WNYC Suspends Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz
By TIFFANY HSUDEC. 6, 2017
WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate has interviewed guests ranging from Barack Obama to John Updike. Rob Kim/WireImage, via Getty Images
Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz, two of New York’s most popular and longest tenured radio hosts, were placed on leave by New York Public Radio on Wednesday as the company investigates allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Mr. Lopate, 77, has been a host on WNYC, which is owned by New York Public Radio, for more than 30 years, discussing the arts, politics, food and other topics each weekday. Mr. Schwartz, 79, hosts the station’s The Jonathan Channel as well as other programming on weekends.
WNYC disclosed that it had placed the men on leave just days after John Hockenberry, another well-known WNYC host, was accused by several women of sexual harassment, unwanted touching and bullying in an article published by New York magazine’s The Cut. Mr. Hockenberry was a founder of “The Takeaway” and its host for nearly a decade before retiring in August.
Laura Walker, chief executive of New York Public Radio since 1996, said in a statement that the station “takes these kinds of allegations very seriously and is reviewing these matters promptly.”
A spokeswoman for New York Public Radio, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, declined to comment on the nature of the allegations against the hosts.
Mr. Lopate told The New York Times that he was “baffled” and “really quite shocked and upset” by the suspension, which he said came without warning at 11 a.m. Wednesday as he was preparing for the noon broadcast of his show.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said. “I am sure any honest investigation will completely clear me. That’s the only thing I’m concerned about — the damage to my reputation.”
WNYC “didn’t even give me a clue” about the nature of the allegations, Mr. Lopate said. He said he had been told to meet Wednesday morning with Dean Cappello, executive vice president and chief content officer at WNYC and New York Public Radio, who was joined by the head of human resources and a union representative.
Jonathan Schwartz, a fixture on New York radio for more than 50 years, is known as an authority on Frank Sinatra. James Estrin/The New York Times
Mr. Lopate said he had pressed for details but had been told only that “there were many” complaints, including from guests, and that a quick investigation would be conducted.
“I have never done anything inappropriate on any level — that’s not the way I conduct my job,” he said. “This may just be the current environment, but this is kind of overkill.”
Later, when asked whether he remembered any specific incidents that might have been problematic, he said he had once used the word “testicle” in a colleague’s presence while explaining that the avocado derived its name from the Aztec word for the body part — a fact that was the subject of an NPR piece in 2006. But he was incredulous that such a statement would have resulted in a complaint to superiors.
Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz have been part of the fabric of New York cultural life for decades.
“The Leonard Lopate Show,” with its often leisurely interviews of politicians, authors, composers and chefs, has featured guests including Joseph R. Biden Jr., Catherine Deneuve, Ang Lee, Alice Munro, Barack Obama, Stephen Sondheim and John Updike.
Mr. Schwartz, a onetime cabaret singer who has published fiction and criticism in his time away from the microphone, first appeared on New York City radio in 1958, when he played a Frank Sinatra song on WBAI. He is known as an authority on Sinatra and the standards of jazz and pop. For four years, he served as the artistic director of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series.
Another WNYC host, Mary Harris, will fill in for Mr. Lopate, and started with Wednesday’s broadcast. “That was the hardest hosting I’ve ever done,” she wrote on Twitter after the segment.
New York Public Radio has yet to determine a substitute for Mr. Schwartz, said the spokeswoman, Ms. Houlihan Roussel. (Mr. Schwartz did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
In addition to WNYC, which uses NPR to syndicate many of its shows, New York Public Radio owns WQXR, NJPR and the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in Lower Manhattan.
The allegations against Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz followed claims of inappropriate behavior made against other powerful men in public radio, including Michael Oreskes, who led NPR’s news division; Garrison Keillor, the creator and retired host of “A Prairie Home Companion” for Minnesota Public Radio; and David Sweeney, NPR’s chief news editor.