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NPR chief Gary Knell is leaving for National Geographic Society

August 19, 2013|By Ryan Faughnder
  • Gary Knell
Gary Knell (NPR )

National Public Radio Chief Executive Gary Knell is stepping down in the fall to become president and chief executive officer of the National Geographic Society.

Knell leaves NPR after less than two years on the job. In a statement to staffers, he said the National Geographic offer was too good to turn down.

"It has taken a great deal of personal reflection on my part to reach this decision," he said. "I will leave with a sense of enormous gratitude to each of you for all you do to make this organization a national treasure."

A veteran of children's television and a former chief executive of Sesame Workshop, Knell was brought in from the outside to try to repair NPR's reputation, which had taken a beating after a senior executive was caught on video making disparaging remarks about the tea party movement.

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The controversy led to the resignation of Knell's predecessor, Vivian Schiller, and fed criticism by conservatives who accused the news organization of bias and called to strip the nonprofit organization of its federal funding. 

Early in his tenure, Knell said he wanted to "depoliticize" the debate over public broadcasting, a statement that was criticized by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog group.

In a statement, NPR said Knell has strengthened the organization and will remain in his current post until fall as he works with its board in a search for a replacement. 

"Gary and the management team have worked effectively to strengthen NPR as a world-class media organization, technological innovator and industry leader," Kit Jensen, chair of NPR's board, said in the statement. "We will be working closely with Gary over the next few months, and deeply appreciate the lasting impact he has made."

At National Geographic, Knell will replace John Fahey as CEO Fahey, who has led the organization for 16 years, will continue to serve as chairman of its board. Knell is already on the society's board of trustees. 


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