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CEO Vivian Schiller: Latest head to roll at NPR

Vivian Schiller, the embattled chief of National Public Radio, is out after two years at the helm of NPR -- and two recent embarrassments for the public broadcasting operation.

The announcement from Dave Edwards, chairman of NPR's board of directors, came Tuesday morning: "The Board accepted Vivian's resignation with understanding and genuine regret and great respect for her leadership of NPR the past two years," he said in a statement.

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The CEO's obviously forced resignation comes one day after another NPR executive, Ron Schiller (no relation), the head of fund raising for NPR, was shown on a video by conservative filmmaker James O'Keefe making remarks that O'Keefe characterized as "elitist." See the video by O'Keefe and read my analysis here. Schiller had resigned last week to accept a new job, but it was not supposed to be effective until May 6. It became effective Tuesday -- hours after O'Keefe's video was posted.

His new employer, The Aspen Insitute, sent out a short announcement Wednesday saying, in light of recent developments, Schiller would not now be coming to work there.

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Vivian Schiller first came under fire in October when she terminated Juan Williams, a longtime analyst at NPR, for remarks he made on the Fox News Channel, where he is also an analyst. The remarks involved his feelings about being on airplanes with certain Muslim co-passengers.

The firing was widely criticized for the way in which it was handled -- in particular that Williams was given no chance to explain his words, even though he asked for such a hearing based on his relationship with NPR. Schiller compounded the mistake the next day by suggesting that Williams might be in therapy -- or might need to be in therapy. Read my interview with Williams in the wake of the firing here.

Ellen Weiss, the vice president in charge of news at NPR, was forced to resign in January following the results of an in-house NPR study of the Williams' firing. Weiss was the executive who carried out the firing of Williams over the phone on Schiller's behalf. Schiller, meanwhile, got a vote of confidence from the board, but no bonus for the year.

The handling of the Williams matter and the new O'Keefe video are being used by critics of NPR and some conservative politicians as ammunition in a larger campaign to zero out funding for public broadcasting by the federal government. Given the troubled economic times and highly polarized political landscape, Vivian Schiller's gaffes and insenstive remarks were a major problem for NPR. And Ron Schiller's words only put more fuel on the fire.

Vivian Schiller's resignation is effective immediately. A statement from NPR said Joyce Slocum, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, will become interim CEO. The board will "develop a timeframe and process for the recruitment and selection of new leadership."

That language, "new leadership," suggests just how big a shakeup has occurred the last three months at what seemed to be one of the last rock-solid major media operations. The head of news, the head of fund raising, and now the president and CEO.

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