Following weeks of questions around its handling of sexual harassment allegations, New York Public Radio on Thursday fired two of its most popular hosts, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, following investigations into improper conduct.
“These investigations found that each individual had violated our standards for providing an inclusive, appropriate, and respectful work environment,” NYPR Spokeswoman Jennifer Houlihan Roussel said in a statement.
Both men were put on immediate leave on Dec. 6 for what the public media organization described at the time as “inappropriate conduct.” Their suspensions came days after after New York magazine and WNYC—NYPR’s flagship station—published investigations into sexual harassment and racially charged bullying of NYPR employees by John Hockenberry, a former host of morning show The Takeaway. Both stories convincingly suggested that the organization’s management had known about the hostile workplace environment and tacitly allowed it to continue.
What and when NYPR President and CEO Laura Walker knew about Hockenberry’s behavior were the main unanswered questions from the New York and WNYC reports. She provided only vague answers in both a follow-up interview with Brian Lehrer on Dec. 5 and a board of trustees meeting last week. NYPR also didn’t respond to Splinter’s written requests for details.
The maneuvers have created tension within the organization, as WNYC journalists have tried to get answers only to be largely stonewalled by their bosses. Significant confusion has ensued; as reporters Ilya Marritz and Jessica Gould wrote on Thursday, “WNYC News was finalizing a story about the suspensions of [Lopate and Schwartz] when reporters learned that NYPR was preparing to announce whether the two hosts could return to the station.”
WNYC nevertheless ran that story soon after the news broke, reporting that four staffers—two for incidents this year and two for incidents in previous years—had complained to their managers about inappropriate remarks by Lopate. It also reported that two employees had filed complaints against Schwartz that had reached Walker’s desk: one for suggestive remarks and inappropriate touching, and another for frequently commenting on a colleague’s appearance. Still, WNYC said, it “has not determined the specific reasons for the termination of Lopate and Schwartz.”
The statement from Roussel Thursday added only vague information to that account, though it did confirm that management knew of at least some misbehavior from both men before the recent round of revelations—just as was the case with Hockenberry (emphasis mine):
The investigation into Leonard Lopate’s conduct was prompted by recent allegations of inappropriate behavior, following a previous substantiated investigation in February of this year of inappropriate remarks made by Lopate to staff. That previous investigation resulted in one-on-one anti-harassment training for him and a warning to Lopate that he was creating an uncomfortable work environment.
The investigation into Jonathan Schwartz was prompted by multiple complaints of inappropriate behavior received earlier this month and followed previous complaints, including as recently as November of this year, that were investigated and substantiated by New York Public Radio and resulted in disciplinary action at those times.
Both in their 70s, Lopate and Schwartz were fixtures on WNYC for decades. Investigations into their behavior were conducted by an outside investigator, and Roussel said in the statement that the decision to terminate them was “made by management in consultation with and with the support of the Executive Committee of the New York Public Radio Board of Trustees.”
Schwartz declined to comment to WNYC on Thursday. Lopate told the station he is “really sad and totally shocked,” calling the decision “unjust.”
As I wrote on Monday, NYPR has largely evaded questions about how it got to this point—including from WNYC journalists. Attendees of a public board meeting last week criticized the organization for a general lack of transparency throughout the process, also questioning Walker’s ability to clean up the NYPR workplace given her previous inaction. Many of the new hiring, reporting, and team-building initiatives announced in the wake of accusations this month will be led or guided by her.
“When people in our community feel unwelcome or disrespected, it means we have not lived up to our values, and we cannot do the sacred job you’ve trusted us to do,” Walker said in a statement Thursday. According to tax filings, Walker’s total compensation in 2015 was $888,000—the highest at the publicly subsidized organization.