Minnesota Public Radio 'blindsided' by Marianne Combs' resignation

The news organization said her story did not meet its journalistic standards.
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Minnesota Public Radio President Duchesne Drew says he was "blindsided" by the resignation of long-serving reporter Marianne Combs, who on Monday accused the news outlet of attempting to block her story alleging historic inappropriate behavior by a host at The Current.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon to BMTN and other Twin Cities media, Drew said the organization was "shocked" by her decision to resign, and gave his backing to the MPR News editors who reviewed her story, claiming that it was not ready to be published.

"We were shocked by Marianne Combs’ decision to resign her position at MPR News," Drew said. "That said, I fully support the editors who reviewed her story. 

"The MPR News editors decided that the story, which deals with complex and sensitive issues, is 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 so it might meet our standards. That’s common practice in this business. Investigative stories take time for good reason and the editors who were shepherding this story were doing so in a responsible way that met our journalism and ethics standards."

Combs said she had been working on the story for two-and-a-half months, which comes after MPR confirmed in June it was investigating allegations made against a host at The Current, which is owned by MPR.

Drew claims that the sources in Combs' story "do not allege that the subject of the story assaulted them or did anything illegal," nor were the sources "willing to be identified."

It should be noted that it is common practice within journalism to keep certain sources confidential when reporting on sensitive subjects, and this is particularly typical in cases involving sexual misconduct. It does not mean that the sources are not known to the reporter.

In a Twitter thread Monday morning, Combs said that her editors at MPR News described the host as a "real creep" but worried that running a story would invite a lawsuit, despite Combs saying it had been given the once-over by MPR's lawyer.

Drew responded by saying no complaints against the host have been brought forward to MPR's HR staff, and his background check came in clear.

But Combs had said the allegations against the host span a 15-year period while he was at other radio stations. She did not state that the claims of sexual manipulation and psychological abuse happened while he was working at The Current, but said the eight alleged victims she spoke to were concerned that his behavior would continue.

"While the editors have not gone so far as to cancel the story, they have shown such a complete lack of leadership that I no longer have any confidence they will handle the story appropriately," she tweeted.

"It took two weeks to get them to even look at a second draft. All this while the DJ remains employed at The Current."

Combs is not the only MPR employee to express frustration with the organization's efforts to address sexual harassment. Current host Andrea Swensson said she brought four possible stories to the attention of those in "positions of power" regarding predatory behavior within the Twin Cities media scene, but was met with roadblocks. You can read more on that here.

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Full statement from Duchesne Drew

“For more than 53 years, Minnesota Public Radio has been guided by our public service mission to inform and inspire the people we serve. Fulfilling this mission requires an unwavering commitment to build trust – with our own employees and with diverse audiences and communities.

We were shocked by Marianne Combs’ decision to resign her position at MPR News. That said, I fully support the editors who reviewed her story. The MPR News editors decided that the story, which deals with complex and sensitive issues, is 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 so it might meet our standards. That’s common practice in this business. Investigative stories take time for good reason and the editors who were shepherding this story were doing so in a responsible way that met our journalism and ethics standards.

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. And when we hired him, his background check came back clear.

The MPR News editors use discipline in applying our high standards for journalism. The MPR newsroom seeks independent legal counsel on First Amendment and other matters related to our reporting. Our editors, not attorneys, decide when a story is ready to run. Neither I nor any other members of senior leadership at Minnesota Public Radio or American Public Media Group were involved in shaping or reviewing the story. Doing so would have been inappropriate. In fact, there’s a firewall between the newsroom and senior leaders of the company.

The integrity of our journalism is a bedrock principle for us. 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. I trust MPR News editors to apply those standards for every story we report, and I stand by their decisions on this story.”

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