Leadership 'Needs To Evaluate How They Could Let This Happen,' Journalism Commentator Says On Ashbrook

Download Audio

On Wednesday, Boston University, which operates WBUR, announced it had dismissed On Point host Tom Ashbrook after an independent review found he created "an abusive work environment." On Point is distributed on more than 290 NPR stations.


Martha Bebinger, WBUR reporter. She tweets @mbebinger.

Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. He tweets @jbenton.

Interview Highlights With Joshua Benton

On what this means for public media

"It's one of an unfortunate series — between John Hockenberry at 'The Takeaway' at WNYC, Garrison Keillor at Minnesota Public Radio, Michael Oreskes, the head of news for NPR in Washington — there's been a real spate of men who've been accused of misconduct in a variety of ways either sexual or in the lines of bullying.

"I think it's really rocked significant portions of the public radio system. WNYC demoted its chief content officer recently and is facing a substantial — I don't wanna say rebellion, but — resistance from existing staff and a lot of the station's supporters about how they let this sort of work environment persist for that long."

On if it's a reckoning for public radio

"One of the wonders of public radio is that a large portion of its audience feels a real attachment to the work that you all do. They feel a kind of ownership over it and that's really at the core of the business model ...

"The audience cares about your internal workings in a way that they won't for say, a magazine, or a cable network that they watch."

On what WBUR leadership needs to do

"I think it's really gonna be crucial what the next steps are here. WBUR leadership really needs to evaluate how they could let this happen under their noses. On Point was not a weekend show on a college radio station, it's a nationally distributed flagship of one of the largest public radio stations in America. So they need to ask, 'What is it about the way HR works that allowed this situation to go on this long? What was it about the way the show was structured that a host could get away with the sort of behavior that the investigation found?

"I can say just from being a journalist in Boston that Ashbrook had a reputation for a very long time as a yeller, as a screamer, as a bully...

"I'll be honest, we have job openings for journalists here [at the Nieman Lab] every so often and I would often notice that we'd get applications from young journalists who have four months at On Point on their resume, or six months, or eight months. It seemed like a place that churned through a lot of young people because of the power relationships of a show that successful that often relies on young staffers is an unequal one.

"I think for WBUR's sake, the answers to the questions that they're asking need to be made public so that listeners who do support the station and provide that money are convinced that even though this did happen, that management understands what went wrong, and that it's taking action to prevent it from happening again."

This segment aired on February 14, 2018.



More from Radio Boston

Listen Live