UPDATE: KUOW News Director Steve Scher finally got back to us. We also spoke with Rick Steves, the "travel guru," whom Cliff Mass says is


KUOW Fires Meteorologist Cliff Mass for Talking About Education (UPDATE)

UPDATE: KUOW News Director Steve Scher finally got back to us. We also spoke with Rick Steves, the "travel guru," whom Cliff Mass says is given a pass to rant about medical marijuana. See both comments after the jump.

Infrequent listeners to KUOW's Weekday have likely tuned in on a Friday and heard famed UW meteorologist Cliff Mass discuss the weather and the science behind it. More regular listeners have probably also heard Mass occasionally venture off the topic of weather and into the realm of education--a subject for which he has both passion and expertise.

From now on, however, KUOW listeners won't be hearing Mass at all. His weekly segment has been cancelled because apparently those forays into education news and opinion were too controversial for public radio.

Writing on his blog today, Mass explains:

On Monday I received an email from Weekday host Steve Scher informing me that the regular weather segments on Weekday will be discontinued.

He also lays out what led to his termination.

. . . But things changed a few years ago. A new producer for Weekday was taken on--Katy Sewall--and on a program I remember well, I talked not only about the problem of declining math skills, but what I thought was the reason--the proliferation of discovery ("fuzzy") math books and the poor instruction by the Schools of Education, including the UW.

A short while later Katy contacted me, telling me I was no longer allowed to talk about math and that Steve concurred. I asked why--she said there were several complaints from the UW Education folks and that it was against "journalistic ethics" to allow me talk about such issues. This went back and forth for a while and I asked to see both Steve and Katy to talk it out.

Their argument--that as a "regular" I was essentially part of KUOW news and thus I could not give my opinion without someone else providing the other side. I noted that I am hardly part of the KUOW news team, clearly indicated my opinions were my own, and they let other "regulars" give their opinions on all sorts of societal issues.

Mass, who has been a frequent source of information for The Daily Weekly and was the subject of a cover story by Weekly editor Mike Seely, called to give us a few extra words about his ouster.

He compares his dismissal to that of Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe, who was given the boot for what most saw as political reasons with the Seattle school elite, then reinstated after a public outcry.

"I always saw myself as a multi-dimensional person. I had more to offer than just the weather," he says. "I think there are a lot of similarities between my situation and Martin Floe's. We both came up against the school bureaucracy."

He also points out that he's not the only KUOW talker who's gone off-script. Rick Steves, KUOW's "Travel Guru," has often eschewed his normal role to talk about marijuana legalization.

Mass said that KUOW producers Steve Scher and Katy Sewall told him that because he did more segments on the station than Steves, he was held to a different standard for editorializing. "Rick was a regular. He had a central expertise of travel and a passion, which was the legalization of marijuana," Mass says. "Weather is my central expertise, but I'm also an educator. For me it was much less of a stretch [to talk about education] than what Steve was doing."

Mass says he's hoping that KUOW will reconsider and bring him back.

He's not paid anything for his appearances on the station, but he says that he views his segments there as a valuable method of public outreach.

Seattle Weekly contacted KUOW for comment, but have not heard back yet.

UPDATE: Scher tells us that Mass' claim that he was given a different standard than Steves was doesn't hold water for two reasons: First, Mass was a "regular contributor" and therefore expected to stay on topic for the regular segment that he asked to speak on (i.e. the weather); and second, anytime Steves sounded off on medical pot, he was doing so because he was asked about it.

"Rick is not a regular guest," Scher says. "Cliff has had a regular segment where we asked him to talk about science and the science behind the weather. We can define our guests' contribution. And I chose to define it. When Rick talks about medical marijuana, he's been invited on the show to talk about it."

When asked if the huge outpouring of support for Mass has changed his opinion at all about firing him, Scher hedges, saying he feels his station has had its own outpouring of support from folks who think he made the right decision.

Steves, who was fresh from a several-week trip to Europe when he spoke with us and had missed the Mass brouhaha, says he doesn't think that he's ever gone too far off-topic, and that he has no desire to tempt the wrath of KUOW brass by ranting.

"I come on as a guest and talk about what they ask me to talk about," he tells us. "I just want to contribute in a way that works for the listening audience. My main concern is not to self-promote. That's the only thing that might be dangerous for me."

Scher did publish a note about the firing on Facebook, part of which says:

I spoke with Cliff on several occasions about my concerns but Cliff disagreed that his science and weather segment should not include his views about other subjects. As a result I have decided to terminate Cliff's weather and science segment. We will continue to look at other ways to involve Cliff on Weekday that will allow him to share his expertise on other issues. Below is the e-mail that I sent to Cliff discussing this relationship.

In somewhat-related news, the weather today is awesome--a fact that Mr. Mass (who rarely uses such absolutes in describing weather) fully concurs with.

Follow The Daily Weekly on Facebook and Twitter.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow