Radio reporter fired over comedy act reinstated after an arbitrator finds his jokes ‘funny’

Jan 5, 2024, 4:49 PM

A reporter who was fired for his standup comedy has been reinstated to his job at a Philadelphia-based public radio station through an arbitrator, who agreed that his jokes were, in some part, funny.

Jad Sleiman, 34, is to be fully reinstated to his position with WHYY, a Philadelphia-based NPR station, after an arbitrator determined that, while the bits posted to social media could be interpreted as “inflammatory,” the organization “rushed to judgment” in its decision to terminate him.

In a phone call Friday, Sleiman said he felt vindicated by the decision and plans to return to work.

“When a news organization says you’re a racist, bigot, whatever, people believe them,” he said. “So it was a lot of abuse from a lot of people who have never met me, who’ve never seen my stand-up just saw what WHYY said about me, which is not great.”

A message seeking comment emailed to WHYY was not immediately returned. Sleiman said he was considering further legal action for statements made by WHYY about his character.

Sleiman had been working as a reporter on The Pulse, a nationally syndicated health and science program, since 2018 when he was terminated a year ago after executives found his social media account — under Jad S. or @jadslay — that posted clips of his standup comedy.

Officials at WHYY argued that his standup comedy violated the company’s code of conduct, social media guidelines and values of social responsibility, finding his routine to be “inflammatory.” They submitted nine videos from social media as their evidence. They argued the clips were “‘egregious’ in content, and had ‘sexual connotations, racial connotations, and misogynistic information,’ ” according to the arbitration documents.

Sleiman, who has worked as a reporter in the United States and abroad since 2013 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, argued in arbitration his stand-up routines stem from his experiences as an Arab American raised in a Muslim family, and his time in military service and reporting in the Middle East.

He was frustrated that, when he was first fired, people thought it was an obvious conclusion for telling jokes while having a day job.

“Like, ‘What do you mean? You’re off hours, you’re having fun with, like, creative expression, of course you should get fired for that,’ ” he said. “But I hate that that’s become normal. And I want to be an example of like, no, your employer doesn’t own you.”

While arbitrator Lawrence S. Coburn conceded some or portions of the videos could be seen as inflammatory — “the very low standard in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that I am required to apply,” he wrote — he also found them to be sometimes “simply funny.”

In one, Coburn noted that some of the commentary was “insightful, principled and serious, but not very funny.”

“More important, I find that the message of the clip, if one is open to receiving it, cannot be interpreted to be inflammatory,” he continued.

For another, Coburn said “it is difficult to believe that a fair-minded person would find the clip inflammatory.”

“But the bar is very low, and WHYY’s 1.3 million person audience might have a few people who would find the clip inflammatory,” he added.

As part of the decision, Sleiman was to delete the nine videos cited. He was also asked to delete any “offensive post-discharge” posts where he disparaged the company for his firing. (Coburn found that, “under the circumstances, such ‘foolishness’ does not disqualify him from reinstatement.”)

Sleiman first turned to comedy in 2021, after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic illness that affects the central nervous system. One of his biggest fears, he said, was losing fine motor function and, with it, his ability to play the guitar and piano. But stand-up was a safe spot: There’s a stool if he needs to sit down, a mic stand if he can’t hold the microphone.

“These execs, they have no right to take that from me,” he said. “So I’m going to fight. I want both. I’m going to be a reporter and a comic, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that.”

The arbitrator’s decision was issued Dec. 28.

United States News

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump hugs and kisses the American flag a...

Associated Press

Trump calls himself a ‘proud political dissident’ in CPAC speech

In a CPAC speech, Trump painted an apocalyptic vision of the future if President Joe Biden wins again as the two prepare for a rematch.

1 hour ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures to the audience after spea...

Associated Press

Donald Trump wins South Carolina GOP primary, beating Nikki Haley in her home state

Trump has now swept every contest that counted for Republican delegates, with wins already in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Why AP called South Carolina for Trump: Race call explained

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press declared Donald Trump the winner of the South Carolina primary as soon as polls closed on Saturday. The race call was based on a comprehensive survey of South Carolina Republican primary voters that showed him defeating Nikki Haley by wide margins in her home state. Declaring a winner as […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Former NFL player Richard Sherman arrested on suspicion of DUI, authorities in Washington state say

SEATTLE (AP) — Former NFL player Richard Sherman was arrested early Saturday on suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the Washington State Patrol. No other details about the arrest were immediately available, said Trooper Rick Johnson, a patrol spokesperson. A spokesperson for the King County Prosecutor’s Office said nothing had been sent to […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Lithium ion battery caused fatal fire in New York City apartment building, officials say

NEW YORK (AP) — A lithium ion battery sparked a fire that killed one person and injured 17 others at a New York City apartment building, fire officials said Saturday. Friday’s two-alarm fire began just after 2 p.m. on the third floor of a six-story building in Harlem. New York Police Department video shows firefighters […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Federal prosecutors accuse a New Mexico woman of fraud in oil and gas royalty case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico businesswoman is accused of defrauding the U.S. government and two Native American tribes of taxes and royalties due to them for oil and gas that her companies extracted from leased federal and tribal lands. Federal prosecutors announced this week that Teresa McCown recently was indicted by a grand […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Radio reporter fired over comedy act reinstated after an arbitrator finds his jokes ‘funny’