Cliff Mass Fired After 15 Years At Kuow
March 7, 2012 by staff
Cliff Mass Fired After 15 Years At Kuow, For 15 years, University of Washington Professor Cliff Mass was a regular on KUOW’s airwaves. Every Friday, he would give listeners a look ahead to the weekend weather and the science behind it. But last week, KUOW abruptly dismissed Mass from his regular slot, much to the dismay of his fans. It’s always tricky when a news organization covers itself, but here’s KUOW’s Deborah Wang with both sides of the story.
This story was edited by Kate Concannon. Kate is a former Western Bureau Chief for NPR and now is a freelance editor, with no connection to KUOW.
When Cliff Mass signed on 15 years ago to be a regular Friday guest on the show Weekday, he told the producers he wanted to do more than just give the weekend forecast. He wanted to talk about science as well.
Mass: “One of my mentors was Carl Sagan, and I was, you know, I was very much interested in this outreach idea that scientists need to talk to the public directly.”
Over the years, Mass says, he gradually expanded what he talked about. A favorite topic was how the math skills of his students appeared to be on the decline.
At one point, about three years ago, Mass blamed that on something called discovery math. That’s a math curriculum that’s widely used in the state’s schools.
Steve Scher is the host of “Weekday.” He says Mass’s comments crossed the line. The issue of math textbooks is heated and highly controversial, and Mass only represented one side.
Scher: “That issue should be vetted in a forum where people can have the time to understand the complexities of that issue. And it isn’t for one person who has got a forum, who has got a microphone, it’s not fair. And as journalists, we try to keep it fair.”
So, Scher and his producer had a meeting with Mass to set new ground rules. Mass was told to stick to the weather and the science behind the weather. Mass said he didn’t like the rules, but he agreed.
And by all accounts, for the next couple of years, Mass did not stray from the topic. It was, as he says, an uneasy truce.
But then at the end of last month, all that changed.
Scher: “Cliff, how will the weather be this weekend?”
Mass: “Well — ”
When Mass got on the line for his regular weather segment, three journalists, including an editor from the Seattle Times, were seated in the studio, ready to begin the weekly news roundup.
Mass: “Steve, can I make a comment about that UW admissions for a second?”
Scher: “Well, you are violating the rules of you being a UW weather forecaster, Cliff, and people will now be writing in to yell at you.”
Mass: “OK, well, I’m not just a weather forecaster but I just wanted to mention — ”
The Times had recently run a story about how some straight “A” students were being denied admission to the University of Washington. Mass said in his opinion, the story was wrong.
Mass: “And what I’m going to say is that we are not rejecting straight ‘A’ students with great board scores and great everything — ”
The discussion continued on for several more minutes, and Scher gave Mass the last word on the subject. While it all seemed cordial, this is what Scher says he was thinking:
Scher: “My reaction was, a fair thing would have been for him to have called in like any listener would and not to seize the microphone and say, I want to talk about this, I think I have the right to because I have this platform.”
More emails were exchanged after the show. Scher says once again, he asked Mass for a firm commitment to stick to the weather. But this time, here is how Mass replied:
Mass: “I said, I think it’s unreasonable, and I think, I do think it’s out of keeping with just the basic idea of KUOW and about public radio. And so, and so I sent him an email, and the next day I got an email from him, You’re off, you know. You are not going to do regular broadcasts on KUOW anymore.”
Mass says he was shocked by the move. At first, he thought Scher would change his mind, but when it was clear that he wouldn’t, Mass appealed to his fans. On his blog, he announced his dismissal from KUOW and asked his supporters to contact the station to demand his reinstatement.
Hundreds of people emailed KUOW to protest the decision, including Ryan Berg. He started a Facebook page in support of Mass. It now has more than 2,000 fans.
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