NPR CEO Vivian Schiller Resigns After Hidden Camera Sting Snares Top Fundraiser

Sting Costs CEO Vivian Schiller Job, Renewed Calls Against Public Funding

ByABC News
March 9, 2011, 7:04 AM

March 9, 2011— -- NPR's embattled chief executive resigned today after the top fundraiser for NPR said offensive things about Republicans and the Tea Party during an undercover sting orchestrated by conservative activist James O'Keefe.

Vivian Schiller, the ousted CEO, had also come under fire in recent months for NPR's firing of conservative commentator Juan Williams last October.

But the controversial comments made by Ron Schiller, former president of the NPR Foundation, during what he thought was a lunch with potential donors from a Muslim-affiliated trust, cost Vivian Schiller her job.

Vivian and Ron Schiller are not related.

Another public broadcasting operation was targeted by the same sting. PBS today said that its senior vice president for development, Brian Reddington, responded to invitations by the same group but after an initial meeting, had "profound concerns" about the group.

"PBS's practice is to vet potential donors when there is an appearance of a conflict of interest and to ensure they meet requirements of transparency and openness," spokeswoman Anne Bentley said in a statement. "Attempts to confirm the credentials of the organization proved unsatisfactory and communication was halted by PBS."

PBS and NPR are not affiliated with each other, though both receive money from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is funded by Congress.

NPR board chairman Dave Edwards today said it was the board's and Schiller's mutual decision that she resign, and that it was the "wisest" decision they could make.

"Vivian was very clear that she wanted to make sure the board had the flexibility to do what it felt was important. She offered to step aside if that was the board's will and the board ultimately decided it was in the best interest of the organization that that took place," he said. "The events that took place became such a distraction to the organization that in the board's mind, it hindered Vivian Schiller's ability to lead."

NPR's Senior Vice President of Legal Affairs, Joyce Slocum, will take over as interim CEO.

Schiller, who became CEO in January, 2009, told the New York Times today that she "had no prior knowledge" of comments made by the NPR executive and that she "disavowed them as soon as I learned of them all."

"But I'm the CEO, and the buck stops here," she added.

Ron Schiller, who had resigned from NPR to take up a job at The Aspen Institute, is also out of his new job.

"Ron Schiller has informed us that, in light of the controversy surrounding his recent statements, he does not feel that it's in the best interests of the Aspen Institute for him to come work here," the organization said in a statement.

Schiller's sting was a secretly recorded lunch at a popular Georgetown restaurant. In an edited video released by O'Keefe on his Project Veritas website, Schiller is seen calling the Tea Party the "xenophobic" and "seriously racist people" who are "fanatically involved in people's personal lives."

The controversy comes at a delicate time for public broadcasting, including PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which got nearly $450 million in federal funding last year. President Obama proposed raising that amount to $451 million. But with the federal government facing severe budget deficits, and in light of the scandal, Tea Party groups and some Republicans on Capitol Hill are stepping calls to cut all federal funding to NPR.

Watch the video here.

"Besides calling the members of the Tea Party Movement 'uneducated' and 'racist,' he [Schiller] also admitted that NPR did not need taxpayer money. Let's take his advice and pass legislation to defund this biased news organization that is clearly out of touch with the American people," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said today.

House Republicans voted last month to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which partially supports NPR and the Public Broadcasting Service. That legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who led the charge to strip funding from CPB, says the video exposes "serious problems" at NPR.

"I do think it helps the cause for people to see, hey, there's some things that are going on here that are not necessarily something that the majority of Americans happen to agree with," Lamborn told ABC News.

The White House is standing by NPR, saying federal funding for public broadcasting are "worthwhile and important priorities."

"The budget makes clear the president's priorities, and among them are the funding at the level that we stipulate in the budget for National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today.

Other supporters point to the fact that Ron Schiller was not in charge of the content that was broadcast on NPR.

"Obviously it doesn't help when somebody does idiotic things. But bear in mind the person who has been subsequently let go had nothing to do with the content of public broadcasting," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., told ABC News.

Ron Schiller, who was already scheduled to leave NPR in May, instead left Tuesday and apologized for his comments.

"While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs," he said in a statement Tuesday. "I offer my sincere apology to those I offended."