“You look great,” said Don Marsh, the 80-year-old host of the radio show “St. Louis On the Air,” to recently retired St. Louis news anchor Karen Foss (75 years young) when she entered the studio for an interview. The two veteran journalists then went on to have this pleasant and collegial conversation aired by KWMU, National Public Radio’s St. Louis affiliate.
The next morning, Foss learned that Marsh, a St. Louis institution, was leaving St. Louis Public Radio. Why? Someone at the KWMU studio had overheard Marsh’s complimentary greeting to Foss, perceived it to be inappropriate, and tattled to the bosses. That’s right, a man telling a longtime friend whom he hadn’t seen in a while that she looked great was Not Okay.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Marsh was summoned to a meeting by KWMU station manager Tim Eby. According to Eby, the exchange between Marsh and Foss was not central to the meeting, but Marsh tells a different story.
Marsh told the Post-Dispatch that a producer had complained about his greeting to Foss. He said he was called into a meeting with two managers before going on the air Wednesday, in which one of them said they wanted to ‘put this behind us.’
‘And I said, ‘Are you basically saying what I did was wrong?’’ Marsh said. He said the manager made a gesture with his hand ‘like it’s right on the edge. And I said, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’’
Who Is Don Marsh?
Was Marsh a vestigial dinosaur, the last old white guy shaming the woke champions of contemporary social ethics with his ongoing presence in the KWMU studio? Hardly.
In January, St. Louis resident Fabiano Caruana challenged Magnus Carlson in the World Chess Championship. Marsh’s “St. Louis On the Air” interviewed Yasser Seirawan, four-time U.S. chess champion, and Rex Sinquefield, founder of the St. Louis Chess Club, about the tournament and St. Louis’ significance in the chess world. On the topic of female competitors, Seirawan commented that, contrary to stereotypes of nerdy chess players, the ladies’ side of competitive chess was populated by competitors of “beauty pageant caliber.”
When Marsh opened the phone lines at the end of the show, a caller objected to Seirawan’s allegedly sexist remarks. Marsh did not attempt to smooth things over, but said he agreed with the caller and that the remarks needed to be addressed, putting his studio guest in a very awkward situation. (This bit of trouble has been scrubbed from the podcast; as a local listener, the writer happened to hear it live. Acknowledgment of the edit appears beneath the podcast link.) St. Louis Public Radio then published this groveling apology from Seirawan.
Further, Marsh establishes his hip-to-the-times creds in the same interview with Foss that occasioned the moment’s trouble. Speaking of her experience as a female journalist, Foss describes her early career when newsrooms began employing women in engineering and production.
Women came to hold so many of these positions that Foss became concerned about female views dominating in news decisions: “I don’t think either women or men push the news based on gender discrimination or preferences, but I think it’s important to have all points of view represented . . and I think that all that news judgement is improved when you have the input of both men and women, older, younger living all over the community.” Marsh quickly responds, “Of course, it was lopsided in the other direction forever before that!”
These examples are typical of the angle from which Marsh interviews guests. His comments to the Post-Dispatch also reflect his politically correct position on sex differences (or is it non-differences?). The “St. Louis On the Air” archive reveals exactly what you would expect from an NPR station: topics strongly skewing toward the Jacobin cultural narrative.
What Does Karen Foss Think?
We know Marsh believes strongly in Foss’s right and ability to have her own mind and speak for herself. Foss posted a lengthy comment on Facebook following the news of Marsh’s resignation:
Reportedly Marsh was reprimanded for greeting me with a ‘you look good’. The assertion being that Don was making a sexist comment.
I am appalled.
As a woman who has long argued for the equitable treatment of women, I am highly alert to sexism and discrimination and I sensed absolutely none of that in his greeting. In fact I strongly suspect I responded by saying ‘so do you’. It is a common way for those of us who are aged to greet each other – meaning we share our pleasure at being vital and healthy. It is in no way leering or meant to diminish anyone’s intellectual or professional contributions.
If indeed this simple exchange between professionals who have been friendly competitors for nearly 40 years was considered evidence of sexism, I must protest vehemently. After sixty years in the workplace, I know very well what sexual harassment and innuendo look like and this was most assuredly nothing of the kind.
So someone other than Foss was offended by what Marsh said to her. Moral of the story: Don’t call your wife “Baby,” and don’t compliment your friend. You never know what unhinged person is listening for a chance to wreck you.
What Does KWMU Say?
In response to the hue and cry raised by St. Louisans, St. Louis Public Radio published the following:
Don voluntarily resigned. He was not asked to resign. He was not forced to make a choice between resignation and termination.
We agree, and communicated to Don, that his on-air and in-person greeting to Karen Foss was an appropriate one between friends. It was not the core topic of the meeting between Don and managers, as was represented by his comments in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article on Sunday, March 31.
While we understand that our listeners and members would like to hear the full story from us, there are things we can’t share, including the details of that meeting, as it would be improper to discuss personnel matters in general.
So KWMU treats Marsh like Marsh treated Seirawan when one man’s statement runs the risk of violating leftist orthodoxy. We heard what you said, and we have no charitable impulse to expend resources toward mitigating your public humiliation. Whatever virtues these people have, kindness to beleaguered individuals is not among them (and far less applied hermeneutics).
Glad I Didn’t Donate
Last week was KWMU’s fund drive, complete with including guilt-inducing rhetoric about how listeners ought to be paying for a service they use so frequently. Despite NPR’s efforts to at least appear evenhanded, as long as local affiliates function as intellectual monocultures, hiring people diverse in physical appearance only, the energy is wasted. Who would throw away money on this fraud?
Marsh gave every appearance of being an enlightened man of our time, quick to recognize and oppose the marginalization of groups with Most Favored Nation social status. Maybe he was just too old, too white, and too male to make it at an NPR station. Or maybe, everyone eventually loses at the game of intersectional wokeness.