Texas Standard Looks Inward And Responds To Personnel And Culture Concerns

KUT Interim General Manager Patti Smith has resigned, and Host David Brown has issued a statement regarding comments he made before a segment taping.

By Laura RiceSeptember 25, 2018 11:09 am

We’re going to take another few minutes to turn the spotlight inward. It’s uncomfortable and awkward for the Texas Standard to be part of a news story that we find important to bring to your attention, but that’s the position we find ourselves in, and we are doing our best to be transparent.

As we first told you last week, Texas Standard and the show’s home station, KUT/KUTX Austin, have been both publicly and privately addressing personnel and general culture issues that go back several years.

Yesterday, KUT/KUTX staff were told that Interim General Manager Patti Smith was resigning, effective October 8. KUT/KUTX Associate General Manager for Development and Marketing, Sylvia Ponce-Carson, will then take over as interim general manager.

While this may seem like irrelevant background information, we are sharing it because, in reporting this management change, an article by an independent investigative reporter hired by the KUT newsroom, also made public an issue affecting Texas Standard Host David Brown.

Laura Rice is filling in as host today because the Texas Standard team, under the leadership of Managing Producer Rhonda Fanning, decided that if David was named again in an investigation, he would not host the show on the day the show addressed the issue.

The new issue raised in the latest article by the KUT independent investigation is some raw recorded tape before the start of an interview, in which the reporter describes David Brown as joking about the Spanish language.

I should say here that Texas Standard has decided, at least for now, not to play clips of the tape. It’s long and for full context should be evaluated in its entirety. We don’t have plans at this moment to release that full tape. Texas Standard Managing Producer Rhonda Fanning forwarded it to University of Texas Human Resources as soon as it was brought to her attention. Texas Standard staff are employees of the university, which is the license-holder of KUT.

In response, David issued a statement to all of KUT and KUTX and one of its media partners — the Texas Tribune.

The statement reads in full:

Within hours of the publication by “Current” of its article about KUT on September 12th, it came to my attention that a recording was circulating among members of KUT staff, in which I am heard purposely mispronouncing (among other things) the names of of the Spanish speaking countries El Salvador and Columbia [sic]. Without listening to the tape, I knew what the recording must be of, and I immediately referred the matter to supervisors and to UT Human Resources.  I am cooperating fully with an investigation.

My intent in my private, pre-interview conversation with our guest, Gardner Selby (then of the Austin American-Statesman) was self-deprecation.  As a non-Spanish speaking person, I feared that were I to try to appropriate an accent for a Latino name in the script, I would sound affected—and utterly ridiculous.  As Gardner and I tried to obtain the correct pronunciation, I gabbed on, mocking an affected French pronunciation of Paris (France) and Beto O’Rourke (in Irish) among other words, clumsily trying to explain my concern to Gardner.  In the end, we found the correct pronunciation and used it in the story. That is what we were aiming for. Listening back to the full tape, start to finish, I hope, makes my true intent apparent.

But taken out of its context, I can easily hear how what I said could be misunderstood as me mocking Spanish speaking people.  I remain embarrassed that my own voice in this recording could be construed (especially by colleagues I deeply admire) as disrespectful either of the language or, worse yet, of those who speak it.  To those who have heard the tape–or portions of it– and drawn such a conclusion, I profoundly and sincerely apologize and want assure you that was not my meaning.

It would never be my intention to mock or be hurtful to anyone–either publicly or privately. Such behavior runs counter to my thoughts, values and core beliefs. If you have an opportunity to hear the recording in its entirety, I hope you will listen.  And if you continue to have concerns, I would urge you to speak with me one-on-one, or take your concerns to your supervisor, to HR, or to the UT Office of Inclusion and Equity.


David Brown

Ponce-Carson said this in the wake of yesterday’s leadership change, “I am committed to working with the dean to identify and address our issues with culture and operations. KUT and KUTX are an invaluable part of the Central Texas community and I am honored to advance this important public service until a permanent general manager is appointed.”

And Dean Jay Bernhardt said “Sylvia has been at KUT for many years and I deeply value and respect her leadership and expertise.”

And I do want to note that while the Texas Standard team chose today to ask David not to host so that we could more properly address this situation, that is being handled internally by Human Resources. Investigations remain open. We will keep you posted.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Texas Standard staff are employees of the University of Texas. We would also like to note that Texas Standard management, with support of the team, has asked the University of Texas to release the tape discussed in this post. The university denied our request, citing the ongoing investigation by UT Human Resources.