Bob Garfield’s next move

Here it is: Former “On the Media” co-host Bob Garfield will be podcasting as part of a project called BookSmart Studios, along with John McWhorter and Amna Khalid.

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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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.

How should journalists handle graphic citizen media?

Syrian protesters in front of the Syrian embassy in Cairo.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On the Media” has a fascinating conversation this week with NPR’s Andy Carvin and Sky News’ Neal Mann about whether they felt comfortable tweeting a horrifically graphic video of a Syrian boy whose lower face was blown off in the city of Homs, which is under attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Mann’s answer: No. Carvin’s: Yes, with appropriate warnings.

I want to play the segment for my Reinventing the News students tomorrow. I thought it was a great example of the dilemmas faced by professional journalists whose duties now include curating citizen media. And I considered whether to show them the video. It’s not hard to find, though I won’t link to it. I’ve bookmarked it, and I’ll think about it a bit more. But right now I can’t imagine subjecting a captive audience of 15 students to such a disturbing video.

Frankly, even though Carvin says he gave his Twitter followers plenty of warning, I think I’m with Mann. Because what, really, is the larger meaning of the video? Carvin tells Garfield:

I shared the video because I actually thought it would snap people out of their complacency, because we’ve seen so many videos of people protesting, so many videos of people just laying there in hospitals. But there was something about this image, about being able to look this boy in the eye and see the numbness; his soul was already beginning to disappear at that point. It seemed to me emblematic of what was happening in Homs, and I wanted to give people that opportunity to watch it, if they chose.

Yet, driving home this evening, I heard a report about an investigation into the deaths of eight children killed in Afghanistan by a NATO air strike gone awry. Carvin wants us to know about the brutality of the Syrian government. Well, OK, but what about ours? Might a citizen journalist in Kapisa province have shot footage of a boy fatally injured by American-backed forces just as horrific as the one Carvin tweeted?

Not to stack the deck. I have enormous respect for Carvin, and his action definitely accomplished some good. As he tells it, because of his tweet, an emergency medical team mobilized in Lebanon, ready to help the injured boy. Unfortunately, he died before he could be spirited out of the country.

What the Assad regime is doing in Syria is absolutely savage. But the video doesn’t tell us much more than the universal reality that war is hell.

Photo (cc) by Maggie Osama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.