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WAMU Fires Jonetta Rose Barras

Public radio station WAMU today fired political analyst Jonetta Rose Barras, co-host of the station's popular Friday "Politics Hour" with Kojo Nnamdi, in what appears to be a dispute over pay.

Barras, a longtime fixture in local media, says she was sacked for seeking to be paid as a full-time employee for her work on the Friday program. "I refused to be an abused worker and not be paid for my worth," Barras says. "I feel I've been discriminated against both because I'm a woman and because I'm black."

WAMU spokesman Kay Summers confirms that Barras is leaving the station (88.5 FM) and says a replacement analyst will be sought. Summers says the station's owner, American University, will not comment on the reasons for Barras's departure, but adds that the university "is an equal opportunity employer and we strongly deny the suggestion that American University has discriminated against Jonetta Rose Barras."

Barras took Mark Plotkin's place after he left WAMU for all-news WTOP in 2002. Barras, a tough-talking gumshoe reporter who has been riding herd on the D.C. government for various Washington publications for many years, also writes a weekly column for the Examiner newspaper.

She says the WAMU gig was her primary job and she will have to scramble to find other work.

"People think I am a difficult worker," she says. "I'm not, but I do require certain professional courtesies. This is the first time when I have left a job that I felt there was no good reason."

Barras formerly worked at the Washington City Paper and the Washington Times; she has written occasional opinion pieces for The Washington Post and is the author of books on fatherless black women and on Marion Barry, "The Last of the Black Emperors."

WAMU recently expanded the Friday politics program from coverage of District matters to discussion of Virginia and Maryland issues as well.

Public radio stations have been added to the ratings announced quarterly by Arbitron, and WAMU's first appearance in the rankings puts the public outlet at #5 in the Washington area. NPR's "Morning Edition" newsmagazine won third place in the market and the afternoon drive time "All Things Considered" news program came in second overall.

(Disclosure: I have occasionally appeared on the "Politics Hour" as guest analyst and guest host.)

By Marc Fisher |  May 13, 2008; 1:30 PM ET
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I already know she is a black woman. I want hear her argument as to why one hour on Fridays makes her a full time employee.

Posted by: DC | May 13, 2008 2:00 PM

I already know she is a black woman. I want hear her here argument as to why one hour on Fridays makes her a full time employee.

Posted by: DC | May 13, 2008 2:00 PM

I already know she is a black woman. I want to hear her argument as to how one hour on Fridays makes her a full time employee.

Posted by: DC | May 13, 2008 2:01 PM

I assume she wanted to be paid "as a full-time employee" in proportion to hours worked -- that is, FT multiplied by the fraction of a work week that her Politics Hour show required. She has other work to fill in the remaining hours.

Posted by: Peter | May 13, 2008 2:05 PM

It's not like she could show up for an hour-long radio show without adequately preparing for it.

That preparation requires research -- keeping abreast of politics, interviewing officials, citizens, deciding on topics, relevant details to mention, etc.

Please believe she did more than "1 hour" of work every week. That "1 hour" is the culmination of many hours of prep time; she probably did log ~40 hours/week.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 2:11 PM

Whoa -- if there are 40 hours of prep time for one hour on the air, then Kojo preps, what, 200-400 hours a week??

But Peter must be right, it must be a proportionality argument she's making. (Too bad the column couldn't be more specific.)

Not surprising news, she seems a wee bit prickly.

Hope she doesn't use the "people think I'm a difficult worker" line in her next job interview.

Posted by: gringo | May 13, 2008 2:23 PM

I can't believe that a post-Bob Edwards NPR station comes in third.

I know WTOP has to be first, but who's second? Donnie? The Junkies? Greaseman?

I'm also guessing that ATC gets second behind Bob Marbourg and WTOP. That tells you that Clear Channel is dying a slow death. See ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya! Yeagghhh!!!

Oh, and J.R. Barras is well-thought-out and funny, but one hour a week does not a full-time employee make. She's the DC equivalent of Keith Olbermann.

In other words: a bridge-burning train wreak ready to happen.

Posted by: NPR wow! | May 13, 2008 2:30 PM

Not buying the pay argument - no matter how many times she drags out a simple question.

