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.

Meredith Clark on race, power and why the media have fallen short on diversity

Meredith Clark. Photo by Alyssa Stone / Northeastern University

On the brand new “What Works” podcast, Ellen Clegg and I talk with Professor Meredith Clark, our colleague at Northeastern University. Dr. Clark is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern as well as founding director of the university’s new Center for Communication, Media Innovation and Social Change.

Before arriving at Northeastern, she was a faculty fellow at Data & Society, an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York that examines some of the questions being raised by the massive increase in the use of data in all aspects of society.

Dr. Clark’s research is on the intersections of race, media and power, and she’s studied everything from newsroom hiring and reporting practices to social media communities. Her media diet is wide-ranging and eclectic. Our interview touches on many cultural icons, including poet Audre Lorde and Captain Olivia Benson, the fictional “Law & Order SVU” crime-solver.

Meredith is perhaps best known in news circles for her work in trying to revive an annual diversity census conducted by the News Leaders Association, an effort that fell short earlier this year after just 303 media outlets responded out of the 2,500 that were asked to provide data. Ellen and I asked Meredith why so few were willing to participate — and what can be done to encourage diversity at small start-up news organizations.

In Quick Takes, I discuss Gannett’s recent move to dismantle some of the chain’s regional editorial pages, which I see as not entirely a negative, and Ellen tips the hat to two of the 2022 recipients of the prestigious Freedom of the Press Award: Wendi C. Thomas, founding editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, and Mukhtar Ibrahim, founding publisher and CEO of Sahan Journal.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

A good overview of the mess at The Washington Post

If you’ve only caught bits and pieces and you’re wondering what the hell is going on at The Washington Post, Tom Jones has an excellent overview at Poynter Online. It’s broad and deep, exploring Post reporter Felicia Sonmez’s tortured relationship with management over the past few years and how that figures into the current drama over fellow reporter David Weigel’s retweet of a pretty horrendous sexist and homophobic joke. That poor decision by Weigel led to a month-long suspension without pay. Jones writes:

And so here we are this week with the paper known for the kind of dogged reporting that uncovered the Watergate scandal swept up in a quagmire that has included a suspension, two memos from the executive editor, countless contentious and accusatory tweets and a narrative that the Post has a hostile and toxic work environment.

What a mess.

Earlier:

Re Substack: Never mind

I received a message from Substack a little while ago, and it appears that I may have misunderstood the service’s business model in some important ways. Rather than try to fix my item, I’ve taken it down. Thanks for your understanding.

The Globe leads with a story from public media outlet WBUR

Here’s something I hadn’t seen before. The Boston Globe’s lead story today, on the backlog of cases at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, is from WBUR, one of the city’s two major public media outlets. It strikes me as semi-smart.

On the one hand, I’m all in favor of collaboration. On the other, I assume that the overlap between the Globe’s and WBUR’s audiences is extensive. Some Globe readers might not appreciate paying for something they already heard on the radio or read at WBUR.org.

Next time I might think twice about leading the paper with it. Maybe run it below the fold, as we used to say back when print mattered. Overall, though, it’s a good, important story that deserves the wider distribution the Globe can give it.

In Uvalde, the press reported the official account — and then kept digging

The Uvalde school massacre is shaping up as a massive police scandal. Officers failed to respond as they had been trained to do. We’re going to learn a lot more in the days and weeks to come, but for now, I want to comment on one narrow aspect — the media’s dependence on official sources in such situations. There’s been a lot of criticism on social media about the press’ reliance on police in the initial coverage. Adam Johnson put it this way:

Jay Rosen offered a more nuanced critique.

There’s no doubt that journalists rely too heavily on police sources who may or may not be telling the truth. Sources lie, especially when the truth would make them look bad. I have no reason to think that police officers are more likely to lie than anyone else. But they’re not less likely to lie, either. I’ve written about the problem of “the police giving us good stories in return for our not asking too many questions.”

But I don’t think the Uvalde shootings are an example of journalistic malfeasance. In the immediate aftermath of a terrible breaking-news situation, official sources are often the only ones available. You pass along what they have to say and you keep reporting. That’s what happened in Uvalde. Yes, we learned that the original police account was wrong, and that officials may have been flat-out lying. And it was the press from whom we learned about those falsehoods.

