Two of New York public radio’s best-known and most senior on-air stars, Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, were suspended today in the wake of assertions by staff members and guests at WNYC that they had been sexually harassed. The suspensions follow a report that the recent, unexplained departure of a third on-air personality, John Hockenberry, also has emerged as harassment-related.
Laura Walker, president and CEO of New York Public Radio, said the station “takes these kinds of allegations very seriously and is reviewing these matters promptly” and added “NYPR is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure a respectful, equitable, inclusive and harassment-free workplace for everyone.” The station’s announcement gave no details about the nature or the extent of the allegations.
In addition to WNYC, New York Public Radio owns classical music station WQXR, New Jersey Public Radio and a concert venue, the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space.
Lopate has been with the station, which serves as a key provider of news and programming to other public radio stations, for more than three decades. He hosts a 2-hour public affairs program each weekday morning, interviewing prominent local and national figures in culture and politics. WNYC’s Mary Harris will fill-in for him, Walker said.
Schwartz, an expert on popular music and jazz, hosts his own program on weekends and serves as the ominpresent guide to his own syndicated venue, The Jonathan Channel. Both specialize in music from the American songbook catalogue, with a special emphasis on iconic figures including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and contemporary keepers of that flame such as Michael Feinstein and Diana Krall. No stand-in for Schwartz was named in the announcement.
Hockenberry, a memoirist and writer, created another public affairs program, The Takeaway, which focused on diversity, and was its host for nearly a decade before retiring in August.
Lopate told The New York Times that he was “baffled” and “really quite shocked and upset” by the suspension, which he said came without warning at 11 a.m. Wednesday as he was preparing for the noon broadcast of his show. “It makes no sense to me,” he told the Times. “I am sure any honest investigation will completely clear me. That’s the only thing I’m concerned about — the damage to my reputation.”
Hockenberry was the subject of a story posted last Friday on New York magazine’s The Cut, in which author Suki Kim reported her own experiences and those of other women who had appeared as guests on The Takeaway or worked for Hockenberry on the program. Her own story, she wrote, “started in December 2014, when I was a guest on his show to discuss my book Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite.” She said she had filed a formal complaint with the station last year, asserting that he had sent her an ongoing campaign of solicitous emails despite her lack of responses. When his contract was not renewed last June with no explanation, she wrote, she grew suspicious.
“It was the explosion of sexual-harassment claims against powerful, previously seemingly untouchable men that provoked me to find out if my interaction with Hockenberry had been an anomaly: It took only a few phone calls before I found out that it wasn’t,” she wrote.
When Kim informed him that she was writing about him, Hockenberry – who was paralyzed in a car accident and is known for his cross-country travels and reporting from his wheelchair – sent her a statement that read, she reported, “It horrifies me that I made the talented and driven people I worked with feel uncomfortable, and that the stress around putting together a great show was made worse by my behavior. Having to deal with my own physical limitations has given me an understanding of powerlessness, and I should have been more aware of how the power I wielded over others, coupled with inappropriate comments and communications, could be construed. I have no excuses.”