Former NPR Leader Douglas Bennett was best known for bringing NPR from a troubled organization to a well run operation in the 1980’s
Bennet had early jobs in Congress and was an an assistant secretary of state under President Carter before becoming head of the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1979. He was named president of National Public Radio in 1983, when the still-young organization was in the midst of “a budget debacle, and we’d laid off a tremendous number of people,” said Robert Siegel, former host of All Things Considered.
“His mission was to sort it out, to manage it well and make it healthy, which is what he did,” Siegel said.
Bennet, said Siegel, brought balanced budgets to NPR and, with board Chairman Jack Mitchell, he changed the financial structure of NPR and its member stations.
“Doug was very sharp, very bright … and was very wise about Capitol Hill,” said Siegel, who directly reported to Bennet for four years as NPR’s news director. During that time, he said, NPR also debuted several now-popular national programs.
“We launched Weekend Edition Saturday. The next year we launched Weekend Edition Sunday. We took Fresh Air from WHYY Philadelphia and made it a nationally distributed NPR program,” he said. Talk Of The Nation, launched in 1991 to provide coverage of the Gulf War, also became a long-running show.
Siegel also said Bennet was strongly behind NPR Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg when she faced legal threats after breaking the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas story.
Bennet left NPR when he was appointed by President Clinton to a State Department leadership position in 1993. In 1995, he became president at his alma mater, Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., a position he held for 12 years. In a statement, current Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth described his predecessor’s tenure as “years of remarkable progress.”