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NPR editor Uri Berliner resigns with blast at new CEO

Uri Berliner resigned from NPR on Wednesday saying he could not work under the new CEO Katherine Maher. He cautioned that he did not support calls to defund NPR.
Uri Berliner
Uri Berliner resigned from NPR on Wednesday saying he could not work under the new CEO Katherine Maher. He cautioned that he did not support calls to defund NPR.

Updated April 17, 2024 at 2:56 PM ET

NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner resigned this morning, citing the response of the network's chief executive to his outside essay accusing NPR of losing the public's trust.

"I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years," Berliner wrote in an email to CEO Katherine Maher. "I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism. But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay."

NPR and Maher declined to comment on his resignation.

The Free Press, an online site embraced by journalists who believe that the mainstream media has become too liberal, published Berliner's piece last Tuesday. In it, he argued that NPR's coverage has increasingly reflected a rigid progressive ideology. And he argued that the network's quest for greater diversity in its workforce — a priority under prior chief executive John Lansing – has not been accompanied by a diversity of viewpoints presented in NPR shows, podcasts or online coverage.

Later that same day, NPR pushed back against Berliner's critique.

"We're proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories," NPR's chief news executive, Edith Chapin, wrote in a memo to staff . "We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world."

Yet Berliner's commentary has been embraced by conservative and partisan Republican critics of the network, including former President Donald Trump and the activist Christopher Rufo.

Rufo is posting a parade of old social media posts from Maher, who took over NPR last month. In two examples, she called Trump a racist and also seemed to minimize the effects of rioting in 2020. Rufo is using those to rally public pressure for Maher's ouster, as he did for former Harvard University President Claudine Gay.

Others have used the moment to call for the elimination of federal funding for NPR – less than one percent of its roughly $300 million annual budget – and local public radio stations, which derive more of their funding from the government.

Berliner reiterated in his resignation letter that he does not support such calls.

In a brief interview, he condemned a statement Maher issued Friday in which she suggested that he had questioned "whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity." She called that "profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning."

Berliner subsequently exchanged emails with Maher, but she did not address those comments.

"It's been building up," Berliner said of his decision to resign, "and it became clear it was on today."

For publishing his essay in The Free Press and appearing on its podcast, NPR had suspended Berliner for five days without pay. Its formal rebuke noted he had done work outside NPR without its permission, as is required, and shared proprietary information.

(Disclosure: Like Berliner, I am part of NPR's Business Desk. He has edited many of my past stories. But he did not see any version of this article or participate in its preparation before it was posted publicly.)

Earlier in the day, Berliner forwarded to NPR editors and other colleagues a note saying he had "never questioned" their integrity and had been trying to raise these issues within the newsroom for more than seven years.

What followed was an email he had sent to newsroom leaders after Trump's 2016 win. He wrote then: "Primarily for the sake of our journalism, we can't align ourselves with a tribe. So we don't exist in a cocoon that blinds us to the views and experience of tens of millions of our fellow citizens."

Berliner's critique has inspired anger and dismay within the network. Some colleagues said they could no longer trust him after he chose to publicize such concerns rather than pursue them as part of ongoing newsroom debates, as is customary. Many signed a letter to Maher and Edith Chapin, NPR's chief news executive. They asked for clarity on, among other things, how Berliner's essay and the resulting public controversy would affect news coverage.

Yet some colleagues privately said Berliner's critique carried some truth. Chapin also announced monthly reviews of the network's coverage for fairness and diversity - including diversity of viewpoint.

She said in a text message earlier this week that that initiative had been discussed long before Berliner's essay, but "Now seemed [the] time to deliver if we were going to do it."

She added, "Healthy discussion is something we need more of."

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik and edited by Deputy Business Editor Emily Kopp and Managing Editor Gerry Holmes. Under NPR's protocol for reporting on itself, no NPR corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.