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.

The Capital Gazette overcame mass murder only to be done in by corporate ownership

Photo via “On the Media”

The public radio show “On the Media” offered a terrific special hour-long broadcast over the weekend — a deeply reported piece on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five journalists were killed in a mass shooting three years ago today.

The story follows the newsroom through the shock of the shooting and the newspaper’s halting recovery. Sadly, as the last part of the hour unfolds, we learn that the journalists overcame the worst horror imaginable only to be done in by their corporate owner, Tribune Publishing. In the closing minutes, things go from bad to worse, as the hedge fund Alden Global Capital purchases Tribune.

By the way, what “On the Media” ran was a compressed version of a two-hour series that was part of the NPR podcast “Embedded,” which had not been on my radar until now. Outstanding and important work.

 

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.

Caitlin Flanagan on the harm caused by Rolling Stone

The single best analysis I’ve run across regarding the meltdown of Rolling Stone’s story about rape at the University of Virginia campus is by Caitlin Flanagan, the author of a long investigation into fraternities that was published by The Atlantic earlier this year.

Flanagan was interviewed by “On the Media” over the weekend. Give it a listen and you’ll understand why journalistic failures by Rolling Stone and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely have done so much damage to the campaign against sexual assault on campus.

The gold standard for reporting on this issue has been set by my friend and former colleague Kristen Lombardi of the Center for Public Integrity. Here is an archive of her work.

Howard Owens on the success of The Batavian

Corporate hyperlocal is fading, with Patch being the prime example. Independent hyperlocal is working. Howard Owens, one of my main subjects in “The Wired City,” discusses the success of The Batavian this week with NPR’s “On the Media.”

Here is a blog post I wrote in July about The Batavian’s growth.

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.

A first-rate overview of journalism’s fate

The week’s best listen is NPR’s “On the Media,” which weighs in with a special program on the future of the newspaper business. At least that’s what they call it, but the show is really broader than that, hitting all the right themes on the fate of professional journalism.

Among the topics: whether the government should play a role in saving the news business; whether newspapers should charge for online content (a tired topic brought to life by a smart interview with one of my über-bosses, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger); a conversation with James Fallows of the Atlantic about his recent article on Google’s news initiatives; and whether a renewed focus on local news will help bolster newspapers’ bottom lines.

Grab the MP3 and listen. It’s as good an overview as I’ve come across in recent months.

How false becomes true

Dan Gillmor blasts the media for a recent New York Times/CBS News poll finding that one-third of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He writes:

The continuing scandal is that media organizations are doing so little to correct the record. Because it is not enough to run an occasional story debunking the lie.

I don’t disagree, but it’s also more complicated than that. Last Friday, NPR’s “On the Media” ran a fascinating interview with the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam, whose reporting suggests that the harder you try to debunk a falsehood, the more people are likely to believe it. Here’s Vedantam, talking about what happened after the subjects of a University of Michigan study read a flier produced by the Centers for Disease Control debunking myths about vaccines:

[A]bout 30 minutes later, older people started to remember some of the false statements as true, and three days later, very large numbers of older people and significant numbers of younger people also started remembering increasing numbers of myths as true.

The true statements did not suffer the same kind of deterioration with time. In other words, over time we tend to remember false things as true but not true things as false.

This doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t at least try to educate the public in an ongoing way. But it does mean that it’s likely a significant minority of Americans will continue to believe whatever they like, whether it’s about 9/11 or the (non)-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

After all, as Vedantam points out, majorities in Arab and Muslim countries continue to believe the United States and/or Israel were responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. You can only do so much to set the record straight.

Vedantam’s original Post story is online here.