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NPR editor who wrote critical essay on company resigns

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                The headquarters for National Public Radio (NPR) stands on North Capitol Street, in April 2013, in Washington. A National Public Radio editor who wrote an essay criticizing his employer for promoting liberal reviews resigned on Wednesday, a day after it was revealed that he had been suspended.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

The headquarters for National Public Radio (NPR) stands on North Capitol Street, in April 2013, in Washington. A National Public Radio editor who wrote an essay criticizing his employer for promoting liberal reviews resigned on Wednesday, a day after it was revealed that he had been suspended.

NEW YORK >> A National Public Radio editor who wrote an essay criticizing his employer for promoting liberal views resigned on Wednesday, attacking NPR’s new CEO on the way out.

Uri Berliner, a senior editor on NPR’s business desk, posted his resignation letter on X, formerly Twitter, a day after it was revealed that he had been suspended for five days for violating company rules about outside work done without permission.

“I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems” written about in his essay, Berliner said in his resignation letter.

Katherine Maher, a former tech executive appointed in January as NPR’s chief executive, has been criticized by conservative activists for social media messages that disparaged former President Donald Trump. The messages predated her hiring at NPR.

NPR’s public relations chief said the organization does not comment on individual personnel matters.

The suspension and subsequent resignation highlight the delicate balance that many U.S. news organizations and their editorial employees face. On one hand, as journalists striving to produce unbiased news, they’re not supposed to comment on contentious public issues; on the other, many journalists consider it their duty to critique their own organizations’ approaches to journalism when needed.

In his essay, written for the online Free Press site, Berliner said NPR is dominated by liberals and no longer has an open-minded spirit. He traced the change to coverage of Trump’s presidency.

“There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” he wrote. “It’s frictionless — one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.”

He said he’d brought up his concerns internally and no changes had been made, making him “a visible wrong-thinker at a place I love.”

In the essay’s wake, NPR top editorial executive, Edith Chapin, said leadership strongly disagreed with Berliner’s assessment of the outlet’s journalism and the way it went about its work.

It’s not clear what Berliner was referring to when he talked about disparagement by Maher. In a lengthy memo to staff members last week, she wrote: “Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions. Questioning whether our people are serving their mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful and demeaning.”

Conservative activist Christopher Rufo revealed some of Maher’s past tweets after the essay was published. In one tweet, dated January 2018, Maher wrote that “Donald Trump is a racist.” A post just before the 2020 election pictured her in a Biden campaign hat.

In response, an NPR spokeswoman said Maher, years before she joined the radio network, was exercising her right to express herself. She is not involved in editorial decisions at NPR, the network said.

The issue is an example of what can happen when business executives, instead of journalists, are appointed to roles overseeing news organizations: they find themselves scrutinized for signs of bias in ways they hadn’t been before. Recently, NBC Universal News Group Chairman Cesar Conde has been criticized for service on paid corporate boards.

Maher is the former head of the Wikimedia Foundation. NPR’s own story about the 40-year-old executive’s appointment in January noted that she “has never worked directly in journalism or at a news organization.”

In his resignation letter, Berliner said that he did not support any efforts to strip NPR of public funding. “I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” he wrote.

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