MPB fires reporter for leaking Fresh Air memo

There’s one more voice that’s off the air of Mississippi Public Broadcasting following the state network’s cancellation of Fresh Air.

Carl Gibson, whose first job out of journalism school was covering the state capitol for MPB, was fired on Friday for leaking an internal memo about the state network’s decision to drop the NPR-distributed show. Gibson was just returning from an assignment covering the Gulf Coast oil spill, he said, when controversy over MPB’s cancellation erupted over the blogosphere on July 15. Friends at the Jackson Free Press, the state’s only alternative newspaper, approached Gibson as a source, and he wanted to help them get the story straight, he told Current.

The Free Press‘s July 16 story points to the discrepancy between MPB Executive Director Judith Lewis’s official statement describing the “careful consideration and review” given to the decision to drop Fresh Air and the email that Gibson leaked, which was written by MPB Radio Director Kevin Farrell shortly after the axe came down. Farrell notified MPB staff July 8 that the show was being dropped immediately “due to content issues with the program,” according to Free Press. Farrell sent the memo less than 24 hours after MPB aired the Fresh Air interview in which comedian Louis C.K. discussed why he had sex with his shirt on. MPB has pointed to this edition of Fresh Air as an example of the content it found inappropriate.

Leaking the memo was a violation of MPB policy, Gibson acknowledged, but he mostly regrets sending it from his office email account, which was traceable. “I was not the only one leaking emails; I was the only one that got caught.” He believes that, by canceling Fresh Air, MPB Executive Director Judith Lewis violated another important policy: MPB’s commitment not to censor or edit programs for broadcast “solely out of fear of complaint.”

MPB has not responded to Current‘s request for comment.

  • http://gravitymedium.com/ John Proffitt

    Apparently MPB managers have never heard of the Barbara Streisand Effect. This only makes a bad situation worse.

    Sure the reporter “got caught” violating a worthless policy, but station management got caught being stupid in public — a much worse offense.

    Rather than own up to their cowardice and learn from the experience, they used it to beat up on a defenseless kid to keep the rest of those crazy public radio rabblerousers in line.

    Sad.

  • Anonymous

    The reporter made a conscious decision to disseminate a private, internal communication. Anyone with half a brain knows that is a fireable offense. So the fact that others were doing it was immaterial.

    The larger issue is that company has an employee that cannot be trusted, or that behaves responsibly with material that is private. The firing was deserved.

  • Donna Ladd

    That’s what is always said when an employee leaks something that is of public interest. And don’t forget that MPB’s middle name is PUBLIC. As in public funding, transparency, etc. It’s a different conversation than one about a private company, or should be.

  • Tim Sale

    aren’t reporters held to a higher ethical standard? leaking confidential documents to another news organization where that reporter holds a second job is a bit of a conflict of interest and shady business. Donna, wasn’t the reporter moonlighting for your organization?

    John, “worthless policy”? Since when is keeping internal discussions confidential worthless? I can’t imagine NPR would consider that a worthless policy.

  • Tim Sale

    I forgot to mention, MPR should bring back Fresh Air – bad call in pulling the show.

  • Anonymous

    I always find it ironic when any journalistic organization fires or reprimands one of their employees for leaking internal documents. They wouldn’t hesitate for a second to broadcast some other company’s internal documents to break a story. I guess it all depends on which side of the secret you are one.

    As far as canceling Fresh Air, it’s completely in the station management’s right to do so for whatever reasons they want. Terry Gross is great and she’s one of the personalities that we are tempted to think of as a sacred cow…but she’s not and, at least for now, Public Radio remains a local-driven, station-by-station conglomeration. California and New York can air what they want. Mississippi can air what it wants. It’s a beautiful thing. Of course, if donations fall because of it…they may change their minds. But it’s Mississippi, so that probably won’t happen.

  • http://scottalbertjohnson.com Scott Albert Johnson

    Ah, that’s nice, Anonymous. So many people never miss a chance to bash Mississippi… the state that spawned William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, Cassandra Wilson, Leontyne Price, Willie Morris and countless more legends of arts and letters. Not to mention some fine journalism at the Jackson Free Press.

    The firing was a bad decision by MPB, in my opinion, as was the dropping of Fresh Air. Let’s discuss that instead of making lame comments about how terrible Mississippi is. Come to Jackson sometime and let me show you around. I assure you, you’ll change — or at least moderate — your opinion.

  • Donna Ladd

    Tim, Carl freelances for the JFP. However, on this story, one of our editors asked him if he had heard about Fresh Air being dropped, in order to confirm it. He didn’t tell us about it before then; I saw tweets about it and told our news editor to find out if it was true and what the circumstances were, and we reached out to people, including Carl, who might know something accurate. It was several days after that memo was broadcast to the staff about Fresh Air being dropped — not exactly something that sounds like a “confidential memo,” especially for a public organization, eh? He apparently forwarded it to us so that we were sure to get the story right, which makes a whole lot of sense. I mean, where was the “confidentiality” here? And why? I’m not even sure why anyone would then such an e-mail, send to so many people, would be considered “confidential.”

