Mar 10, 2011

NPR journos release letter to listeners, say they were "appalled" by taped comments

A letter to listeners from 22 NPR journalists, posted today (March 10) on media blogger Jim Romenesko's website:

An Open Letter from Journalists at NPR News . . .

Dear Listeners and Supporters,

We, and our colleagues at NPR News, strive every day to bring you the highest quality news programs possible. So, like you, we were appalled by the offensive comments made recently by NPR’s now former Senior Vice President for Development. His words violated the basic principles by which we live and work: accuracy and open-mindedness, fairness and respect.

Those comments have done real damage to NPR. But we’re confident that the culture of professionalism we have built, and the journalistic values we have upheld for the past four decades, will prevail. We are determined to continue bringing you the daily journalism that you’ve come to expect and rely upon: fair, fact-based, in-depth reporting from at home and around the world.

With your support we have no doubt NPR will come out of this difficult period stronger than ever.

Thank you,
Robert Siegel
Michele Norris
Melissa Block
Renee Montagne
Scott Simon
Liane Hansen
Guy Raz
Michel Martin
Neal Conan
Susan Stamberg
Nina Totenberg
Linda Wertheimer
Daniel Zwerdling
John Ydstie
Richard Harris
Tom Gjelten
Howard Berkes
Mike Shuster
Laura Sullivan
Lynn Neary
Jacki Lyden
Mara Liasson

Romenesko asked Daniel Zwerdling why there's no mention of former NPR President Vivian Schiller. "We’re not trying to weigh in on management, in terms of which executive should or shouldn’t hold this or that position," he said. "We do want to weigh in on what one executive, Ron Schiller, said: we’re appalled by it. And we want to remind folks that NPR is not about management coming and going, but about the terrific journalism the staff produces every day."

Vivian Schiller tells AP she had to depart NPR, due to federal funding fight

Former NPR President Vivian Schiller told the Associated Press today (March 10) that her staying on as network chief executive would have complicated the federal funding battle. "We took a reputational hit around the Juan Williams incident, and this was another blow to NPR's reputation," she said, referring to this week's NPR video sting. "There's no question."

Howard Liberman, a communications attorney who represents several NPR affiliates, told the AP that many stations were unhappy with Schiller and the release of the video was just the final straw. In addition to firing Williams, Schiller shortened the organization's name from National Public Radio to NPR (predicting that broadcasting towers would be gone within a decade) and attempted to push listeners toward the website. "This was just the last in a series of things that have shown to the members and the stations that this ship is not running very well," Liberman said.

Pubcasting Caucus loses support of its former co-chairman

The Public Broadcasting Caucus has suffered its first defection in the aftermath of the NPR video sting, reports The Hill. Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) is a former co-chair of the bipartisan caucus. "As a father of five children, I have been supportive of PBS children's programming in the past," he said. "However, the recent events involving NPR undermine their claims of objectivity in their reporting. Because NPR has crossed the line to political bias, I will no longer serve on the caucus." McCaul voted in favor of a 2005 amendment that rescued CPB support in the House (Current, June 27, 2005).

Boston Herald reports on WGBH salaries; 14 employees make more than $200,000

"More than a dozen WGBH honchos at PBS’ taxpayer-subsidized flagship station are raking in upwards of $200,000 a year while toiling in the lap of a luxurious $85 million multimedia palace dubbed the 'Taj Mahal' that boasts a 200-seat amphitheater, state-of-the-art recording studio and Hamburg-Steinway grand piano," reports the Boston Herald in a story today (March 10) about the pubcasting powerhouse's finances.

Update:: Abbott responded in a letter to the newspaper.

The Herald's review of the latest IRS records (2009) for the station, which then employed around 950, found that four vice presidents and producers pulled in more than $300,000 in compensation; 10 employees took home more than $200,000; 145 earned more than $100,000; ex-WGBH president Henry Becton Jr., the station’s vice chairman, made $160,873 for working 24 hours a week; and "top brass," as the paper called execs, "pocketed more than $200,000 in bonuses."

Jon Abbott, WGBH c.e.o., told the paper he hasn’t had a raise since taking over in 2007, and that the station must compete for talent with leading media companies. “We also benchmark all of those salaries to comparable salaries at media and nonprofit organizations in this area and nationally,” Abbott said. “If you look at my compensation relative to . . . my peers in Boston or in this country, I am . . . paid a fair wage.” He also noted that no taxpayer dollars were used to build the station's headquarters.

Arts have been politicized by conservatives, Henry Louis Gates says

Harvard scholar and PBS documentarian Henry Louis Gates said he can't imagine that any "self-respecting" member of Congress would vote to cut or zero out pubcasting support. In an interview with the Zap2it TV and movie news website, Gates called public broadcasting "one of our truly great national resources," and added that the funding fight "just shows you how politicized the arts have become by the Right, and it's disgusting. And I think we should all be embarrassed by it."

