MPB and Fresh Air Closure

I did not realize my blog with fewer than 50 readers a day would suddenly go viral on this story with over 3900 hits in one day–and the day is not over.  Nor did I realize that Rachel Maddow would pick up on this story.  I speculated on what possibly could have been “recurring inappropriate content”  as MPB Director Kevin Farrell wrote in an email to a listener as the explanation for dropping the popular show.  I looked at one weeks worth of programs, reviews, political commentary because if this was indeed a recurring event than it would have to be,  well–recurring.

I raised the question of positive images of gays and lesbians as the recurring theme in that weeks show as a possible suspect.  Here in the south, homosexuality is still very much an inappropriate topic.  Especially when it comes to gay rights.  I asked the question was this the recurring theme that was deemed inappropriate?

I asked this question because homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes.  Some of it can be internalized and hidden from view and therefore denied. It is insidious in our society, tucked here and there allowing institutionalized policies to rationalize homophobia  as being something else entirely.  I have never heard anything on Fresh Air that I thought as inappropriate content, let alone recurring.  But maybe because as a gay man, I long for positive gay messages on our airways that when ever I hear them, I leap for joy.

One of the comments that I received stated “It was dropped because someone called the IHL building and was placed on hold. the hold music is MPN/NPR and (they claim) Gross was talking about sex in an interview. So, someone who doesn’t even listen to NPR got it pulled off the air.” I held off on publishing this comment because I wanted to verify its information in some manner.  The verification came earlier today via email, the source was an insider at MPB.  And it was  confirmed by another edition of the Rachel Maddow Show.

But this is not a topic that Terry Gross has on a recurring basis. So that leads me to continue to wonder what else is considered “recurring inappropriate content?”

I received a comment from Unity Mississippi stating  my post has damaged both the image of Mississippi and MPB where many are allies to the cause of gay rights.

I do not regret in the least of my speaking out and raising the question.  In a state where homophobia and sex-phobia run hand in hand enabling high rates of sexual transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS, the question needed to be raised.   Homophobia is a powerful oppressor which debilitates peoples lives.  To allow one caller, obviously not comfortable with their own sexuality–straight, gay or bi– who  does not even listen to NPR is a sure indication of how much power is given to those who are fearful of the other.

Homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes and if those who claim to be allies of the GLBT community cave in to the demands  of one caller, then I suspect that internalized homophobia  or in this case sex-phobia is also at work.  I can not and will not allow my life to be shaped by homophobia in any form, from any source, from my gay friends who claim I have damaged the image of Mississippi ( by reinforcing stereotypes)  and gay friendly MPB to those who stridently and publicly work  against my procuring civil rights. Nor will I bend towards the tugs of homophobia that society has still lodged within my own heart.

My fervent hope is that after the Board at MPB meets today that they will  reconsider their positions and return to the airways of Mississippi one of the best shows on NPR, Fresh Air with Host Terry Gross.  That they will not allow themselves to be held hostage by one caller or many callers from offering the best in programming that is available.  Shows like Fresh Air offer a life line in Mississippi for so many people who want to be exposed to the vast market place of ideas.  It does so respecting the inherent worth and dignity of the person being interviewed. The program shows respect of others regardless of their life stories and that is so needed today.



  1. Fred- I am proud of you for sticking to your beliefs and stating them in the face of recrimination. I can remember my dad telling me that my pro civil rights stance as a teenager in Port Jervis caused him considerable grief from adults in the community at the time. To his credit, he never tried to dissuade me from speaking my mind. I remember having to go before the school board to get permission to use a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko in the McCombs speaking contest, as he was- horrors!!!- a communist. I was aghast. They let me do it… and I won.
    If we do not speak out for the rights of everyone, ours will be revoked. Guess you are no longer the quiet boy I recall. I am glad to say I know you.

  2. Hello, Rev. Fred. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and I appreciate your unique perspective on matters. I rarely comment, and that’s a fault on my part. I should give more feedback.

    I did read your last post. Your reasoning sounded plausible, but there was simply no way to confirm your suspicions. I was a little shocked by the story and told several friends about your idea regarding Fresh Air.

    I’m glad you had a follow-up post with the real reason for the MPB program drop. Southern culture tends to bend to the needs of the people who whine the most.

  3. […] (h/t Balloon Juice) that Mississipi Public Broadcasting got its knickers in a twist because one (count ‘em — one) listener got the vapors over some mildly sexualized content on an episode of Terri Gross’s […]

  4. I am a fan of Unity Mississippi but I don’t get their logic on this one. It was MPB itself that reinforced negative stereotypes about MS by making this decision, not you for drawing your readers’ attention to it and (quite fairly, I think) looking for a pattern in recent programs. And if the MPB management had wanted the reasons for their decision to be clear from the start they should have issued a more informative and less euphemistic statement in the first place.

    I am also a fan of Unity Mississippi. They do excellent work. I think the fact that the story went viral nationwide is why Unity Mississippi was upset, especially since it appears the precipitating cause for Fresh Air’s removal from MPB’s programming was not related to the speculated reason that I gave. I agree that MPB should have been more forthcoming to begin with in their reasoning. Whether we agree with them or not, it would have sent this story in a different direction.

  5. I’m proud to know you. No matter the reason for them pulling the show, it seems to go against the very framework of what public radio is about. The conclusions you drew in your initial post were not so far off base and I’m saddened that Unity Mississippi would take the road they have.

    I hope you will continue to speak your mind and challenge us all to think beyond our too often narrow scope.

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