In the mounting catalogue of National Public Radio’s recent troubles the David D’Arcy affair ranks lowest
in public visibility. In part this is because D’Arcy is an arts reporter, and arts reporting exists in a
journalistic ghetto. The arts hold less news interest for the public and for news editors themselves
than politics, sports, business or celebrities.
But in terms of importance, the D’Arcy affair ought to rank as high as the Tavis Smiley scandal, the Jeffrey Dvorkin doozie, the Bob Edwards-Scott Simon
debacles and, now, the right-wing scrutiny by government
watchdogs for supposed liberal bias. What happened to D’Arcy — a top-notch
freelance journalist whose contract was terminated after a piece he did on Holocaust art theft and
the Museum of Modern Art sent MoMA board chairman Ron Lauder so far around the bend that
museum officials accused D’Arcy of “shabby reporting” and pressured NPR to repudiate it —
illustrates how even a well-meaning, public-spirited news organization can be corrupted by the
influence of a big-money institution with huge cultural power and corporate clout.
In addition to dumping D’Arcy and posting a misleading correction about the story on its web
site, which D’Arcy and others dispute as itself erroneous, NPR disciplined the staff editor who
supervised the D’Arcy piece, Tom Cole, by suspending him for a day without pay. So here’s the
latest wrinkle: The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has brought a grievance
against NPR for violating disciplinary procedures of the union contract.
“We are vigorously pursuing the grievance because no discipline was warranted,” said
Kenneth Greene, assistant executive director of AFTRA’s Baltimore-Washington chapter. Cole is
a member of AFTRA, which represents 2,600 broadcast personnel in Baltimore and Washington,
and about 80,000 nationally.
The matter has gone to arbitration following the cancellation of a grievance meeting between
NPR and AFTRA that had been scheduled on April 22 to hear the dispute. NPR officials called
off the meeting “because the union would not agree to conditions they imposed,” Greene told me
yesterday. “I have a right to present the grievance. They have no right to force me to acquiesce to
their conditions that have no basis in the contract.”
Greene said NPR asserted that D’Arcy could not attend the meeting unless Cole did. “It was
both or neither,” he said. AFTRA wanted D’Arcy, who is not a member of the union, to be at the
meeting as a witness in the case, Green said, “because he has facts, first-hand knowledge that
refutes a deficient investigation by NPR. We wanted all the relevant facts. Not only was the
discipline not warranted, but their whole investigation of the matter ignored due process.”
A date for the arbitration has not been formalized, Greene said. The case will be heard no
later than the end of July, he said, with a decision expected as soon as early August or by
mid-September at the latest.
It is unclear that Cole wants the union to pursue the violation, but Greene says whether he
does or not is irrelevant. “Some employees don’t want to pursue a violation because it’s not worth
the trouble for them,” Greene noted. “He lost a day’s pay. In the grand scheme of things that
might not be a big deal to him. But the union has a contract to enforce. It’s our guiding
Neither Cole nor NPR have returned my phone calls for comments. When I informed Greene
I had tried to reach Cole, he said he was going to tell him not to discuss the case with me. D’Arcy,
reached in Iceland where he was covering a story, said he preferred not to comment.
Among the many ironies of this story — including the fact that the union is going to bat for
someone who seems to have accepted his suspension and put it behind him — is that D’Arcy has
earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most knowledgeable arts reporters, especially when it
comes to the issue of Holocaust art theft.
Postscript: Much better head for this item suggested by my staff of
thousands: Union Says NPR Flushed
Media Ethics Manual Down Toilet, Caved to MoMA, Fired Reporter Over Holocaust Loot