Posted by: LABC | May 13, 2008 2:33 PM

OK, 2:11 -- does that mean my co-workers who come in late, sneak out early, spend hour upon hour on personal phone calls, don't show up when their kid is sick and fake their own illnesses are considered 'full time' employees? We have one woman whose has father died at least twice and he's due to kick off again soon.

I doubt seriously that it takes 39 hours of prep time to contribute to a 1-hour show nobody listens to. Isn't she the one who reads listener mail to Kojo when they have a guest to answer questions? How long does it take to prepare to read mail?

Tell Jonetta to get off her high-horse.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 2:35 PM

Make that "fifth," not third. I'm guessing that you can throw in Tom Joyner and Huggy Low Down there, too.

Posted by: NPR Wow!! | May 13, 2008 2:36 PM

It's not clear to me how many of the previous commenters listen to the Politics Hour. It's the best hour of the Kojo Show by far every week (followed by the sports segments with G. Michael), and at least 50% of that is due to Jonetta. The article isn't very clear about exact pay numbers, but if the issue was the number of hours that Jonetta contributed, then they could have invited her to participate more during the week. Her dismissal is definitely a loss for the Kojo show.

Posted by: annapolis | May 13, 2008 2:43 PM

I will miss her on the show. She knew a lot and she was fun to listen to.

Posted by: HSS | May 13, 2008 2:44 PM

I enjoyed her quick wit and considered the program a high point. I hope that she can come back.

Posted by: Mel | May 13, 2008 2:59 PM

When she joined WAMU is when I stopped listening to it. She was opinionated, fairly racist, and almost exclusively 'excusatory' about anything involving African Americans. Even a bleeding heart liberal, who supports Barack Obama, found her both obnoxious and offensive. Perhaps WAMU was using this as an excuse to rid themselves of a liability. The world has no time for those who somehow think themselves 'privileged.'

Posted by: Commonsense 101 | May 13, 2008 3:22 PM

Aside from my views about her opinions, I:

A) Don't believe she was a full time employee because she works for other news outlets and has other sources of income not exclusive to WAMU. It was her work on these other outlets that brought her to the radio - as a source for DC politics. If she cannot find a means of income aside from WAMU, then her work may not be as valuable as she thought.

B) Her claims of discrimination completely destroy her credibility. If anything were to diminish her credentials as a objective journalist, it is this self-serving accusation. To play the race card when so many other circumstances have not been completely addressed is itself a sign of racism.

It's a shame to see someone who could be admired destroy themselves by being so shortsighted.

Posted by: robl | May 13, 2008 3:30 PM

Finally! I've been waiting for this. Her laugh annoys me to no end. She is plucky, but I would also bet money on her being difficult as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 3:39 PM

Whew ... playing the race AND the gender card at the same time ... and against WAMU, of all places.

Who would ever hire her now after this pathetic display ?

Posted by: gitarre | May 13, 2008 3:40 PM

The smooth sax intro and Kojo's sing-song were harshly overpowered by her biting voice each Friday. I think that she is paradoxically over-informed to the point of ignorance on mny issues. For years, Kojo Nnamdi's show was one of the few terrestrial radio shows I listened to, but not that it's on XM that's pretty much the end of FM. ATC, Kojo, The World, and Ron and Fez - Noon to 3.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 3:46 PM

who cares?

Posted by: MNMNT | May 13, 2008 4:12 PM


Glad to see Barras off of WAMU. Personally, I'd like to see them pick up a co-host for that show who isn't half-activist/half-reporter. I was always amazed when Kojo or McGinty were able to get a word in edgewise on Plotkin; and was glad to see Kojo and Barras had a better rapport, but I couldn't stand the comments she'd make like "I wanted the council to appoint so and so".

I love gitarre's comment. I mean, WAMU is home to Karen Mathis, Diane Rehm, Susan Stamberg, James White, Kojo Nammdi and god knows who else. Why is it Barras bore the brunt of racial and gender bias?

