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New CEO Gary Knell Takes Control After Tough Year For NPR Top Brass

NPR CEO Gary Knell
Sesame Workshop
NPR CEO Gary Knell

It has been a tumultuous year or so for NPR’s top brass as NPR attracted criticism for its personnel decisions, especially from conservatives. And heads have rolled.

“Well, I came here because I wanted an easy job-secure environment,” joked new NPR CEO Gary Knell.

Trouble started when NPR fired commentator Juan Williams over comments he made on Fox News. NPR’s Senior Vice President of News resigned after that incident. Then NPR parted ways with a top fundraiser after he was filmed at lunch with a conservative sting group. NPR’s last CEO Vivian Schiller resigned after that incident.

And most recently, NPR cut ties with World of Opera after the show’s host, Lisa Simeone spoke out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement and a conservative news website wrote about it.

Many who watched NPR shed staff felt the decisions were mismanaged. “Some of these wounds, if I dare say, were a bit self-inflicted,” Knell said. “I wasn’t here. I did not make those decisions, but we need to turn the page.”

After commentator Juan Williams was let go, NPR said it would review policies about what employees can and cannot say with an eye to making them more consistent. Knell says he hasn’t had a chance to look at those policies yet since he’s only been on the job about 21 days.

“We need to,” Knell said, “get away from, you know, what we’ve been labeled as—you know, this is not a polarized media organization with a political agenda.”

Knell doesn’t promise calm seas ahead for NPR, but he says the product—NPR’s shows and web content—never stopped being top-notch and reducing criticism of the organization is, “About trying to tell our story in a simple way to the American people and remind them why 35 million Americans regularly listen to us.”

I love living in Memphis, but I'm not from the city. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I spent many hours at a highly tender age listening to NPR as my parents crisscrossed that city in their car, running errands. I don't amuse myself by musing about the purity of destiny, but I have seriously wondered how different my life would be if my parents preferred classic rock instead of Car Talk.