The Takeaway’s management responds to Hockenberry allegations

The boss of The Takeaway broke her silence today, answering allegations that she and members of WNYC, which owns the public radio program, did not respond to sexual and racial harassment allegations against former host John Hockenberry.

Laura Walker, the president and CEO of New York Public Radio, spoke to a talk show host on her station today, a day after Suki Kim, an occasional guest on The Takeaway, gave a blistering interview on The Takeaway on Monday that left little doubt that she thinks the management looked the other way on matters of Hockenberry’s behavior.

Other women came forward to say their careers were “sabotaged” by Hockenberry, but refused The Takeaway’s request for an interview because they wanted to hear management speak first.

Today, Walker spoke, but didn’t say much.

Host Brian Lehrer asked Walker why she’s refused to speak about the situation up to now.

“I’m here now,” she said.

Hockenberry left the show over the summer when his contract wasn’t renewed. Walker rejected the claim that he was fired because of his sexual harassment and bullying, while appearing to confirm that she knew about some of the allegations.

“There’s a lot I can’t discuss with regard to specifications and actions I took. It’s a confidential personnel matter. It’s not for a lack of desire for you to know the facts. We do not disclose employment information, and to protect people who share their stories,” she said.

“We did not renew John’s contract; that was a decision made by both PRI and New York Public Radio. I can tell you that John was not fired for sexual misconduct. His conduct was not renewed for a variety of reasons and I’m not going to get into them specifically.”

But her next comment only adds to the confusion about The Takeaway’s management actions.

“I will say that I knew about many… some … of the behavior. I was made aware of Suki Kim’s complaint and after consulting with PRI, our partner, we took action.”

What action, Lehrer asked.

“We decided not to renew John’s contract for a variety of reasons including how people felt. He was not terminated for sexual misconduct.”

“I learned about some of the kissing behavior in the (Kim’s) NY Magazine article and the WNYC article. The behavior should not be tolerated and it won’t be tolerated. We need to do better. I deeply regret our culture and protocols did not work the way they should.”

It’s not as if Lehrer didn’t try to find out more.

Q: “Did John get a settlement or severance?”

A: “I cannot discuss any employment matters of that nature.”

Q: “You don’t think you owe it to our listener members?”

A: “I cannot disclose that information.”

Q: “Has the station paid money to accusers?”

A: “I cannot talk about that. None of this means ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

“Most people who bring complaints to our attention do not want to be known. It’s a tricky matter. You need to protect the confidentiality of the person being accused. You’re always in a conundrum.

“Every single complaint that we got, we did an investigation and we took action. Not every action is apparent.”

Q: “Why was John allowed to leave with public praise?”

A: “We did not renew his contract. He was not fired for sexual misconduct.”

Q: “Despite what you knew about the allegations?”

A: “I did not know about a lot of those allegations.”

Q: “If you confirm John said those things, why wasn’t it a firing offense?”

A: “I can’t comment on what action was taken, but it was taken.

“I apologize to the women who came forward. I apologize that our protocols were not there and our policies were not there.”

By the way, I indicated erroneously on today’s “What’s On?” post that WNYC management would appear on The Takeaway today to respond to Kim. It was, actually Lehrer’s show, which is only heard in New York.

“We again invited WNYC President and CEO Laura Walker on the program today, as well as Dean Cappello, WNYC’s chief content officer, who oversaw many elements of The Takeaway for a long time. They both declined,” The Takeaway said.

  • MrE85

    Not much to take away, is there?

    • Bob Sinclair

      I see what you did there…

  • eat_swim_read

    Sounds like the suits specifically agreed to say he was not canned over sexual ‘misconduct.’ She stuck to that talking point.
    Lots of us like Brian Lehrer’s show, listen online. He’s good –

  • Al

    The interview yesterday on The Takeaway with Suki Kim was LIT. I can’t be the only one that was literally cheering while listening Kim question the host over how he didn’t know what Hockenberry was doing.

    • Greg W

      I was cheering at the questions. However, I think the questions should have been directed to someone like Walker. Although, seeing the results of today’s interview with Walker, it wouldn’t have gotten far.

  • Greg W

    The line from management is “We chose not to renew his contract”. That makes the emotional two week long retirement celebration Hockenberry gave himself look even worse. It really shows who was running The Takeaway and who wasn’t.

    • Hosts are pretty much the boss of shows.

      • Greg W

        I just learned about that from you in one of the other comment threads this week. That is interesting.

        • It’s not for nothing that the people on the air are called “the talent”. As if the people who aren’t are….you know.

  • Barton

    this is one of the things I find frustrating: if you cannot answer the questions you knew were going to be asked, why did you agree to the interview in the first place?

    It only creates more confusion, speculation and possibly conspiracy theories.

    • So WNYC reporters don’t have to write that their own management weren’t available for comment in the stories.