Posted by: lepanto | May 13, 2008 4:21 PM

I don't think she was a good fit with Politics hour, but just barely. I've surmised her racist core from a few slips of the tongue, but also admire her ultimate sense of civility which mostly ruled. I came to expect her trumpeting, her ego, and her zest for shin kicking guests. I think we all just buckled our seat belts tighter on Fridays. But she never really represented the core sensibilities of the listeners, generally speaking. And that will usually cut short any broadcasting gig.

Posted by: regula lisna | May 13, 2008 4:24 PM

Am I surprised the race and gender card came up? Of course not. I'm just waiting for the phrase "taken out of context" to come flying out as soon as her words come back to bite her.

Though I am surprised that she threw these accusations at NPR, perhaps the most inclusive "mainstream" radio network in the country.

But what does surprise me is that Jonetta played the race/gender card, without of shred of evidence or single example, and expects to get hired somewhere else.

I've thought that, at different times, Jonetta has been a lot of things, but naive has never been one of them....until now.

Posted by: Chris N. | May 13, 2008 4:29 PM

Finally! I found her on-air manner extremely annoying, and this is coming from someone who agreed with her 95% of the time. I will charitably say that her talents were poorly served by radio. Her combative and provocative style works well in print but it's not what we've come to expect from WAMU or any other NPR station. Public broadcasting exists to fill the public service void(s) left by commercial broadcasters. Someone who interupts, berates and belittles anyone who disagrees with him/her can be found on plenty of other places on the talk radio spectrum. And I have to agree, the laugh usually had me switching stations every Friday...

Posted by: shank | May 13, 2008 4:30 PM

Her statement of "I refuse to... not be paid for my worth" - that's an, uh, interesting pose to strike isn't it. As a bunch of the rest of us know, what you're worth to employer is subject to negotiation. Know what I mean? You don't get to set the price. If you don't think you're paid fairly, then prove it by getting another gig.

I mean, I wish her well, but she might need to drop the 'tude.

Posted by: Robert | May 13, 2008 4:32 PM

Her statement of "I refuse to... not be paid for my worth" - that's an, uh, interesting pose to strike isn't it. As a bunch of the rest of us know, what you're worth to an employer is subject to negotiation. Know what I mean? You don't get to set the price. If you don't think you're paid fairly, then prove it by getting another gig.

I mean, I wish her well, but she might need to drop the 'tude.

Posted by: Robert | May 13, 2008 4:32 PM

I care. It's too bad. She is extremely good, and will be very much missed on Fridays. The only other thing I could think of is that maybe she had another editing/producing type job on another show on WAMU. She probably was logging part time hours, meaning no more than 25 or 30 max.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 5:03 PM

I didn't appreciate Barras' attitude either. (Her laughter didn't help.) Speaking of which, get rid of Rehm also. She is incredibly biased and lacks the ability to understand other people's points of view. I know she's got seniority but still, it's time for her to be replaced by someone competent.

Posted by: DeeDee | May 13, 2008 5:05 PM

Considering that most people would gladly co-host with Kojo for free, I have exactly zero sympathy for Jonetta, and anyone who listens to WAMU knows that the accusations of racism and sexism are absurd. What's next? Going to accuse the Care Bears of committing hate crimes?

Posted by: Big Mike | May 13, 2008 5:16 PM

WAMU, a NPR affiliate and bastion of the Liberal Left Media, being accused of not only racial but gender bias? What is this world coming to?

Posted by: Charley Armstrong | May 13, 2008 6:02 PM

sounds like she would be a great fit for WPFW

Posted by: mark | May 13, 2008 6:08 PM

Someone should tell Barra that talk is cheap. Do the wunderkinds have it wrong? Could airing blue grass at drive time give WAMU better market share? Wouldn't hurt!!

Posted by: Tom Lang | May 13, 2008 6:36 PM

WAMU is getting numbers by default, since they run Morning Edition and ATC, the most popular NPR shows, and WETA has stopped carrying them.

WAMU runs 3 minutes of local news and 60 seconds of PSAs each AM hour and syndicated weather and traffic. Their only locally-produced local content consists of weekly Metro Connection shows and the Local Politics Hour. Now they've screwed up the latter by losing the most knowledgeable analyst of DC government and politics.

