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Even so, Graham talked about the KWMU position with his boss, with whom he had an open relationship. "He just started laughing," Graham says. "He said, "Boy, you're asking for a load of trouble.' He said, "Look, I'm not going to get in your way if you want to go back home and get into a bigger market, but do yourself a favor and call some people who worked there before.'"
But Graham was too excited about the position to make any calls. He got the job, returned to St. Louis and started work at KWMU in 1994. Soon after, he ran into another former KWMU program director at an industry event. "What a bitter, bitter guy," Graham says. "He was telling me, "Look, it (KWMU) was awful, it was awful.' And I thought, well, I've worked for bad bosses before, and you just go in, you do your job, you deal with whatever crap is thrown at you, you act like a mature adult and you just get it done. And the benefits really seemed to outweigh any problems."
That balance soon shifted. "It was chaotic; it was screaming, yelling," Graham says of Bennett's day-to-day management. "You would be briefing her on something .... and she'd see demons in every corner. It was like you never knew what to expect from her every time you went into an office with her."
His tense relationship with Bennett began to affect the quality of his work, Graham says. "I was becoming a different person. Instead of having ideas and taking initiative, I was thinking, "Well, better not.' And that's not the way to be a good reporter."
Part of the appeal of the new job was being able to work again with Emmons, his former boss. But Emmons had started to look for another job in large part because of Bennett. "There was a lot of what I didn't necessarily consider then but looking back on it, would consider now verbal situations that were bordering on verbal abuse, very undiplomatic ways of handling conflict," Emmons says. "A lot of times, professional disagreement would be handled publicly in front of other staff, and that was something that, as both a subject of and witness to, I was not terribly comfortable with."
He sent out his first application for another job well within a year. He quit in June 1995 and took a position as general manager of Northern Public Radio's five Illinois stations.
A year later, in 1996, Matthew Algeo was in Ireland and freelancing for NPR. He was also on the dole (he has Irish citizenship) and running out of money. Ireland was a great experiment in his life, he says, but by all normal measures, it was a failure. "There I was, 30, alone, on welfare, in a foreign country," Algeo remembers. "At that time, KWMU seemed like a reasonable alternative."
He joined KWMU as a reporter in December 1996. The "reasonable alternative" soon didn't seem so reasonable. He found Bennett's behavior "irrational, threatening and often bizarre." As time went on, he began waking up with butterflies in his stomach and hating the drive to work each day. "She would scream," Algeo remembers. "She would get into arguments with people, and you could hear them screaming."
The atmosphere was exacerbated by Bennett's sexual banter, which former employees say was primarily aimed at men. Algeo kept a list of incidents in which he was the target. "I came back from a trip one weekend; she asked me if I had gotten laid," he says. "The next year I did a story on the cockfighting referendum, and henceforth I was the expert on cocks." And after he attended a press conference involving MasterCard, masturbation jokes flew.
Graham remembers similar incidents, including one in which he and Bennett were looking at photos of the news staff. "She said, "Lester, what's that stain on your crotch?' And I thought, "What? There's nothing in the photo,'" says Graham. "And she just thought it was fun-loving, but really, it was just really inappropriate sexual banter that nobody appreciated.... Staff-wide, in the whole place, Patty made it clear that none of that was going to happen except when she wanted to do it."
The jabs occasionally extended to women. A former KWMU sales executive, who declines to be named, says that Bennett started a rumor that she (the sales exec) wasn't wearing underwear. "She saw me in the hallway, talking.... and I didn't have any panty lines. So she went into Lester's office and went on about how I wasn't wearing any underwear, and how that was inappropriate, and what did Lester think of me."
Graham remembers the incident. "I said, "I didn't notice.' I did not want to get involved."
Bennett sent the sales executive home several times for wearing "unprofessional" dress. But the sales executive says she was sent home for other reasons. "She didn't like any women who were assertive. Attractive was even worse."
Moreover, the sales executive worried about Bennett offending clients. She remembers three times she had to save advertising accounts because Bennett had offended a client severely, she says. "She made a dumb-blonde-joke comment to a client it was something about her chest, about blond women, (how) the air that comes out of their heads goes into their chests. I mean, it was incredibly inappropriate. And (the client) almost pulled their entire account, and it was one of the largest that the station had at that time."