It’s an imperfect process. But the press did not blindly accept what they were being told. They kept digging, and that’s why the official narrative has fallen apart.

This week on ‘Beat the Press’: the Supreme Court leak, the dark web, UFOs and more

Photo (cc) 2014 by Vladimir Pustovit

The latest episode of the “Beat the Press” podcast is up. This week we chew over the Supreme Court leak; how so-called replacement theory, the dark web and Fox News may have contributed to the Buffalo mass murders; why the government is rebranding UFOs as UAPs; and much more. Plus our Rants and Raves. With Emily Rooney at the helm of our flying saucer, joined by Susie Banikarim, Mike Nikitas and me.

You can find “Beat the Press” right here, so hop to it.

Globe Direct is hauled off to the landfill

Globe Direct is no more.

Twitter is celebrating.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub, who’s been crusading against Globe Direct for years, posted this photo from a Cambridgeport resident in 2015.

The Buffalo horror raises thorny issues about hate speech and the media

Image via Today’s Front Pages at FreedomForum.org.

Correction: An earlier version of this post identified 4chan’s hosting service. In fact, it was a porn site that uses the name 4chan but is otherwise unrelated.

Our thoughts at this time need to be with the Black community of Buffalo — and everywhere — as we process the horror of one of the worst mass murders of recent years. We need to do something substantive about guns, racism and white supremacy. What actually happened, and what we can do to prevent such horrific events from happening again, must be at the top of our agenda.

This blog, though, is primarily about the media and often about free speech. So let me address some of the secondary issues. The shootings intersect with notions of hate speech, social media and the role of Fox News in mainstreaming dangerous racist ideologies such as so-called replacement theory, which holds that the left is trying to push out white people in favor of non-white immigrants in order to obtain an electoral advantage.

First, keep in mind that hate speech is legal. The New York Times today says this about New York Gov. Kathy Hochul:

When pressed on how she planned to confront such hate speech online, without impinging on First Amendment rights, Ms. Hochul noted that “hate speech is not protected” and said she would soon be calling meetings with social media companies.

Hochul is wrong, and the Times shouldn’t have used “noted,” which implies that she knows what she’s talking about. If hate speech were illegal, Tucker Carlson would have been kicked off Fox long ago.

What’s illegal is incitement to violence, and you might think whipping up racist hatred would qualify. In fact, it does not — and the very Supreme Court case that made that clear was about a speaker at a rally who whipped up racist hatred. Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) held that a ranting Ku Klux Klan thug demanding “revengeance” against Jews and Black people had not engaged in incitement because his threats were non-specific.

Hochul can cajole and threaten. And she should. But it’s going to be difficult to do much more than that.

As for the media themselves, that’s a morass, and it’s too early to start sorting this out. But the shooter reportedly fell down the 4chan hole during the pandemic, immersing himself in the racism and hate that permeate the dark corners of the internet. There are a lot of moving parts here, but it seems unlikely that a young mass murder-in-the-making was sitting around watching Fox, even if some of his rants paralleled Carlson’s rhetoric. Fox’s role is to mainstream such hatred for its frightened, elderly viewers. The radicalization itself happens elsewhere.

So, are we going to ban 4chan? How would that even work? If the government tried to shut them down, they could just go somewhere else. I’m sure Vladimir Putin would be happy to play host.

4chan represents the bottom of this toxic food chain; Fox News is at the top. In the middle are the mainstream social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Twitch (which allowed the shooter to livestream his rampage for nearly two minutes before taking it down) and the like. It’s too early to say what, if anything, will happen on that front. But it’s probably not a good time to be a billionaire who wants to buy Twitter so that there will be less moderation on the platform than there is currently.

As it turns out, that billionaire, Elon Musk, may be backing away.

The new ‘Beat the Press’ examines Zelenskyy’s use of social media

Image (cc) 2022 by id-iom

The latest edition of the “Beat the Press” podcast takes a look at how Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s brilliant use of social media has helped rally the world to his country’s side. Other topics include the Biden administration’s botched rollout of a disinformation governance board and The New York Times’ massive dive into Tucker Carlson — and more, including our Rants & Raves.

Emily Rooney is in the anchor chair, joined by Lylah Alphonse, Jon Keller and me. Please subscribe and give us a listen.