Rosen to public media: "These people want to destroy you"

Jay Rosen, journalism professor at New York University who blogs at PressThink, has a 10-point response to public media's tactics for recovering from the video sting that brought down NPR's chief executive and its top fundraiser. Rosen views the ouster of President Vivian Schiller as a "stupid and cowardly act" by the NPR Board that reveals a fundamental weakness in public broadcasting's political strategy and its commitment to positioning itself as an impartial news service.

Culture warriors of the right wing "want to destroy you," Rosen warns public media. "You don’t get to decide whether you have political enemies or not. Your enemies have that power. But you can decide how to respond to them. The default setting is a series of political defeats. It permits a trickster to take down your CEO."

Rosen calls for NPR to replace its standards for impartial journalism — what he calls "viewlessness" and "the view from nowhere" — with pluralism. He also calls for NPR to give up the all of its direct support from CPB (which comprises less than 2 percent of its total budget) so that all federal money can go to local stations.

Alabama senator urges end to NPR support in letter to Labor/HHS subcom chair

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) — the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, which oversees pubcasting funding — says it's now time to discontinue federal support to NPR. In a letter to subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Shelby said he intends to "look at all available appropriations vehicles to discontinue funding directly related to NPR programming." It is also signed by Labor/HHS subcommittee members Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).

TV coverage of NPR controversy, from the serious to the silly

A link roundup of last night's (March 9) reactions to NPR President Vivian Schiller's resignation in the wake of fundraiser Ron Schiller's remarks caught on undercover tape:

Juan Williams on Fox's Hannity program, saying in part: "This to me is finally is a window into how they [at NPR] really think."

ABC  World News with Diane Sawyer, hosted by George Stephanopoulos. The report featured pubcasting foe Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) saying, "There are some real serious problems at NPR," and supporter Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) noting, "Obviously it doesn't help when somebody does idiotic things."

WAMU's Diane Rehm on CNN, telling John King that inside NPR, although Schiller's resignation was a shock, "you had the feeling that another shoe was going to drop."

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, its segment shows Ron Schiller discussing the joys of madeira wine on the undercover video.

White House Press Secretary Jim Carney, explaining President Barack Obama's ongoing support of public broadcasting funding despite the controversy

Baltimore Sun media columnist David Zurawik, calling NPR "the last best hope for a global news service for factual information rather than opinion or commentary."

Rush Limbaugh on his radio program, via Media Matters

Two views of why Vivian Schiller left NPR

Veteran pubcaster Dennis Haarsager, who steered NPR through its last executive leadership transition, weighs in on the turmoil at the top of NPR on his blog Technology 360. Noting that he wasn't plugged into the decision-making process behind Vivian Schiller's resignation yesterday, he writes: "Boards and c.e.o.s rely on mutual trust and confidence. Boards and c.e.o.s part ways when this is out of whack. It’s that simple and that complicated. It’s tempting to speculate beyond this....But this speculation is almost always wrong."

Haarsager was responding to Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine, who blasted the NPR Board for sending Vivian Schiller out the door, describing it as "ballless in the face of pressure," and asserting that member stations' parochial objections to Schiller's agenda for digital news undermined support for her in NPR's boardroom.

Jarvis, who teaches at the City University of New York's graduate j-school, was interviewed in this Marketplace segment yesterday.

News round-up on the sudden exit of NPR's top exec

Vivian Schiller decided to resign as NPR president after receiving "a late-night ultimatum" from Board Chair Dave Edwards, according to the Washington Post. Reporter Paul Farhi quotes "one person involved in the decision" who said: "The idea was to placate the Hill" and "They needed a human sacrifice."

Mark Vogelzang of Buffalo's WBFO, a former NPR board member, told the New York Times, “Frankly, the management of NPR shouldn’t be in the press....When personnel issues are handled poorly at a national level, it reflects poorly on our member stations in our communities.”

Today's Politico reports on reactions to the NPR turmoil on Capitol Hill. Moderates in both parties -- Sens. Mary Landrieu, (D-La.) Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Rep. Steve La Tourette (R-Ohio) expressed support for continuing to fund public broadcasting.

“I know that some people think it’s too liberal-leaning, and I think they’re making an effort to make their programming more centrist," Sen. Landrieu tells Politico, " the day of Fox News on one side and MSNBC on the other side, it’s nice to turn on your radio and have a little bit more fair and balanced approach."

In an appearance on the PBS NewsHour last night, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter said many newly elected members of Congress view defunding NPR as fulfilling a campaign pledge "because to them, NPR is a symbol of what they view as liberal bias and as elitism. And they want to take that down."

Also,'s coverage, posted yesterday afternoon: NPR loses c.e.o., its third exec swept away by political tornado. From NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard: No one seems to be taking care of NPR,