NPR chief Jarl Mohn takes a medical leave amid harassment crisis

NPR chief Jarl Mohn takes a medical leave amid harassment crisis
Jarl Mohn, above in 2013, said his leave is related to a burst aorta he suffered this year that required him to undergo open heart surgery. (Kevin Winter)

NPR President Jarl Mohn is taking a medical leave while dealing with the aftermath of a sexual harassment scandal at the nonprofit radio service that resulted in the firing of a top news executive.

Mohn said his leave, which is expected to last at least a month, is related to a burst aorta he suffered earlier this year that required him to undergo open heart surgery.


"As many of you know, last March I suffered a nearly fatal ruptured aorta," Mohn wrote in a memo sent to NPR staff Tuesday and obtained by the Los Angeles Times. "I returned to work with the blessing of my physician with one important caveat — I cannot allow my blood pressure to rise. Regretfully, the hypertension has returned to a dangerous level, and I have been instructed to take medical leave until my health returns to normal, at a minimum of four weeks."

Chief Operating Officer Loren Mayor will manage day-to-day operations in Mohn's absence.

Mohn, 65, has come under fire inside NPR for what some staff members perceived as a slow response to the sexual harassment complaints made against the service's news chief, Michael Oreskes, who resigned Wednesday.

Oreskes was ousted after a report that he allegedly made inappropriate sexual advances toward two women while he was Washington bureau chief of the New York Times in the 1990s, and that a harassment complaint had been filed against him by an NPR employee in 2015.

In his note to staff, Mohn confirmed that Oreskes had also been disciplined for a second complaint at NPR made in 2016 by a female employee who wished to keep it confidential. Mohn said NPR is looking at additional harassment complaints against Oreskes that have surfaced since his alleged actions were first reported in the Washington Post.

Oreskes has apologized. "I am deeply sorry to the people I hurt,'' he said in a statement. "My behavior was wrong and inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility."

Published reports have said NPR staff members have privately expressed their concern that Mohn did not respond quickly enough to the issues raised over Oreskes' behavior. NPR has brought in an outside law firm to review the internal response to the allegations.

In the note announcing his medical leave, Mohn apologized for not recognizing the matters related to Oreskes sooner.

"In retrospect, I did not see the bigger pattern of poor judgment and unacceptable behavior," he said. "I am sorry, and I have learned from this. As I have stated, the Board is the process of engaging a law firm to review our handling of this situation."

Mohn, a former commercial radio personality and cable TV executive, took over as NPR's chief executive in 2014. The service's signature programs, "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition," have seen ratings increases under his watch. The service has gained new listeners through podcasting, where NPR has emerged as a leading source.

Twitter: @SteveBattaglio