Ex-NPR Host John Hockenberry Accused of Sexual Harassment By Multiple Former Employees, Host Apologizes

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Retired host John Hockenberry has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women he used to work with, including his former cohosts, on his public radio show The Takeaway.   In a New York Magazine exposé published late Friday night, award-winning novelist Suki Kim documents her own experiences with the former WNYC radio host and explains that her interactions with the 61-year-old award-winning broadcaster spurred her to investigate if other women employed at his radio station had similar, or potentially worse, experiences of alleged harassment.

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Kim met Hockenberry after appearing as a guest to share her expertise on North Korea on The Takeaway, a national public radio news program, and after meeting him twice, which she says was at his request, he continued to pursue her over email. She stopped responding, and still eight more messages arrived in her inbox. The messages from the host — who is married with five children and also paralyzed from the chest down due to a car accident when he was 19 — ranged from “Need another dose of you” to asking for her home address so he could mail her letters. “I basically hate email, and when you are my age asking for coffee and lunch dates are always construed as preludes to a hotel room somewhere,” Kim says he wrote.

 

“While this is obviously mild stuff in a world of dropped pants, rape, and secret buttons to lock women in rooms, I live near WNYC’s Manhattan office, and each time I walked by the building, I imagined the young women working for Hockenberry,” Kim wrote, referencing disgraced Today host Matt Lauer and the many figures who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault post Harvey Weinstein. “Maybe I was the only one who he’d ever ‘creeped out,’ to use his phrase, but what if I wasn’t?”

 

Kim reached out to Takeaway employees and says the results could be divided into two broad categories; one of unwanted sexual advances, physical and verbal, to the younger staffers; and the second, from the women of color who were Hockenberry’s cohosts. The latter category, some who spoke to Kim on record, painted a picture of bullying behavior at the Takeaway, which Kim points out was founded in 2008 to bring more diverse voices to public radio.

 

Two of the cohosts told Kim they complained “repeatedly” to the station, a third former cohost reportedly also filed a report to WNYC. Farai Chideya filled the vacant seat left by Adaora Udoji but left after four months over her encounters with Hockenberry. Celeste Headlee then filled the seat, but also filed complaints that the host was professionally “sabotaging” her. By 2012 they were all gone and Hockenberry was hosting solo.

 

“That a white man, albeit a disabled one, ended up being alone at the top of the diversity show was definitely ironic, but for some of the women at the The Takeaway, it was more than that,” wrote Kim. “The message, according to Kristen Meinzer, a culture producer for eight years, was: ‘If you speak up, you’ll disappear.'” Meinzer claimed in the article that she felt sexually encroached upon by Hockenberry. She says he kissed her without consent, in the office, after she told him she had booked actress Marion Cottillard for the show, and harassed her on social media. On a picture of her and her husband, Meinzer said Hockenberry commented, “Doesn’t one of you have herpes at least?”

 

In a statement, he apologized for his actions: “I’ve always had a reputation for being tough, and certainly I’ve been rude, aggressive and impolite. Looking back, my behavior was not always appropriate and I’m sorry. 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.”

Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy:  AP
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