MPR News journalist resigns claiming editors stalled reporting about DJ at sister station The Current

A 23-year veteran of Minnesota Public Radio News publicly resigned Monday, saying her editors failed to move forward her reporting about what she called “inappropriate behavior” by a DJ with The Current, a station owned by the same parent company as MPR.

Marianne Combs said she had been investigating allegations made about the unnamed DJ’s conduct at 89.3 The Current, MPR’s sister station. Combs said her investigation included testimony from eight women who say the DJ “sexually manipulated and psychologically abused them,” over 15 years.

In her resignation letter, posted to social media, Combs said the following:

I wrote a story draft and my editors presented it to our legal counsel for review. 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.

Despite this, my editors have failed to move forward on the story. 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.

Combs went on to say her editors “have shown such a complete lack of leadership that I no longer have any confidence they will handle the story appropriately.”

The DJ is still employed by The Current, according to Combs.

“I’m resigning to show my continued support for these women. Their stories matter, their trauma is real, and the issues their experiences raise are relevant to all women, as well as all parents,” Combs said.

In a statement to FOX 9, MPR News President Duchesne Drew said he was “shocked” and “blindsided” by Combs’ resignation and gave the MPR News editors his full support.  

“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,” Drew said.

Drew said the sources in the story don’t allege any assault or otherwise illegal activity, that no sources were willing to be identified and that none of the victims had reported their allegations to authorities or MPR’s HR staff.

Drew also assured that editors, not attorneys, make the final call on stories and added that senior leadership at MPR or its parent company American Public Media Group did not have any role in reviewing the story.

Full statement from MPR President 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.