Posted by: Mike Licht | May 13, 2008 7:21 PM

Can't say I'm displeased. Her constant laughing at inappropriate times was incredibly annoying. Yeah, she knew alot about the District, but her disparaging remarks about anyone who disagreed with her (and did I mention her constant annoying laughing at weird times??) makes me glad she's gone.

Posted by: WR | May 13, 2008 8:08 PM

Yes, I agree with Mike Licht. It was the ONLY local anything on that station. Even though I am not sure I agree with her, I will follow her to her next place.

Posted by: RT | May 13, 2008 8:12 PM

I, for one, won't miss her. She hardly ever had anything positive to say about anything. She certainly did not contribute to the civil tone which is set by the previous two hours on the Diane Rhemn show. She thought she was funny but really she wasn't and quite frankly I often turned off the shpw because I couldn't stand her.

Posted by: A.B. | May 13, 2008 8:28 PM

I doubt seriously that she did anything to prepare for this show besides reading the morning paper.

Posted by: Jay | May 13, 2008 8:40 PM

The article doesn't address the real reason she was canned. She cannot speak English. Kind of a liability on the radio.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 8:58 PM

Well, she not only could speak English, she is incredibly articulate and gives voice to the nuances of issues many long time residents of the city can barely stab at. She fleshes it out. Look, local politics is kind of grungy and gross. Don't blame the messenger for that. I don't know if she deserved a full time salary and benefits, we do not know what else was cooking behind the scenes, but I don't argue with her ability and talent. She is good.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 9:05 PM

"She is good." Why else would the Post do what it hardly ever ever does? Publish breaking local news on its Web site.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 13, 2008 9:06 PM

I will miss her insightful comments. I didn't always agree with her (e.g., on the smoking ban in DC bars and restaurants), but she always defended her points well. I also found it really refreshing that she admitted to being a bus-riding renter; I'm guessing that she is the only commentator in town who doesn't own a nice car and spiffy property in a safe neighborhood. Her perspective will be missed.

(I will admit that it took me quite a while to overlook the too-loud, too-frequent laughter.)

Posted by: Glover Park, DC | May 13, 2008 9:12 PM

I just want to congratulate Marc for his customarily courageous stand. I mean, really, he came and took such a strong position; no way could anyone accuse him of tryin to avoid a potentially controversial position. He is, after all, so well known for his fortitude in all matters. Coward.

Posted by: kgc | May 13, 2008 10:57 PM

hey- Jonetta Rose Barras-get a dog....oh, wait, they find you difficult to work with too.

Posted by: woof | May 13, 2008 11:18 PM

Sorry that this happened. Barras has a deep familiarity with Washington politics. There has to be more to the story than what is out there for her to go off like that. And racism is the oppression of a minority by power,not just reprehensible remarks which are offensive to a certain race.

Posted by: mail6 | May 13, 2008 11:30 PM

I for one am not at all sad to see her go. I found her to be an overbearing blowhard to the people they interviewed, and she's the reason I stopped listening to the DC Politics Hour on Fridays. Now that she's gone, hopefully I can go back to enjoying a much more civil and informed discourse-- whoever they replace her with has got to be better. They certainly have to have better people skills and manners.

Posted by: KTK | May 14, 2008 1:51 AM

I would guarantee you that the amount of work that goes into preparing for a one-hour show (of which the topic is usually known days in advance)added to the show itself, didn't take more than 5 hours per week....the producers of the show, who get paid far less, do the bulk of the leg work (book guests, talking to them pre-show, etc.) She is a shrill harpie and I'm glad I at least won't have to hear her voice any longer.

Posted by: Washington, D.C. | May 14, 2008 1:52 PM

Shrill harpie? You're a syncophant!!!! Yeagh!

Posted by: Zzzzzzz. | May 14, 2008 3:35 PM

Oooooooo girl, what a 'tude.

"I do require certain professional courtesies."

Ha! Not me. I get off my dead ass and provide value, and people choose to pay what they want. The fact is that local political analysis is in low demand. Even Marc is shifting to bashing the Chinese people.

Posted by: Roosevelt | May 14, 2008 8:08 PM

"This is the first time when I have left a job that I felt there was no good reason."

Someone who wants "professional courtesies" in that business should use correct grammar.

Posted by: Samuel | May 14, 2008 10:54 PM

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