after he admitted on The O’Reilly Factor, “When I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Although many observers viewed NPR’s actions askance — how exactly did Williams’s comment compromise his analysis? — Schiller ridiculed his protests, saying that he should have kept his misgivings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist.” The wisecrack provoked howls of outrage. Schiller later apologized “to Juan and others for my thoughtless remark.” But her original comment sealed her in many people’s minds as a liberal media titan.

And now the titan has fallen. When news broke that a former NPR executive had bashed the Republican party as racist, Schiller quickly headed for the door. Joyce Slocum, a senior executive, has assumed the role of interim CEO. David Edwards, chairman of the board, has said the board accepted Schiller’s resignation “with understanding, genuine regret, and great respect for her leadership of NPR these past two years.”

But what did Schiller do over the last two years except besmirch NPR’s reputation and bring it to the brink of losing its federal funding?

— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.


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