If you know anything about me, John Hockenberry, it is probably that I am a familiar voice from public radio. You likely know that I use a wheelchair because of a 1976 car accident and the resultant spinal cord injury, received in the twilight of adolescence at age nineteen. More recently you may know of me as a correspondent for ABC and then NBC News and finally as the host of the public radio program The Takeaway from 2008 to 2017, when my contract was not renewed. Possibly you are aware of me as the father of five children: two sets of twins—three girls and a boy, aged twenty and seventeen—and another eight-year-old boy.
A cluttered storage unit in Brooklyn now contains fragments of the life I no longer live. My Emmy awards for work in television and my Peabody awards, framed pictures from travels all around the world, a signed statement of service from President Obama from my time as a member of his Commission on White House Fellowships, are all ghoulishly visible through plastic wrap and tape. A corner filled with camping equipment and spare wheelchair parts constitutes my sole Plan B at this point. The rest of the boxes I wonder whether I’ll even open in the years I have left. I once more silently list the names in my mind: anyone whom I have somehow hurt. For my work colleagues I have said my piece and have run out of energy. I have also faced unrelenting anger from both male and female colleagues. Or, more common and more painful, I have faced their stony and, in my view, cowardly silence. Only one of my accusers reached out or responded to my heartfelt queries. She had very useful and meaningful things to say, for which I am grateful.
In 2007 I joined a public radio team that wanted to develop a show to take on NPR’s audience and fund-raising behemoth Morning Edition. It was one of the hardest tasks imaginable at a time of great uncertainty in journalism, with many bitter editorial fights. In the end we made The Takeaway a successful new program broadcast around the country to an audience of 2 million. We failed at challenging Morning Edition in am drive time, though, and the consequences of that failure left painful memories. I recall those days with exhaustion. People who remember me in those rough times as condescending and bullying got the chance to revisit tough editorial battles from years in the past when I ended up in the bitter discussion of sexual assault, powerful broadcast hosts, and powerless women employees that began last fall.