Above: A segment on the Fox New Channel's Fox & Friend's talk show about inappropriate emails sent from WIOX 91.3 FM's email account to Republican Congressman Chris Gibson, who is running for re-election. The segment ran on Friday, Oct. 3.
WIOX 91.3 FM, a community radio station in the Delaware County town of Roxbury, has fired its office manager for allegedly using the station's email account to send personal attacks to Republican Congressman Chris Gibson. Gibson is a retired Army colonel running for re-election to the 19th Congressional District of New York against Democratic challenger Sean Eldridge.
The incident has thrust the tiny Catskills public radio station into the center of a national political kerfuffle, and has drawn the attention of conservative opponents of public radio.
The fired employee allegedly sent multiple emails containing personal attacks over a period of months to Gibson's campaign staff using the official WIOX email account. The employee has not been named by the station or by WSKG, a nonprofit media company from Binghamton that merged with WIOX last year.
WSKG and WIOX suspended the employee on Thursday, Oct. 2 and promised to investigate the emails. On Friday, Oct. 3, the employee was terminated, according to posts on WIOX's website and Facebook page.
Reached by the Watershed Post, the former employee declined to comment on the incident. WIOX consulting manager Joe Piasek also declined to comment, and referred questions to WSKG's director of development and marketing, Caroline Basso. Basso did not respond to attempts to contact her after the employee was terminated.
Before the employee was fired on Oct. 3, Basso sent the Watershed Post a statement:
On October 1st, 2014, WSKG became aware through media reports of an email sent to the Gibson Campaign from a WIOX email address containing a personal attack. On October 2nd, immediately upon identification, the individual suspected of writing the email was suspended, pending a complete investigation. We have apologized to Congressman Gibson through his office and the responsible party will be terminated. Although free dialogue and lively debate is an important part of our political culture, these statements clearly went beyond what is acceptable in the political arena and crossed over into the personal. For the attacks leveled against Congressman Gibson and his honorable service to the country, we again apologize.
"Someday maybe he will find a real job"
Gibson's press secretary, Rebecca Shaw, told the Watershed Post in an interview on Oct. 4 that the Gibson campaign has received several "offensive and inappropriate emails" from WIOX's email account, the first dating back to July.
On Sept. 18, Gibson's campaign staff received an email from the WIOX email account criticizing Gibson, a 24-year Army veteran who went to Iraq four times, for "liv[ing] off taxpayers money" and expressing the hope that Gibson would be "replaced by Sean Eldridge."
The full email reads:
Someday maybe he will find a real job like the rest of us and not live off the taxpayers [sic] money as he has done his whole life. Someday (hopefully never) perhaps his voting record will demonstrate that he really cares about the community and not play part [sic] politics. Someday (hopefully) he will be replaced by Sean Eldridge.
Below: A screenshot of the "real job" email sent from the WIOX email account to the Gibson campaign on Sept. 18. Published on Twitter by Gibson's press secretary Rebecca Shaw.
Other emails, according to the conservative news website the Washington Free Beacon, referred to Gibson's "pathetic face" and called him a part of a "disgrace to democracy."
When Shaw, Gibson's press secretary, published the "real job" email on her Twitter account on Oct. 1, the Free Beacon and other national conservative media outlets picked up the story. Comments criticizing public radio and calling for the termination of WIOX's broadcasting license flooded the station's Facebook page.
On Friday, Oct. 3, the Fox News Channel's Fox & Friends talk show ran a segment on the emails called "No Respect! Radio Station Worker Slams a U.S. Veteran." On the show, Gibson said he was "very disappointed" about receiving the emails, but stressed that he was a strong advocate of public radio.
"This kind of commentary is really outside the mainstream of American politics," Gibson said. "This is really about this individual's behavior, and I think it's inappropriate and doesn't appreciate the sacrifices of our servicemen and women, and their families, and it should be pointed out and called out."
"The matter is closed"
On Saturday, Oct. 4, after the WIOX office manager was fired, Shaw said that Gibson was satisfied with WIOX and WSKG's response to the incident.
"They've responded very well," she said. "They've reached out to Chris personally, and it's really clear that this isn't indicative of the station's feelings. From Chris' perspective, the matter is closed."