Bob Garfield revisits his firing from ‘On the Media’ and brings his podcast to a close

Bob Garfield, right, meets Boston media guy Steve Garfield at SXSW. Photo (cc) 2011 by Steve Garfield.

It was a little over a year ago that “On the Media” fired co-host Bob Garfield, claiming he’d violated New York Public Radio’s rules against bullying. The circumstances surrounding Garfield’s departure were murky. He admitted that he’d lost his temper on several occasions over the years, but tweeted that “in all cases, the provocations were just shocking.

Now some details are emerging, at least from Garfield’s side. Recently, in a long Substack post (is there any other kind?), he wrote that he’d never bullied anyone and that his firing stemmed from a falling-out with co-host and managing editor Brooke Gladstone and executive producer Katya Rogers. Apparently Garfield was the only one of the troika not to have a role in management, which put him in a precarious position. The whole essay is worth reading if you’re an “OTM” obsessive, as I am, but it seems to me that this is the key excerpt:

My cashiering last May was based on “a pattern of misconduct” — to wit: six episodes of shouting over the previous three years. One of the angry outbursts was at a computer, which froze on me at deadline. I slammed my fist on the desk and shouted a bad word, rhyming with “fuck.” Another was at a producer, who had deceitfully re-edited a piece against my explicit directions, and tried to sneak the change past me. I discovered her mischief in literally the last two minutes of the weekly production process and hollered plenty. She cried. Another time, I grew impatient with a producer who very much wanted me to ask a certain interview question which I thought was superfluous, but also I had another thing scheduled and was out of time to argue. I was rude to him in front of the guest, for which I immediately and profusely apologized. I was also accused of using profanity at work. Hahahaha! Have you ever been in a newsroom? The OTM corner at WNYC was like Pier 17, minus only the longshoreman hooks.

All of the above generated a complaint to HR, which resulted two years ago in me taking professional coaching to guide me in workplace interactions and keep me from running afoul of WNYC policy. I argued that the complaints were weak tea, but anger-management is a lifelong problem of mine, so I’d take my medicine and hope it helps. I guess it didn’t.

Not having been there, I can’t say for sure whether Garfield’s behavior rose to the level of a fireable offense. But I’m very big on not screaming in the workplace, and Garfield in this instance is an unreliable narrator — we can’t know whether he’s playing down his offenses or not. Even by his own description, I don’t think I’d want his desk to be next to mine. Of course, a lot of this was playing out over Zoom, so make that a metaphorical desk.

The other news in Garfield’s post is that he’s ending his podcast, “Bully Pulpit,” citing health issues and the brutal economics of podcasting: “To be financially stable, in general, a podcast must be in the top 1/10th of 1 percent of all the 50 million pods out there. We were in the top 10%, which is roughly like being in the top 10% of sand.” This is true. Podcasting is the ultimate long-tail medium, with big bucks going to a few people at the top, like Joe Rogan and “The Daily” and scraps to everyone else. (Garfield’s Substack newsletter, also called “Bully Pulpit,” will continue.)

I’m involved in two podcasts — “What Works: The Future of Local News,” which I cohost with Ellen Clegg, and “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney.” The former, affiliated with Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, is strictly a labor of love. “Beat the Press” is a commercial venture. I have no insight into how it’s doing except that I’m told it’s off to a strong start. (You should subscribe to both!)

Garfield’s final podcast episode dropped a few days ago. It’s an 80-minute overview of his long career in radio, from his early days as a roving reporter with NPR to his years with “On the Media.” Wisely, he doesn’t use it to grind any axes. It’s entertaining, informative and, at the end, touching.

I’ve missed Garfield on “OTM.” Whether he and Gladstone got along or not (I guess they didn’t), they complemented each other well. That said, I wish the show would focus more on, you know, the media — a problem that goes back several years.

It’s a shame when talented people like Garfield can’t do what they’re good at. I’m not going to offer a judgment as to whether or not he should have been fired — that would require hearing from Gladstone and Rogers, not just Garfield. But “On the Media,” though still valuable, is a lesser show without him.

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