Despite protests, WYPR says Steiner won't be rehired

April 16, 2008|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Reporter

The board of directors of WYPR yesterday said its removal of talk-show host Marc Steiner from the Baltimore public radio station in February "will not be undone," in spite of a room full of protesters and a recommendation that it do so from its hand-picked community advisory board.

"The decision cannot and will not be reversed," WYPR board chairwoman Barbara Bozzuto told a packed meeting room at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore.

Steiner, the station's longtime public affairs host, was lauded for his "secure place in the history of WYPR," Bozzuto said. The firing was regrettable, she said, "but it did happen and will not be undone."

Steiner, who won broadcasting's prestigious Peabody Award this month, was not in attendance. But roughly 15 fans held "Bring Back Steiner" and "I Miss Marc Steiner" signs on Charles Street outside the church. Supporters inside the church booed Bozzuto as she outlined again the station's reasons for firing Steiner on Feb. 1. The board attempted to take questions from the vocal crowd, but after extended "booing" closed the meeting and went into executive session.

"The booing was going to stop, but they just left. They have no respect for the community," said a Steiner supporter, Kay Dellinger of Baltimore.

"All the passion today shows how much they value public radio," Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art and a member of the station's Community Advisory Board, said of the protesters. "We hope all sides of this issue can work together."

The station brought in a little more than $178,000 in pledges in its just concluded spring pledge drive, said WYPR President and CEO Anthony Brandon. That figure compares with $154,000 raised in the spring pledge drive a year ago, he said. An earlier winter drive, scheduled for February, was canceled after Steiner's firing raised a firestorm of protest.

As expected, the advisory board recommended to the board that Steiner be reinstated based on "overwhelming public response." But the station board, which hired Sun columnist Dan Rodricks to fill's Steiner midday slot, did not change its mind.

Earlier this month, the advisory board voted to recommend that WYPR give Steiner back his job based on an online petition drive and hundreds of letters. Some fans still protest at noon six days a week outside the North Charles Street station.

The advisory board, appointed by the station to represent the public, also said it believes that WYPR needs to publicly acknowledge "it made mistakes in handling the Marc Steiner situation" and believes decisions were made "that imperiled the station."

In receiving the recommendations, Bozzuto reminded the public that the community board is strictly advisory and has "no role in policy or personnel."

Interviewed before yesterday's meeting, Brandon insisted that the issue of Steiner's firing is old news.

"Our farewell to Marc was both very unsettling and necessary," he said. "We have moved on, a long time ago. I think there's a small group of people who are very passionate about their beliefs ... but we have moved on."

That group of people showed no signs of moving on yesterday.

Supporters called the board members "disgraceful" and said "you have to be replaced," as they left the meeting.

At the end of the day, Steiner was still out.

"That's what they said," said Sherrilyn Ifill, an advisory board member. "But that's not what the public is saying."

Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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