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Former On Point radio host Tom Ashbrook says he's "truly sorry" for the hurt he caused some show producers, says he asked for more assistance to deal with daily tensions, and says his problems with staff were "fixable." The veteran journalist answered questions about his firing for the first time during two extended interviews published Friday, sparking immediate outrage from some former On Point staff.
"I'm chastened," Ashbrook told The Boston Globe, where he was a reporter and editor for many years. "I've been smacked wide awake."
"What I saw as hard charging, or tough sometimes, or demanding, others experienced in a different way and I wasn't attuned enough to how they were feeling," Ashbrook said on WGBH (a Boston public media organization that competes with WBUR).
Ashbrook repeated claims that WBUR also bears responsibility for problems on the show.
"I am not sure we had the right management structure or workflow," Ashbrook said to the Globe. "I could have used help with all of those things."
With help, Ashbrook said, he could have kept a great show going.
"I wish they had had the confidence to say, 'Come on, let's work this out,' " said Ashbrook.
But two independent investigations found that Ashbrook had a deleterious effect on staff. One report went further, verifying claims that Ashbrook had created an abusive work environment.
Ashbrook claims he never had a formal reprimand and had only a few serious conversations with managers about complaints against him during his 16 years on the show.
"That's bulls---," said one former employee who worked with Ashbrook for more than five years, and said managers addressed the issue with him many times. Investigators concluded that WBUR management spoke to Ashbrook "repeatedly" about his behavior but was not able to change it.
Rage spread among some current and former On Point staff members as they read or listened to Ashbrook's version of events. While Ashbrook calls himself “demanding,” several producers say he was routinely unprepared, and would blame staff.
"It was in these moments that he was at his worst and most sadistic," said one former On Point producer who is female. She says she came to cringe when Ashbrook approached, fearing both his fury and the deep back rubs that often followed a tirade about using the wrong font size or incorrect margins. She and the other former show staff in this story requested anonymity out of fear of professional retribution.
"Many of us, including myself, have had successful journalism careers before and after On Point," said the woman, who still works in public media. "But we did that in spite of Ashbrook's abuse, not because of it."
Ashbook's claim that any inappropriate behavior resulted from putting "the quality of the show wildly in front of everything else" angered another former On Point producer. Ashbrook's ego, she said, was what he put first.
"Producers were taught to sit down, shut up and cater to Tom's whims," that producer said.
And while Ashbrook has said "I'm sorry" in interviews, some producers are not appeased.
"I'm not opposed to his apology tour," said one current On Point producer. "I'm opposed to his continued denial and disingenuousness about how he has treated his staff over his long tenure at WBUR."
There are new details emerging about how Ashbrook's now-verified abuse was managed over time by WBUR and Boston University (BU).
During a Friday morning meeting with newsroom employees, WBUR General Manager Charlie Kravetz revealed for the first time that BU knew Kravetz was struggling with Ashbrook and his behavior problems well before 11 complaints were filed with the university on Dec. 7, 2017. The meeting was off the record so I did not attend. Colleagues who spoke to me afterward asked for anonymity.
Kravetz did not respond to questions about whom he told at BU and when. When asked what accountability BU has for managing the Ashbrook complaints prior to December, BU said it would have no further comment beyond describing the results of the two investigations.
Ashbrook says he plans to be back on the airwaves somewhere, sometime soon.
The need for a reasonable on-air conversation "is so acute I don't want to give it up," Ashbrook said to WGBH host Emily Rooney, "so one way or another I have to find a way."
"Anything else you want to say?" asked Rooney, at the end of a 17-minute interview about the allegations that led to his termination.
"It's been great," said Ashbrook, perhaps referring to his career as a talk show host, "and it's not over."
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