November 1, 2000
CENSORSHIP AS A PACIFICA MANAGEMENT TOOL
By Edward S. Herman
Studying the recent history of Pacifica over the past several weeks, I have been once again impressed with how important a role censorship has played in the tactics and apparent strategy of the Pacifica management. Censorship by the use of gag rules has been used for years now to quiet
dissent from management policies--but while it has reduced discussion of Pacifica policies on the air, it has certainly not quelled dissent; on the contrary, it has intensified protest by angering both people who oppose management policies and want them discussed openly as well as those who
oppose censorship on principle.
But this failure to quell dissent has been serviceable to the deeper management strategy of weeding out leftists and those unduly wedded to principles like freedom of expression. Such individuals will tend to violate the gag rules or sign petitions and speak out against them, and this
can then be used as the basis of firing people--this has been done to dozens of Pacifica workers. Most recently, George Reiter, a professor of physics at the University of Houston, producer of the new program, Thresholds, on Houston's station KPFT, was ousted for participating in a protest supporting Democracy Now! KPFT station chief Garland Ganter, who did the firing, is a favorite of the Pacifica management, who rushed him up to KPFA to handle matters during the KPFA lockout.
It is amazing that this structured violation of principles of freedom of expression has not unduly upset the ACLU or editors of The Nation magazine, and was not viewed as justifying any "management bashing" by the signers of Saul Landau's letter of last year. This despite the fact that, in addition to violating free speech rights, the censorship system was being used systematically to get rid of quality people. Of course it was being done nominally because these folks were violating management orders and rules established for everyone equally. So they were merely "personnel"
decisions. But how this could fool anyone who didn't want to be fooled escapes me.
The ability to rationalize censorship is also striking--the spirit of the commissar is widespread among those with a bit of power. When PNN News Director Dan Coughlin ran a 20-second report on a boycott of Pacifica by 16 affiliated stations protesting censorhip, he was denounced by Marc
Cooper: "What the hell was this doing on a news broadcast?" And Cooper also expressed discomfort at some of the "global conflict reporting by Jeremy Scahill" (who worked for Amy
Goodman). Three days after this outburst and Cooper's complaint to the Pacifica management, Dan Coughlin was deposed (and without a hearing). (See Ed Pearl, "Cloak and Dagger! Out of the Mouth of Marc Cooper," Los Angeles Free Press, February 19, 2000). And just a few days ago, Cliff Tasner, a member of the board of the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, was called on the phone by Cooper after he had participated in a rally and protest for Goodman and Democracy Now!, and was told, after considerable vituperation, "Don't expect us to broadcast anything you do."
Several days later Tasner found that he had indeed been barred from access to the station. As chair of the ADA's campaign finance reform committee and a spokesperson for ADA on a phony campaign finance reform measure on the California ballot, he had been planning a presentation on that proposition on KPFK's morning show. While discussing the arrangements with the show's producer, however, he was told that he could not expect them to put him on after his involvement in the protest. In the event, another speaker was found to discuss the measure. In an e-mail exchange with Marc Cooper, Cooper had explained to Tasner that the first rule of politics is that you reward your friends and punish your enemies, adding further that actions have consequences and that Tasner should be aware of that when he makes his choices. In short, the gag rule and censorship extends beyond Pacifica personnel to anybody who crosses the local Pacifica commissars.
In the "new Pacifica" tradition, Amy Goodman is being set up for ouster as a "personnel" decision based on her failure to follow orders. But the censorship element is overwhelmingly strong. Cooper didn't like that "global conflict reporting" by Scahill--but read Amy Goodman for Scahill--Mary Frances Berry referred to her in public as "troublesome," and the Censorship Management clearly wants to drive her out or fire her for reasons of hostility to her content. But they can't admit that--the censorship has to be transformed into her being troublesome and failing to obey supposedly reasonable orders by her boss Steve Yasko.
One of the most amusing rationalizations for her harassment and censorship can be read in KPFK station manager MarkSchubb's recent letter to Saul Landau answering Amy Goodman's grievance list (and my article on "Endgame at Pacifica?"). Schubb was one of the management enforcers at
the September 14 meeting with Goodman in Washington, where she was told to shape up on content as well as style. In his letter to Landau, Schubb pretends that when he and Yasko were telling Amy to cool it on some of her favorite issues like Lori Berenson and East Timor, this was just friendly advice among colleagues trying to be helpful and collegial! This is staggering misrepresentation. Yasko had shown intense hostility to Goodman, encroaching on her autonomy as a programmer, threatening her and shouting at her that she must recognize who is boss.
Schubb also has long been highly critical of Goodman, and it is likely that he continues to run Democracy Now! on KPFK, not because of any appreciation of its quality, but rather because of its high ratings. So the meeting of September 14 was coercive, threatening, tense, and in no sense whatever collegial. It therefore constituted a clear further case of attempted censorship, although it was probably recognized that Amy could only be effectively censored by termination or driving her out by harassment and the imposition of onerous work conditions. Schubb was one of the prime censors at that meeting, as he has been for years as manager of KPFK. (For example, he ousted award-winning reporter Robin Urevich from the station in response to her August 1999 article on internal issues at KPFK, published in a local activist newspaper).
The coercive and censoring meeting of September 14 was followed one month later by another call to a meeting that, instead of being the expected one of discussion looking toward compromise, was arranged by the management only to serve Amy Goodman with a harsh letter of instructions and
threat of termination. The commissars in Washington and at the Washington-allied stations are on the attack. Defending Pacifica, and recovering it from the censors, will depend on the effective organization and mobilization of the resources of the progressive community that created and supported Pacifica for the past fifty years.