By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

As ‘On the Media’ turns: Brooke Gladstone says Bob Garfield deserved to be fired

In case you missed it, “On the Media” host Brooke Gladstone directed some pointed criticism this weekend at her former co-host, Bob Garfield. I’ve transcribed her opening monologue in full:

From WNYC in New York, this is “On the Media.” I’m Brooke Gladstone. Bob Garfield is out this week, and, as many of you know by now, every week, having been fired after a warning and other efforts at amelioration for a pattern of bullying behavior. The entire staff agreed with that decision.

The problem was not overpassionate discourse. We don’t fear that. We’ve even put some of our own on the radio. Nor was it merely about yelling. But there’s not much more I can say. Look, you know how this works. One side, as an individual, is free to present their case however they see it or wish to see it. They may describe their conduct in ways the other side might not even recognize. But that other side cannot engage because they’re part of a bigger enterprise that balances many concerns, including legal ones.

I know it’s unsatisfying, as much for a show as deeply devoted to transparency as ours, as for some of you. But even if we could be totally transparent, the view would likely still be obscured under a heap of he said/they said. In the end, it really comes down to trust — most especially and relevantly in the show, and what it offers today, next week and the week after that. And so, dear listeners, on with the show.

I’m not surprised that Gladstone and WNYC would cite legalities as the reason she couldn’t offer any details. But here’s a serious question. Gladstone’s monologue amounts to a fairly through-going thrashing of Garfield. Why is it legally OK to criticize Garfield generally but not specifically? Why is it all right to say “If you knew what we knew, you’d agree,” but not “Garfield did x, y and z”?

I trust Gladstone. I’ve trusted her for years. So I’m going to assume that WNYC did the right thing in parting company with Garfield, although he has yet to give a full accounting from his perspective. That could come as soon as Monday. According to Ben Smith of The New York Times, Garfield (but of course) is launching a Substack tomorrow.

Earlier coverage.

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  1. Ed Townes

    I, too, basically “trust” Ms. Gladstone. But when you compare her/their coverage of the last pretty public fracas (Lopate & Schwartz’ firing) to this “monologue,” there’s too much difference to brush off. Yes, Dan Kennedy raises a tough question (re “thrashing”), but the tougher ones grow out of the Ben Smith piece in the NYT today.

    Mr. Smith raises 1 real question explicitly and another by implication: 1) Have we – in what strikes me as a very uncivil time – decided that it’s OK for a “public” institution like public radio to enforce a “no yelling rule?” This is journalism. People CARE, there IS pressure and these are high-ego individuals. In my view, let’s recognize individual differences that don’t dehumanize and don’t cross lines that are barely dotted.

    2) Both at the NYTimes and WNYC, “diversity” very much seems to be morphing into the opposite of that. Apparently, the words “reverse racism” are not P.C. these days, but white men over 50 wouldn’t be nuts if they felt like they were in the crosshairs.

    It seems obvious that the on-air partnership had frayed – probably for many, complex reasons – and lots of people who’ve worked in the private sector (like me) have a sense of deja vu – the knives (HR et al) had been drawn; it was only a matter of time. I trust Ben Smith even more than either of the 2 antagonists here. His telling (and nobody’s saying he was in the room) makes the precipitating event sound pretty egregiously “trumped up.”

    And it’s personally noisome for Ms. Garfield to do a classic, non-NPR hatchet job with something like “I can’t/don’t want to say too much about this, but I can tell you this much – his termination was 100% justfied.”

    In complex cases like this, one looks for “context.” Mr. Smith’s article suggests that you need the sharpest of elbows at the station, but the “prizes” go to those who most expert at back-stabbing and coverups of their actions…. OR BY “ganging up.” Not a “good look” for an operation that comes begging 4 or more times each year and lays off staffers at least partially to overpay a few “suits” and settle “wrongful discharge” suits using NDA’s.

    • Connie Dickerson

      “Ms. Garfield”? I think you mean “Ms. Gladstone.”

      • Ed Townes

        Of course, you’re right. Sorry.

    • Keith

      Can someone tell me why the News Guild allowed the NY Times to cancel Donald McNeil?

    • Agree one hundred percent. As a sixty-three year old assertive, loud, sometimes yelly female, the galloping delicacy of sensibilities falls galls me to no end.
      Unlike you I have always found Gladstone irritating and somewhat facile, but On the Media was also worth listening to. Now, moving forward with degraded credibility, why bother?

  2. Keith

    Nice hit job, Brooke.

  3. Tim

    Bad luck for Brooke Gladstone. Just announced that he left or was fired and leave it at that. I’ve always liked the show including both hosts If there’s a falling out leave it behind closed doors. This wasn’t fair to Garfield, even if he erred.

  4. Allen B. Ng

    The NYT’s always-astute Ben Smith alludes to the real story:

    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.

  5. I want to hear him tell his side of the story.

  6. James Brock

    This is a troubling episode in what has been several years of chaos (some of it laughable, it seems) at WNYC, once my favorite spot on the “dial”. I find it less and less a must-listen, and the only thing with which I keep a date is Brian Lehrer’s show.

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