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.
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.