    As I said, there is a huge difference between a media outlet that gets taxpayer funds and one that doesn’t. I sure hope that conversation starts to happen. A big role of journalistic organizations is to protect the public’s right to know what taxpayer-funded organizations are doing with our money.

    Best,
    Donna Ladd

  • http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Donna Ladd

    Corrected sentence; sorry:

    I’m not even sure why anyone would THINK such an e-mail, SENT to so many people, would be considered “confidential.”

    -dl

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03109849585511539394 Brad Kava

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03109849585511539394 Brad Kava

    Why Is journalism failing to serve the public? Mostly because of terrible management decisions, like MPB’s.

  • Anonymous

    There are no confidential memos (unless dealing with personnel) in a public entity. It’s all subject to FOIA. Hiding things from the public and listeners who support you is simply bad policy. Firing an employee for leaking a document that’s part of the public record is outrageous.

  • Anonymous

    MPB is a state agency. Its employees are state employees. And as such, their emails should be subject to Sunshine Laws. Also, all public radio stations have to keep public correspondence on file via FCC rules as well, so there’s your FOIA in. But I suspect the real reason the reporter got fired is because MPB has some upper management with poor managerial skills. There’s at least one wrongful termination suit pending – or it was still pending last I heard – and I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been others in the past. Or if there will be more in the future. I suspect there’s reporting to be done there, if anyone can stand the digging.

  • Anonymous

    Donna, did you offer Carl confidentiality if he supplied the internal email? If so, you had to be aware that he was putting his job on the line to help you tell the story and get it right. Did you vigorously work to protect his identity or did you provide clues to his employer about how to quickly determine the identity of your source?

    Agree with his dismissal or not, do you feel responsible?

  • http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Donna Ladd

    “Anonymous,”
    I feel bad for Carl, but I don’t feel responsible. If someone sends us an e-mail on their work account, I ask staffers to check with them that we can use it, as I did here. Without saying too much about our specific sourcing, I will also add that it was not the only e-mail we received from someone at MPB. It’s not like this is a small town, or that there were any secrets about what had happened inside that building at that point.

    You should remember that on Friday they apparently searched their servers to try to figure if/who was leaking anything. Whether or not we relied on Carl’s e-mail for our story, they would have found that he e-mailed the JFP from work after we asked about it — which clearly he should not have done for his own sake.

    But the issue, as many can see, is larger: No one inside MPB was revealing something confidential at that point. The reasoning for this, which is a big deal here in Mississippi with our limited intelligent media options, was a matter of public concern. And the brass were refusing to talk about it. Had they been forthcoming and transparent, none of this would have happened.

  • http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Donna Ladd

    Oh, and what Anonymous 1:39 p.m. said. (Y’all should at least use a fake name. It’s hard to have a conversation with a bunch of “Anonymous” posts.) And it’s too bad so many people have to be afraid of voicing their opinions. :-(

  • Anonymous

    http://www.corporateservices.noaa.gov/foia/foiaex.html

    (b)(5) EXEMPTION 5 Privileged Interagency or Intra-Agency Memoranda or Letters. This exemption protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums of letters which would not be available by law to a party …in litigation with the agency.” As such, it has been construed to “exempt those documents, and only those documents, normally privileged in the civil discovery context.”

  • Anonymous

    Airing a show with such a comment was unprofessional; it’s not an HBO comedy special. I listen to “Fresh Air” all the time, and would have been appalled had I heard it. I do think that cancelling the show throughout Miss. is overkill, however.

  • Anonymous

    Couple more Donna questions…

    Did you know that Carl sent the email to JFP on his work account before you promised Carl that you would protect his identity, then subsequently publish to the community that you had an internal MPB email?

    Were you aware how simple it is to check employee email records, thereby knowingly, or at least carelessly, exposing your source?

    Call me Ishmael.

  • http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Donna Ladd

    Anon-303,

    “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums of letters which would not be available by law to a party

    So that is saying that memoranda that is otherwise protected by law is protected by law? ;-) That doesn’t seem to answer the question of whether these particular public-agency communications about programming would, or could, be protected. It seems odd that they would be, at least at a glance.

    Ish,
    We did nothing that we told a source we would not do.

    Donna

  • Anonymous

    Oh, Donna, I was so hoping you’d be “forthcoming and transparent.”

    But refusual to answer direct questions is an answer. I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable them.

    I’m sure that while you’re being evasive that at least you’re attempting to be honest. But can you understand how difficult it is for a reasonable person to believe that you used Carl as an anonymous source for your story, yet also informed him that the document he provided was easily traceable meaning the promise of anonymity was basically worthless?

