What’s next for ‘On the Media’ after co-host Bob Garfield’s sudden firing?

Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone. 2017 photo via WNYC.

I rarely miss the podcast of the public radio program “On the Media.” So I sat up and took notice Monday afternoon when word started spreading that co-host Bob Garfield had been fired. New York Public Radio, where the show originates, said that Garfield had violated the station’s “anti-bullying policy,” adding: “This decision was made following a recent investigation conducted by an outside investigator that found that he had violated the policy.”

The statement continued that Garfield was also investigated in 2020, disciplined, and given “a warning about the potential consequences if the behavior continued, and a meaningful opportunity to correct it.”

The show will continue with co-host Brooke Gladstone, who is also the show’s managing editor. NYPR wasted no time in removing Garfield’s name from the website. No word yet on whether a new co-host will be named or if Gladstone will fly solo. But both Gladstone and Garfield are away from the anchor desk frequently for reporting projects and vacations. If there is to be no co-host, they’re going to have to do some juggling.

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There was one possible clue ahead of Monday’s firing. Last week “OTM” devoted the entire hour to a documentary on the demise of the steel industry and the rise of underpaid health-care work in Pittsburgh, hosted by Garfield. It was a three-parter, and they played all three parts, with no media news of the week. Normally I’d expect “OTM” to use the three parts as show-closers for three consecutive weeks. My guess is that the place was in an uproar and no one was in any shape to produce a regular show.

So what happened? Garfield took to Twitter to defend himself, claiming that he was fired for yelling in five meetings over 20 years. His outbursts were justified, he said, adding that “the provocations were shocking.”

Gladstone rarely tweets, and she hasn’t said anything about her co-host’s departure. Nor have I see her quoted anywhere else. A New York Times account by Katie Robertson and Ben Smith notes that NYPR — on the air in New York City as WNYC — has been beset by turmoil over allegations of bad behavior by men in recent years, including charges of sexual harassment against John Hockenberry, who was let go.

Aside from whether Garfield’s firing was warranted, which I have no insight into, I’m going to miss his contributions. Gladstone was the straight-ahead journalist (not that she holds back her views; it is, after all, a news-and-opinion show) while Garfield was the clever sidekick, providing much-needed snark. Although I’m sure that Gladstone can do a perfectly fine job solo, if that’s the direction NYPR decides to take, it always seemed like something was missing if either one of them was away.

One change I hope “OTM” will consider is getting back to its media roots. Even though the program is heard on more than 400 stations and is a popular podcast, it really hasn’t been as good the past few years, mainly because it’s been less about the media and more about whatever seemed to strike Gladstone and Garfield’s interest — the Pittsburgh three-parter being an example. As Joey Peters noted last year in Current, which covers public media, the co-hosts tried to explain the shift but only ended up adding to the confusion. Peters wrote:

During a segment in OTM’s last show in 2019, Gladstone and Garfield explained that their days creating a program centered on “the news about the news” were over.

In its place, OTM’s focus has shifted to dissecting narratives, or, as Garfield put it, “the stories we tell ourselves based largely on what we heard for our whole lives, often through the media.”

“We’ve always relied on history to provide context,” Gladstone added. “But to question that history, to focus on the systems that have pushed our history forward, to examine the cracks and the jerry-rigging and what we may have once viewed as the best of all possible machines — that seems increasingly to be our job now.”

It’s a broad and often ambiguous focus, one that even Gladstone couldn’t completely pin down during a lengthy interview with Current. “Where we may proceed in the future isn’t clear,” she said.

There is never a shortage of topics in the media to report and comment on. I hope Gladstone and her staff steer “On the Media” back to its original mission. And I hope that Garfield tells his side of the story soon — as he promises to do.

6 thoughts on “What’s next for ‘On the Media’ after co-host Bob Garfield’s sudden firing?

  1. Thank you for this (sad) news. I was just thinking last weekend, while listening to “On The Media” and cleaning the house, how much I appreciate both of the hosts. And now I learn that one is gone… Having had a boss who did not bully her/his employees AND one who did, I can say with certainty that I am a fan of a non-bullying — and non-shouting-during-meetings — style of leadership. I am curious to learn in future days/weeks more about his side of the story…

  2. Sean OConnor

    Good read, Dan

    OTM broadcast a production meeting after the Trump election victory in 2016, and the tension in the room was palpable over the airwaves
    It was clear that Brookstone and exec producer Katya Rogers had issues with Garfield

    I’m sorry to see a show I like go through turmoil, but this isn’t that much of a surprise

    Rogers will probably get the replacement host gig

  3. Fred Leonard

    I agree. If they don’t want to do a show about media any more, the least they can do is change the name of the show. Truth in labelling.
    WNYC’s statements amount to character assassination. I can’t find anywhere that this so-called “anti-bullying policy” is spelled out. WNYC won’t say what exactly happened. But they have decided to make sure Garfield gets blacklisted from the media. They could have let him resign but no. Hell hath no fury.
    Maybe Garfield and Al Franken can form a club.

  4. Pingback: As ‘On the Media’ turns: Brooke Gladstone says Bob Garfield deserved to be fired – Media Nation

  5. Allen B. Ng

    The NYT’s always-astute Ben Smith alludes to the real story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/23/business/media/its-the-medias-mean-too-moment-stop-yelling-and-go-to-human-resources.html

    OTM, once a brilliant venue for media criticism, has steadily been ground down to uncritical, unlistenable irrelevance, as it’s been overtaken by Brooke Gladstone’s pathological white guilt. She and her acolytes finally provoked Bob Garfield to go over the edge. The final straw was when she accused him (in a staff meeting) of “bathing in self-pity” for scheduling surgery to address a shoulder injury.

    If anyone was guilty of “bullying” here, it appears to be Gladstone and her allies. The bigger story is WNYC’s ongoing self-destruction, with a pattern of retaliatory firings amid gross editorial mismanagement from the top down.

    A vague, arbitrarily interpreted and enforced, “anti-bullying policy” has served no one. Garfield and other ex-WNYC staffers appear to have very strong legal cases, and everyone still keeping the dim lights on at WNYC is at risk.

    1. Tim

      I agree with this article, while I enjoy the show I call, “Not on the media.” They refuse to critique national publications or newscasts anymore, and there’s plenty of those to go around. It could be an interesting show but they diverted from that. When Gladstone did her very long piece on poverty in America, I knew she was aiming for awards and not being a media watchdog. There’s tons of news shows around on NPR and PRI or whatever it’s called now. There are no media watchdog shows other than on the media, which is not doing a good job of it. If Gladstone doesn’t want to do this, she can try for a job at all things considered and perhaps they can get a new host, who is interested in critiquing the media.

      Meanwhile, regarding this incident with Bob Garfield and Gladstone calling him out publicly, I believe her ego has got the best of her.

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