The Potluck

MPR News reporter quits, accuses editors of suppressing sexual misconduct investigation into DJ

By: - September 14, 2020 1:06 pm

Marianne Combs, courtesy of MPR News.

A longtime Minnesota Public Radio News reporter announced her resignation on Monday, accusing editors of suppressing her investigation into a DJ at MPR’s contemporary music station The Current.

Writing about her decision on Twitter, Marianne Combs said she spoke with eight women who say the DJ sexually manipulated or psychologically abused them. Combs did not name the man in her Twitter thread.

[Disclosure: I used to work at MPR News and was a colleague of Combs.]

Combs said the story was vetted by an MPR lawyer, who “judged the story to be compelling and well-sourced” and “saw no legal threat to MPR News for airing the story.”

But Combs says the story stalled when it was returned to editors in the newsroom.

“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 wrote. “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.”

In a statement, MPR President Duchesne Drew defended the editors‘ decision not to run the piece and said they were “blindsided” by Combs’ resignation.

“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 wrote. “Our editors, not attorneys, decide when a story is ready to run.”

Drew noted that none of the sources in Combs’ story were willing to be named, do not allege anything illegal and did not make any reports to law enforcement. No complaints have been filed with MPR’s HR department and the DJ’s background check was clear, Drew wrote.

Combs is a 23-year veteran of MPR News and was named the 2020 “journalist of the year” by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists for her coverage of sexual abuse at the the Children’s Theatre Company.

Her resignation is the second staffing crisis to touch Minnesota Public Radio in two weeks, after the firing of the only Black classical music host Garrett McQueen, which Combs reported on.

In 2018, American Public Media, the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio, publicly severed ties with “A Prairie Home Companion’s” creator and host Garrison Keillor over allegations of sexual misconduct. An investigation by MPR reporters revealed a yearslong pattern of abuse, which the company knew about.

Marianne Combs declined to comment further.

*This story has been updated with comment from MPR.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.