Minnesota Public Radio’s award-winning arts reporter Marianne Combs announced her resignation from MPR News on Monday morning, accusing its management of covering for a DJ at sister station 89.3 the Current who has been the target of sexual misconduct allegations.
“My editors have failed to move forward on the story” after months of reporting, Combs said in a resignation letter she posted on Twitter.
MPR responded that it was “blindsided” by the resignation and had sought changes from Combs to ensure the story met its journalistic standards.
Combs did not name the man but said she “gathered testimony from eight women who say that he sexually manipulated and psychologically abused them.” Their experiences span 15 years and describe a man who preyed on younger, sexually inexperienced women. These women encountered him while he was working at other local radio stations; they are concerned that he is now using his status as a DJ at the Current to attract and further torment young women.”
Combs claimed that MPR News’ legal team cleared her story, but the editors still refused to air it. “They described him as ‘a real creep,’ but worried that airing a story about his behavior would invite a lawsuit,” she said.
Programmers at the Current did not respond to requests for comment.
In a response Monday afternoon, MPR President Duchesne Drew said the editors “decided that the story, which deals with complex and sensitive issues, [was] not ready to run because it does not meet our journalistic standards. In fact, they were blindsided by Marianne’s resignation and expected that she was continuing to work on the story.”
“Editors had discussed with her how to strengthen the story. ... The sources in the story do not allege that the subject of the story assaulted them or did anything illegal. None of the sources in the story were willing to be identified. The reporting could not confirm that any of the women had reported their allegations or incidents to authorities. No complaints regarding any action by him have been brought forward to MPR’s HR staff. No MPR employee has made any accusations against him on their own behalf, nor on behalf of other employees. ...
“Facts matter, to us and to our audiences, and we work hard to earn the trust of every listener by honoring the highest standards of professional journalism in every story.”
Separately, Drew said the employment status of the Current DJ who was the subject of Combs’ story has not changed and will not “based on what we know now.”
He also said it’s unlikely that Combs will be asked to rescind her resignation or try to work this out with her editors.
In her resignation letter, Combs acknowledged that “the editors have not gone so far as to cancel the story, [but] they have shown such a complete lack of leadership that I no longer have any confidence they will handle the story appropriately.”
Combs was named journalist of the year by the Society of Professional Journalists in June for her coverage of sexual abuse cases at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. “It was obvious that she put a ton of work and compassion into finding and interviewing her subjects and asking them to talk about a sensitive subject,” SPJ said in its award,
In 2018, MPR prominently severed ties with its flagship personality, “A Prairie Home Companion’s” Garrison Keillor, after investigating what it called “dozens of sexually inappropriate incidents” involving a female staffer.
On Friday, Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media also faced a public relations crisis for firing one of its only Black on-air personalities, classical music host Garrett McQueen.