    Well, I guess since you feel bad for Carl, and are moved to say nice things about Carl, you can move on to the next thrilling story of intrigue. It’s his problem now. You probably need to lie down for a while and sleep the sleep of the just. Or maybe in your case, the just kidding.

    Ishmael

  • Anonymous

    Oh, Donna, I was so hoping you’d be “forthcoming and transparent.”

    But refusual to answer direct questions is an answer. I’m sorry if you’re uncomfortable them.

    I’m sure that while you’re being evasive that at least you’re attempting to be honest. But can you understand how difficult it is for a reasonable person to believe that you used Carl as an anonymous source for your story, yet also informed him that the document he provided was easily traceable meaning the promise of anonymity was basically worthless?

    Well, I guess since you feel bad for Carl, and are moved to say nice things about Carl, you can move on to the next thrilling story of intrigue. It’s his problem now. You probably need to lie down for a while and sleep the sleep of the just. Or maybe in your case, the just kidding.

    Ishmael

  • Anonymous

    BTW Donna, could you please publish your work email account information and password? I’m sure we’d all like to root around and check some of your questionable statements against the internal emails you’ve shared with staff and others. Surely you’re okay with this and have no expectation of privacy when doing a public service. Besides, The middle name of The Jackson Free Press is, well, free.

    I await the quick and happy publication of the requested email account information, lest anyone accuse you of being a hypocrite.

    Best,

    Ishmael.

  • http://www.jacksonfreepress.com Donna Ladd

    Ish,

    I’m not being evasive. You’re not reading very carefully. We’re talking about two different things here: Carl getting fired for sending the JFP an e-mail, which he made public, not us. And the protection of our sources for our story, which I have not actually identified or confirmed, nor will I, because I am still honoring that obligation. I have answered your questions to the best that I can under that obligation.

    Otherwise, I think you’re trying to pick a fight, and I’m not interested in that, so I will bow out and let you argue with yourself.

    Best,
    Donna

  • Anonymous

    Oh Donna, I completely understand your not wanting to discuss this issue any further. Trust me, I do understand.
     
    It must be so embarrassing to have everyone know how you used an eager kid right out of J-school to get an internal document for your story then left him hanging in the breeze as you publically flaunted your success, knowing that once you’d done this, the kid was screwed. Then you blamed him.
     
    Let’s check my reading comprehension. At 12:18 you identified Carl Gibson as the source of the internal MPB email, (after he’d publically admitted the same in the story above). You divulged that he did this at the specific request of JFP.
     
    Then at 2:50 you said you don’t feel  responible for his firing because you, the veteran journalist, asked the young inexperienced journalist if it was okay to use the internal document knowing all the while that it was forwarded from his work account. (You never answered whether you informed him that by doing so made any promise of anonymity absolutely worthless because company emails are the legal property of the company and not the employee and therefore company email accounts are subject to search at any time. I wonder why you evaded that question?)
     
    You also say that it was not the only internal MPB email email in your possession, meaning, I assume, perhaps you requested that Carl put himself at risk in order to provide you with something you already had? (why do I not believe that?)
     
    There can be no doubt that you all knew there was risk involved because you offered your young “source” anonymity,  worthless as it was.
     
    Then you blamed Carl for his actions and suggested that he probably should not have done this. Then you blamed MPB for not being forthcoming and transparent.
     
    You have yet to accept any responsibility, as far as I can determine.
     
    “We did nothing that we told a source we would not do,”  you wrote. And I believe that. I just also believe that in your rush to publication you failed to tell your source that he was endangering himself and his career because the internal document he was providing was easily traceable. But hey, since in retrosepct you determined this document should not be considered confidential, you’ve conviently let yourself off the hook. Never mind that in reality you knew it was dangerous because in order to get it you offered the kid journalistic protection as an anonymous source at the time.
     
    And now, jeeze. You just don’t want to talk about it anymore and wish the questions would all just stop or go away.
     
    I bet you do. I bet they’re bad for business. Especially if you ever expect to convince anyone else to trust you with their information and their identity.
     
    Sweet dreams,
     
    Ishmael
     
     
     

  • Anonymous

    Oh Donna, I completely understand your not wanting to discuss this issue any further. Trust me, I do understand.
     
    It must be so embarrassing to have everyone know how you used an eager kid right out of J-school to get an internal document for your story then left him hanging in the breeze as you publically flaunted your success, knowing that once you’d done this, the kid was screwed. Then you blamed him.
     
    Let’s check my reading comprehension. At 12:18 you identified Carl Gibson as the source of the internal MPB email, (after he’d publically admitted the same in the story above). You divulged that he did this at the specific request of JFP.
     
