ST. PAUL — Longtime Minnesota Public Radio News arts reporter Marianne Combs announced her resignation from the station Monday, Sept. 14, via a lengthy social media post.
Combs, who has worked for MPR for 23 years, wrote that she has spent the past two and a half months gathering “testimony from eight women who say that (a DJ for MPR’s The Current) sexually manipulated and psychologically abused them” but that “my editors have failed to move forward on the story.”
When asked for further comment, Combs said “everything I have to say is in my resignation letter.” An MPR representative did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
In June, a wave of #MeToo allegations exploded on Twin Cities music community social media, which led to Minneapolis hip-hop label Rhymesayers dropping two of its acts, Prof and Dem Atlas. At the time, Combs filed a story that included the line: “One anonymous claim has apparently prompted Minnesota Public Radio to look into allegations against one of its own staff, a host on The Current.”
The man has not been publicly identified by Combs or MPR.
Combs wrote that the eight women’s “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.”
She went on to write that she interviewed directors of a summer church camp who said the DJ “was no longer welcome to volunteer there because of his inappropriate behavior with teenage girls” and that he was fired from another job where he worked with children and “that organization is now conducting an investigation into his time there.”
“I wrote a story draft and my editors presented it to our legal counsel for review,” Combs wrote on her social media post. “The lawyer judged the story to be compelling and well-sourced, with strong supporting documentation. She saw no legal threat to MPR News for airing the story.”
Combs wrote that her editors described the man as “a real creep” but that “they have countered that the DJ’s actions were, for the most part, legal, and therefore don’t rise to the level of warranting news coverage” and that they “worried that airing a story about his behavior would invite a lawsuit.”
MPR News editors have not canceled the story, Combs wrote, but “they have shown such a complete lack of leadership that I no longer have any confidence they will handle the story appropriately. It took two weeks to get them to even look at a second draft. All this while the DJ remains employed at The Current.”
According to Combs, this is not the first time in the past year that women’s stories of abuse were reported, but then neglected, by the station. “For many of these women it took more than a decade to find the courage to speak up; when they eventually did, they put their trust in MPR News and me,” she wrote. “In my mind, by dragging our feet and sending the implicit message that their cause is not an urgent one, we are as good as silencing them. I cannot accept this course of action.”
Combs wrote that her resignation was a sign of support for the women. “Their stories matter, their trauma is real, and the issues their experiences raise are relevant to all women, as well as all parents. MPR hosts — whether they are news anchors or music DJs — are public figures and communicate what our organization stands for. They must be held to a higher standard than simply obeying the law. And our newsroom must not flinch at turning a critical eye on our own company and staff.”
Citing a newsroom “so beleaguered — both by staff cuts and an historically adversarial relationship with senior management — that it has been reduced to making editorial decisions from a place of fear,” Combs called for leadership to step up and “do right by victims of abuse in the future.”
A familiar voice to MPR News listeners, Combs earned praise from the Society of Professional Journalists in June when the group named her journalist of the year for her reporting on sexual abuse at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company.