GPB fires staffer for violating ethics with ‘Fuck Cobb County’ tee

When it comes to questionable ethics, Georgia Public Broadcasting is no stranger to criticism. But the station acted on its own principles one week ago, by escorting an employee out the door


  • joeff davis
  • HOME OF THE BRAVE: One week before he was fired from GPB, Clay Bolton of ATL Tees sported the shirt that cost him his job.

When it comes to questionable ethics, Georgia Public Broadcasting is no stranger to criticism. On the heels of last year’s Chip Rogers’ scandal at GPB Radio, the state network’s privately negotiated appropriation of Georgia State University’s WRAS-FM signal, which went into effect two days ago, has caused many to question the organization’s integrity.

But the station acted on its own principles one week ago, by escorting an employee out the door.

Last Tuesday, GPB fired behind-the-scenes radio producer Clay Bolton for “impacting the professional integrity and credibility” of the organization, he said. Bolton’s dismissal followed the online publication of the Creative Loafing story “Atlanta nostalgia: It’s the new style.” In the story about the growing local trend of T-shirts designed to signify love for a fading Atlanta, Bolton talked about creating his “Fuck Cobb County” tee four months ago in reaction to the Atlanta Braves’ decision to move the major league team outside the city limits to a future Cobb County stadium.

Apparently, Bolton’s form of off-duty expression didn’t sit well with GPB’s higher-ups. Although the story did not mention Bolton’s place of employment, he was fired hours after the story went live online.

“I told my colleagues I got Chip Roger’d,” Bolton said in our follow-up interview. Of course, he was jokingly referring to the former Republican state senator whose January 2013 hiring as executive producer/host of GPB’s economic development-focused radio show, “Georgia Works,” was overshadowed by Rogers’ controversial $150,000 salary. Rogers was fired in April 2014. Yet it did little to quell speculation of political cronyism, or the growing concern that GPB Radio is being used by state conservatives to propagate their gospel. Contrary to NPR’s left-leaning reputation, GPB’s statewide network of 20 NPR-member stations seems to be a red-state anomaly.

It makes Bolton’s former employment there all the more ironic. Beyond critiquing the Braves’ intended move, his Fuck Cobb County shirt symbolizes the ideological tension that often distinguishes the city from the suburbs, and Atlanta from the rest of the state. Bolton, who worked at GPB radio for two years, produced the local news breaks for nationally syndicated NPR shows “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” Apparently his job was in good standing. He’d received a promotion the day before being fired for violating GPB’s code of ethics, he said. Though GPB refused to comment on personnel matters, a spokesperson contacted by Creative Loafing said GPB “wishes him the best.”

In the following Q&A, Bolton shares his interpretation of what happened and his hope that the firing can be a boon to he and his business partner Bill Pratt’s new line of ATL Tees.

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Before we start, I was really sorry to hear you lost your job.

Well, not that I wanted to lose the job, but this just gives me the chance to do things that are more in my creative wheelhouse. But it was a shock.

Can you walk me through what happened?

I’d interviewed for this position that would’ve been a promotion, and they’d offered me the position last Monday. They’d told me HR is going to contact you about that position. Then the article comes out on Tuesday morning and I get fired on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. HR calls my phone and says, “Come upstairs.” I walk into the office and they have a copy of the Creative Loafing online article printed out. They handed it to me and said, “Do you know what this is?” And I said, yes. And they said, “Well, based on that we have decided to terminate you, effective immediately.” I was told by HR that I had violated policies related to political activities and the code of ethics.

Did they give you any more specific reasons for your firing other than saying you “violated policies related to political activities and ethics?” Did they specifically say what about the article presented a problem?

They really didn’t. They just said reading from statement: “The recent actions discussed with you today have impacted the professional integrity and credibility that this organization expects of all its employees in the field of radio and television journalism to comply with. In addition, this organization does not tolerate conduct from any employee that may impact, threaten or coerce another employee, a customer, or a member of the public at any time including off-duty hours.”

How do you interpret that? What exactly do you think GPB had an issue with?

I mean, I think that the word “fuck” was a huge problem. If the shirt said something like, “Keep the Braves in Atlanta”, or even “Notlanta Braves,” or “the Burbs” or any other thing, I think it would’ve been OK. But the clearness and conciseness of “Fuck Cobb County” probably did not sit well with the higher-ups.

There’s the perception that GPB is a very political organization, or that it’s increasingly being used as a political football within the state. Being there for two years, what kind of impression did you have of the way it’s operated - because, again, you think of Public Broadcasting, and NPR-affiliated stations, as a publicly funded organization of free ideas and progressive journalism, but you don’t really get that with GPB from some of the behind-the-scenes activity that takes place.

I mean, I will once again say I don’t really want to talk about that.

Well I have to ask, should we expect a “Fuck GPB” shirt any time, soon?

You and my dad are on the same page. That was his text back to me laughs. I probably will not make a “Fuck GPB” shirt, but there may be one in my closet.

What are your plans going forward with the ATL Tees line?

I’m definitely going to be pursuing other stuff. The shirt has just connected me to the community. I’ve met so many great people who have bought the shirt who are doing creative things. So this is really a great opportunity for me to use those connections and find something that is more creatively fulfilling. But even with all of this kind of drama, I’m extremely proud of the Fuck Cobb County shirt that Bill and I created. And business is booming, so it’s a great time to see how much we can grow ATL Tees. Because we have ideas, and the article has been a great driver of traffic to the website. And I think that whether it’s a full-time gig or a great side project, the future will tell us. Right now we’re putting a lot of effort into it. We are working to make ATL Tees as pro-Atlanta as we can.


  • Joeff Davis
  • ATLANTA NOSTALGIA: Bolton and biz partner Bill Pratt started a line of themed tees after giving birth to the FCC shirt in March.

Where can people expect to find you on the weekends? You’ve mentioned hanging out at bars and certain neighborhoods with the shirts.

We’re going to be doing pop-ups. East Atlanta has been very good to us. Edgewood hasn’t been as good of a place just to walk around and sell shirts. Clermont Lounge is a big supporter, so we might even set up outside of there if the owner’s cool with that. I would say, just along Ponce de Leon: El Bar, Bookhouse, those kind of spots. Just watch the Twitter feed and Instagram and we’ll definitely post where we’re going to be with a bunch of shirts.

Anything else you want to add?

Well I would like to say that I wish GPB all the best and enjoyed working with all my radio colleagues. I had so many great relationships there that even though this happened, I still enjoyed my time with the people that worked there.

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