    Then at 2:50 you said you don’t feel  responible for his firing because you, the veteran journalist, asked the young inexperienced journalist if it was okay to use the internal document knowing all the while that it was forwarded from his work account. (You never answered whether you informed him that by doing so made any promise of anonymity absolutely worthless because company emails are the legal property of the company and not the employee and therefore company email accounts are subject to search at any time. I wonder why you evaded that question?)
     
    You also say that it was not the only internal MPB email email in your possession, meaning, I assume, perhaps you requested that Carl put himself at risk in order to provide you with something you already had? (why do I not believe that?)
     
    There can be no doubt that you all knew there was risk involved because you offered your young “source” anonymity,  worthless as it was.
     
    Then you blamed Carl for his actions and suggested that he probably should not have done this. Then you blamed MPB for not being forthcoming and transparent.
     
    You have yet to accept any responsibility, as far as I can determine.
     
    “We did nothing that we told a source we would not do,”  you wrote. And I believe that. I just also believe that in your rush to publication you failed to tell your source that he was endangering himself and his career because the internal document he was providing was easily traceable. But hey, since in retrosepct you determined this document should not be considered confidential, you’ve conviently let yourself off the hook. Never mind that in reality you knew it was dangerous because in order to get it you offered the kid journalistic protection as an anonymous source at the time.
     
    And now, jeeze. You just don’t want to talk about it anymore and wish the questions would all just stop or go away.
     
    I bet you do. I bet they’re bad for business. Especially if you ever expect to convince anyone else to trust you with their information and their identity.
     
    Sweet dreams,
     
    Ishmael
     
     
     

  • Anonymous

    Sorry about the unintentional double posts. As everone knows, it’s only necessary to harpoon a whale once, as long as it’s a good solid thrust.

    Ishmael

  • Hitch Solter

    Public radio, like regular radio, has been on the decline for 10 years. The decline is now accelerating, due to the fact that public radio has become the new junkyard employer for has-been displaced print journalists — people who are by nature conservative and fearful of anything controversial.

  • Andrew Morrell

    Argue the specifics of who told what to who all you like. MPB sucks from every angle of the story:

    -they suck for canceling a fantastic show based on the frank and honest observations of a brilliant confessional comedian.

    -they suck for lying to their listeners about why they did it.

    -and they really suck for firing a journalist for exposing what they did.

    It disgusts me just how scared small-minded public radio managers can be.

  • http://keeppublicradiopublic.com chats

    Quite the sh*tstorm here, and quite regrettable. Public radio PDs are becoming spooked with the aforementioned decade-long decline in NPR fortunes, and they’re jumping at shadows. But in these comments, I tend to feel that we’re concentrating on bludgeoning the messengers… The old J-school adage that “truth will win out in the free marketplace of ideas” is but a fond memory of days past. Much more on the topic here: keeppublicradiopublic.com

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwoM5fLITfk&a=GxdCwVVULXeC237FdUlM2aehgoyur_dL Carl

    Donna’s news editor warned me of the repercussions of my leaking the memo to the JFP. I had also given them my permission to say in a tweet that they had obtained an email from an MPB insider, because I’m young and naive and thought that would be enough protection. Clearly it wasn’t, but that’s nobody’s fault. And nitpicking over who should have done or said what certainly won’t bring Fresh Air back.

    For what it’s worth, everyone in the JFP has been incredibly kind and supportive since this happened, and all of the JFP employees I’ve talked to offered me wholehearted apologies, all of which I deemed unnecessary. I took the risk, did what I did, and faced the consequences. Maybe had I done it differently I’d still be reporting for MPB. No matter though; something good will come of this, in whatever form and at whatever time.

    But it would be good to get a professional legal opinion on whether or not internal memos from taxpayer-funded state agencies are subject to FOIA.

  • chats

    Well said, Carl.

  • Anonymous

    If I were working the story, and I’m not, I’d certainly contact the person who successfully obtained FOIA emails from Sarah Palin when she was governor of Alaska.

    Ishmael

  • Anonymous

    Ishmael, I think those Sarah Palin emails were leaked by 4chan, not obtained through FOIA. They bypassed the security on her Yahoo email account (I think her official email was gov.palin@yahoo.com) and posted them all on /b/. They did it for the lulz, not for the journalism.

    Unless you were being facetious and already knew all of this. In that case, apologies.

  • Anonymous

    The reason Palin created the Yahoo account in the first place was to get around official FOIA requests. Emails were obtained from the governor’s account.

    Ishmael

  • Anonymous

    Only in Mississippi could the Terry Gross program…and a PBS reporter be fired over something this trivial.
    Typical right wing, knee jerk reaction by a segment of the population that pretends to be the moral judges of everyone else….while indulging in all sorts of sex scandals of their own.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the helpful post! I would not have gotten this otherwise!

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