Two years later, it was DCist that published a blockbuster story detailing sexual harassment allegations against a former WAMU staffer that has rocked the organization. The lengthy report, published last week, comes amid broader turmoil at the station. Now several staffers are calling on their top boss — WAMU general manager J.J. Yore — to resign.
In June, as newsrooms across the country reckoned with issues of race, diversity and inclusion, sparked by national protests over George Floyd’s death in police custody, internal tensions at WAMU were already simmering. Complaints about equity and newsroom culture at the station were aired on Twitter when a Black, trans producer accused management of trying to fire him; staffers who tweeted in support pointed out the recent departures of several Black female colleagues.
Then a former WAMU staffer accused Yore of knowing and doing nothing about “a serial sexual harasser in his newsroom” — identified as former transportation reporter Martin Di Caro. A number of women responded with their own stories about Di Caro.
These threads prompted DCist’s investigation, written by staffer Rachel Kurzius. “I believed that those allegations deserved journalistic scrutiny and, if true, were newsworthy,” Kurzius said via email.
Her editors agreed the story — which would publicly expose their own organization’s troubles — was worth pursuing. Kurzius interviewed 24 people, including journalists, government officials and nonprofit employees, about a range of inappropriate behavior they allegedly experienced from Di Caro, who worked for WAMU between 2012 and 2018, such as making sexually suggestive comments and sending unwanted late night messages to young women. She found that Metro had even banned Di Caro from covering board meetings or entering headquarters for five months in response to a harassment complaint from an agency employee.
Kurzius also uncovered two human resources investigations and confidential memos from his bosses — including one co-authored by Yore — who warned Di Caro about his allegedly inappropriate behavior, all while he continued to receive professional opportunities. (Di Caro did not respond to an inquiry from The Post.)
Kurzius said the story was only possible because dozens of people came forward, some of whom “spent hours on the phone recounting painful memories,” she said. “I am humbled by their courage.”
The story is the latest in a series of harassment scandals that have beset public radio since the #MeToo era began in 2017. Employees have leveled accusations at managers and on-air hosts at stations in New York (WNYC), Boston (WBUR) and at NPR in Washington. A sexual harassment controversy in 2017 effectively ended the career of Garrison Keillor, creator of “A Prairie Home Companion” and one of public radio’s biggest stars.
In an email, Yore declined to comment about Di Caro, citing instructions from attorneys at American University, which holds the station’s license.
Seth Grossman, a spokesman for American University, said in a statement: “We are actively listening to staff concerns and recognize there are both specific and broader issues WAMU must address in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as how matters of misconduct are handled at WAMU. In the coming days, a series of actions to improve the WAMU workplace now and in the future will be announced.”
But the statement is notable for what it doesn’t say about the fate of WAMU’s management, particularly Yore, whom a number of employees blame for his handling of the Di Caro episode. During an intense all-staff meeting Friday — chronicled in real time by WAMU staffers on Twitter — Yore faced a barrage of criticism but refused to step down, saying he wanted to stay to implement needed changes.
“I’m tired. WAMU management isn’t taking responsibility,” tweeted Jordan Pascale, who has Di Caro’s former transportation job. “They didn’t have the moral or ethical clarity to tackle so many deep set issues. They need to go.”
WAMU has been one of the most financially strong and popular public radio stations in the country. Its news and news-discussion programming regularly ranks near the top of the local ratings. It relies heavily on its loyal listeners for contributions, which accounted for 43 percent of its $38.9 million revenue in its last publicly reported fiscal year.
Some WAMU staffers have publicly pleaded for listeners to not pull their donations as a form of protest against management, pointing to the fact that their own organization’s reporter produced the accountability reporting. “We work directly together every day. Don’t punish our journalists by pulling your donation when we need it to support this work,” tweeted WAMU reporter Ally Schweitzer.
“We have important journalism to do. We have bills to pay,” tweeted producer Jonquilyn Hill. “And we all know when things hit the fan — across industries and orgs — who is the first to go. It will be women, people of color, young folks. Those of us least likely to have a safety net.”
WAMU, which has 70,000 contributing members, has received “many” inquiries about the harassment allegations, but fewer than 10 have canceled their continuing contributions, according to WAMU spokesperson Diane Hockenberry.
The blowup at WAMU has been closely watched among public broadcasters, who see WAMU as one of public radio’s flagship stations. “As a public service, stations that have had harassment claims must be transparent,” said Mike Savage, a veteran public radio manager and NPR board member who heads WEKU in Kentucky. “As journalists, we never want to become the story, but the revelations of harassment and inequity must be reported on so that stations maintain the high degree of credibility and trust with our audience.”
During her reporting, Kurzius relied upon WAMU’s guidelines on editorial independence and transparency, created in 2018, which state: “Our goal is to cover any such story just as we would if it involved another organization, and to take all such actions necessary to ensure that is possible.” Editors Rachel Sadon and Natalie Delgadillo credit it with giving them “full license” to follow the story.
“We did not discuss the story with senior executives and did not face any internal pressures during the process,” the editors said in a joint message. “We give the organization significant credit for ensuring we were able to preserve our editorial independence, and believe that Rachel’s story serves as a marker of WAMU’s strength as a journalistic institution.”
According to a WAMU staffer at Friday’s meeting, Yore — who didn’t see the story before publication — praised DCist’s story.
Yore has been station manager since 2014. During his tenure, the newsroom has nearly doubled, membership has grown by a third, and revenue increased by 70 percent, according to WAMU. Yore also oversaw the acquisition of DCist and the launch of “1A,” the successor to “The Diane Rehm Show,” the WAMU-produced talk show that is syndicated to more than 300 public radio stations, after its longtime host retired in 2016 (Rehm still hosts a podcast for the station).
But in July, American University launched an investigation into a senior managing editor blamed by some staffers for the departures of women of color, the Current reported. Jeffrey Katz stepped down as WAMU’s news director, with DCist editor in chief Sadon filling in on an interim basis. (Katz is now a senior editor.)
“The last few weeks have brought about many difficult conversations and moments of introspection and self-reflection for us as a media organization,” interim content officer Monna Kashfi wrote in a memo announcing the reorganization, reported by Washingtonian. “It was very clear that changes are needed to address the tensions and broken systems that have been a source of stress in the newsroom for a long time.”
Then came the DCist report. In a memo to staff, Yore wrote he was “saddened” to “learn the extent to which staff felt uncomfortable” with Di Caro’s behavior and acknowledged that the complaints “occurred on my watch.”
Di Caro, who resigned from WAMU in 2018, is a contractor for Bloomberg Radio. The company briefly suspended him in early July after the misconduct allegations first appeared on Twitter. “We conducted a review and did not find any allegation or instance of wrongdoing during his time with us,” a Bloomberg spokesperson said.
He has since been reinstated.