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St. Louis On the Air host had history of ‘troubling’ comments toward women, co-workers say

Don Marsh resigns from St. Louis Public Radio

Don Marsh, a long-time host of St. Louis on the Air public radio show, told media he quit the program because a producer questioned a comment he made to Karen Foss. The producer considered the remark sexist, he said.
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Don Marsh, a long-time host of St. Louis on the Air public radio show, told media he quit the program because a producer questioned a comment he made to Karen Foss. The producer considered the remark sexist, he said.

New details came to light Friday morning over St. Louis Public Radio’s longtime St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh’s resignation last month, alleging “troubling remarks” toward women the day of his resignation and in the past.

A piece that aired Friday morning on KWMU and in an article published on the station’s website by arts and culture reporter Nancy Fowler details a history of remarks about women that “troubled” coworkers.

Marsh, 80, quit in late March after producers of St. Louis on the Air questioned him about the comments he made toward guest Karen Foss, a former KSDK news anchor. He had hosted the show since September 2005 and worked many years in print, radio and television journalism in St. Louis before joining KWMU radio.

“I certainly was angry about it. I felt disrespected, and I felt, to a degree, humiliated,” Marsh said. “I’m not a sexist creep as some people might think after all the drama over this.”

The day after Marsh’s resignation, Foss wrote a post on Facebook in which she said she didn’t feel his comments were disrespectful or sexist.

“Reportedly Marsh was reprimanded for greeting me with a ‘you look good.’ The assertion being that Don was making a sexist comment,” Foss, 75, said in a Facebook post. “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.”

The radio stations general manager, Tim Eby, has maintained that the greeting was not a “concern nor a core point” of the meeting that led to his resignation. However, in a Facebook post Friday responding to the article Marsh maintained the meeting that led to his departure “very specifically” focused on his greeting toward Foss and that he was never reprimanded by anyone about the interaction.

In the post, he also noted that context and tone are important when it comes to some of the comments he’s made toward women and questioned why the young women offended by the remarks they overheard didn’t come to him with their concerns.

“I wonder if they find it sexist that their complaint was the subject a (sic) meeting called by two white men at which they were not present?” Marsh wrote. “I think it’s fair to suggest that’s more of a sexist issue than the words ‘you look great’ ...‘beauty takes precedence’ .... or ‘get a room.’

But, according to the St. Louis Public Radio article, which was worked on independent of the station’s leadership, Marsh had made many comments toward or about women in the past as well as during that day, including telling a guest and a producer to get a room after hugging in 2016 and allegedly telling a waiting guest that “a pretty woman always take precedence” as they waited to come on the show.

Evie Hemphill, a producer of the talk show, sent Marsh an email about the “pretty woman” remark, according to the article, requesting a time to talk about the comment.

“Outside of settings akin to a beauty pageant, I just don’t see a place for it,” Hemphill wrote. “I don’t think it’s asking too much to keep the focus on the reasons our guests are joining us (newsiness, research, accomplishments, amazing stories), including behind the scenes.”

St. Louis on the Air Executive Producer Alex Heuer later emailed Marsh about the incident and also requested a time to talk.

In a reply to Heuer’s email, Marsh wrote, “I don’t think there’s a whole lot to talk about.”

The next day, March 27, Marsh met with Heuer and Director of Radio Programming and Operations Robert Peterson to discuss “sensitivity.”

The article details allegations that Marsh told the two he was “done,” and walked out of the station 45 minutes before his show was to begin.

Hemphill said she thinks station leaders did the right thing, according to the St. Louis Public Radio piece.

“I have never felt so convinced that I work for and with people who treat others how they would like to be treated,” Hemphill said.

In another incident reported by the station, Marsh was interviewing St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. He arrived at the studio with a female assistant. Marsh said he recalls asking Stenger “can I take her home with me?”

Ellen Lampe, a communication coordinator for St. Louis County, identified herself as the assistant on Twitter and said she had no clue Marsh had said that about her.

Marsh, who in the article acknowledges he may have been a “hot head” when he quit, compared the situation to how former Vice President Joe Biden, who currently is under fire for inappropriate interactions with women.

“There is a group out there that reacts to anything, and I think it’s a generational deal, and they are very, very sensitive to anything they think is critical to women,” Marsh said.

Correction: Don Marsh told St. Louis Public Radio he felt angry about the incident, not KSDK. The Belleville News-Democrat regrets the error.

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.
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