      And, I choose to believe, to give the two women who want to speak but wanted to wait until she did, the go-ahead to speak.

  • Rob

    If being non-responsive is the same thing as being responsive, Walker truly hit the mark.

  • Jeannie D

    What a disastrous non-response from Walker during the interview. If you thought agreeing to the interview was going to somehow give us the listeners a piece of mind, you clearly missed the mark. You made us feel even worse about your lack of action and leadership. This is truly a sad day.

  • Steve Hellerstedt

    Not renewing a contract is about the most passive way conceivable of ‘firing’ a person.

    It might be time to take a step back and catch one of these HR types *before* they’re in the middle of something like this and ask them a series of questions about how they are supposed to handle certain situations. What should HR do if *talent* is sending e-mails that contain unwelcome sexual innuendos? What does HR do if some complains of being bullied by *talent*? What is their responsibility to the accused as well as the accuser? Maybe if you aren’t asking them about a specific situation they might be a bit more open and forthcoming.

    As someone outside the entertainment industry I’ll make this observation – you guys really need to disentrall yourselves with this notion of untouchable talent. In the news industry unless your initials are E.R.M. you’re dispensable.

    • You know it’s funny, after the Keillor — or maybe it was the Oreskes — scandal, there was a lot of talk here about notifying HR and why people do and don’t and all the misconceptions people had about what constituted sexual harassment. I suggested to each one of them that they walk to the HR office and have a talk with all the appropriate hypotheticals and then report back.

      No one ever did.

      It can hardly be surprising, however, that women — mostly, well, just about exclusively — have lost careers and lost jobs because they depended on their companies to protect them and their companies didn’t, either passively or actively didn’t. The word got around, similar to how the word has gotten around from rape victims not to bother telling the cops: don’t go to HR.

      The thing is: The people in power know this; it — not the job they have — is the very source of the power they hold over women.

      This isn’t new. Women have been saying this for years. They’re still saying it because — as the Keillor example last week showed — people are going to go after the accuser FIRST and it will be relentless. The fellas know that too.

      //you guys really need to disentrall yourselves with this notion of untouchable talent

      I don’t know who you mean by “you guys”, I can only speak for me and I’ve lasted 45 years in the business on the strength of 3 factual realities: (1) No one is indispensable (2) Your workplace is not your family (3) We have a business relationship and I owe you nothing more than what you want in exchange for the money.

      I have also found that you can last a lot longer in the business by treating women with respect, which, even today, seems to be the one reality that men are still trying to figure out how to avoid. It shouldn’t be a last resort, but it clearly is going to be for a lot of these numbskulls.

      • Steve Hellerstedt

        I wasn’t pointing my finger at you – you get it – but you are reporting that the Talent is seen as a prince, essentially untouchable, and when they have to be disposed of it’s often with a passive, anonymous non-renewal of a contract.

        One of the realities we have to take into consideration is that women will lie about sexual assault. You can tick off the high profile instances of this happening – the Duke lacrosse team, mattress girl, Rolling Stones ‘A Rape on Campus’, etc. I’m not saying this is common or uncommon, but it is something that is rattling around in the heads of those who go after the accusers. And yeah, it – attacking the accusers – is incredibly inhibiting. But false accusations can be catastrophic to the falsely accused. If we lose sight of that then these truly become witch hunts.

        Your three rules are pretty much mine as well. I work in an industry (a hospital) where women have more pockets of power than many places, so an autocratic male prince is rare, if he exists at all. The CEO is a woman, the CEO of our parent company is a woman, and nurses more or less run the show. I’m not sure I’d survive if I didn’t treat women with respect.

        • Yeah false accusation is a possibility but I’d repeat Oliver’s question.

          Also this question of false accusation is far far less problematic than the likelihood of it being true. And yet men couldn’t bring themselves to be outraged by that possibility. Truly, we’re pathetic. Women have been right on that point for years too.

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            Well, I’ve seen a number of women question, sometimes vehemently so, the accusers, so it’s doesn’t cut cleanly down gender lines. Still, the sheer number of post-Weinstein accusations make a knee jerk ‘I don’t believe her’ response increasingly untenable. Too many women – and some men – are coming forward with plausible sounding stories. There’s a sea change going on. If I had a vote in that Times person of the year thing I’d probably cast if for hashtag metoo. That has had a profound effect.

  • Denny hill

    Laura Walker, President of WNYC, has proved that she can be just as tone-deaf to staff complaints about the behavior of on-air talent as anyone else. Her cliched response that she was “deeply disturbed” by the allegations against Hockenberry is totally self-serving. Being driven simply by ratings and viewer contributions, she did virtually nothing to investigate the allegations or to correct the issue, until it became a national issue and her incompetence was on full display. She needs to resign. She should be held to the same standard a man would be in her position, who failed to address employee complaints of sexual harassment.