Response to the Pacifica Foundation's October 22 Statement on
Michael Ratner is an attorney with the public interest litigation organization, The Center for Constitutional Rights. He is also representing Amy Goodman in regard to the recent attacks by the Pacifica power structure.
From: michael ratner <firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Wednesday, November 01, 2000 3:37 PM
Subject: Ratner Response to Oct 22 Pacifica Posting re:
Law Office of Michael Ratner
124 Washington Place
New York, New York 10014
Response to the Pacifica Foundation's October 22 Statement on Democracy Now!
I am an attorney assisting Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman in her dispute with certain of her supervisors at the Pacifica Foundation. I was present during her October 16 AFTRA-sponsored conciliation meeting with senior Pacifica representatives. I was dismayed to see posted on the Pacifica Radio website a statement impugning the integrity and professional reputation of Amy
Goodman. I was surprised that a news organization would publicly claim that the host of its most important program had "distorted and mischaracterized" the nature of the current dispute. As her attorney, I feel compelled to set the record straight.
Amy Goodman Attempted To Settle These Matters by Discussion and Negotiation; Management Responded By Threatening Termination.
Contrary to the claim in the web site posting, Amy has tried to resolve matters through constructive dialogue. She has repeatedly advised senior management -- through proper channels -- about the issues at Democracy Now and has requested meetings in a bid to resolve the problems. So have National Magazine Editor Dan Coughlin and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez. But senior managers have been non-responsive. AFTRA, Amy's union, set up a conciliation meeting with senior Pacifica managers. Although Amy had prepared a union grievance detailing the harassment she had endured for almost two months, she was persuaded to hold off its filing pending this meeting. The meeting was for the purpose of opening a dialog with management; a meeting that AFTRA characterized as looking to the future and not at what had already occurred. Amy went to that meeting fully prepared to engage in constructive discussion. However, immediately after the meeting began, in fact the first act of management, was to hand across the table a memo to Amy setting forth a series of new work rules with a threat of termination for non-compliance. At that point AFTRA felt there was no point in going on with the meeting and ended it. Only then did Amy file her grievance and send a letter to the Executive Director and the Board.
Amy Goodman's October 18th Memo to The Executive Director and The Board Was Neither Leaked by Her Nor Posted On the Internet Prior To Its Receipt By Management and the Board.
Pacifica executives claim that it was necessary to publicly respond to Amy Goodman's allegations because the October 18th memo was "intentionally" made public and posted on the Internet "by an ally of Ms. Goodman...even before it was sent to those listed as intended recipients." Amy had nothing to do with making her memo public; she sent it only to the Executive Director and the Board. It is untrue to state that the memo appeared on the Internet prior to its receipt by the Executive Director or the Board. It could not have; it was only sent to them. Pacifica is using this false claim as an excuse for violating its claimed policy against discussing such issues publicly. Pacifica board members ought to be concerned about the precedent-setting nature of their public response and the implications it has for the network.
Amy Goodman Has Been Subjected to A Campaign of Harassment and Abuse.
In dealing with Amy, new National Program Director Steve Yasko shouts and uses abusive language; he routinely issues what he calls "orders" and "commands," and uses threats of discipline on a regular basis. The outbursts and threats have been witnessed by a number of by-standers. Democracy Now! staff, including National Magazine Editor Dan Coughlin, have repeatedly complained about the abusive conduct, which is an egregious violation of basic professional standards and Pacifica policy. It not only has had a deleterious affect on the Democracy Now! staff, it has created an intimidating, hostile and offensive work environment. But senior managers have been non-responsive to repeated calls for intervention. As noted journalist, author and Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez wrote in a letter to Steve Yasko recently, "I have never seen anything approaching the level of petty, destructive and unprofessional behavior that I saw exhibited toward the Democracy Now! staff."
The September 14th Meeting With Managers and the New Requirement that Amy Goodman Inform Management of Her Shows a Week in Advance Must Be Seen For What They Are: Attempts at Censorship of Democracy Now!.
Pacifica does not dispute the content of what occurred at the September 14th meeting of the Administrative Council. There, several senior Pacifica managers bitterly attacked Democracy Now! for its coverage of police brutality, Mumia Abu-Jamal, East Timor and Lori Berenson. Such criticisms by powerful individuals in Pacifica have a chilling effect on the unfettered programming that characterizes Democracy Now!. Pacifica officials have sought to interfere with the editorial process at Democracy Now! in other ways. Steve Yasko's first act as National Program Director, even before introducing himself, was to fire off a nasty e-mail to Amy castigating her personally (not the Democracy Now! production staff) for running speeches of Gore Vidal and Lani Guinier. He wrongly claimed that Amy had damaged relationships with "national and local production partners" by airing the tape and then threatened her with disciplinary action. Now, Steve Yasko is making the demand, never made in the four prior years of the program, that Amy determine the topics of at least three shows during the preceding a week. In the context of the criticisms directed at Democracy Now! and the numerous other new restrictions imposed which give management more control over the show, this advance notice requirement is a pretext for censorship.
Pacifica Has Changed The Terms Under Which Producers for Democracy Now! Are Chosen.
For more than four years Amy Goodman and Pacifica Management have collaborated and mutually agreed on the hiring of producers for the one hour program. However, recently, not only has a producer been forced on the program, but management claims that Amy's participation is no longer necessary. Permitting Amy Goodman to interview and comment upon proposed producers is not equivalent to the mutual agreement that has been the consistent past practice. This is no small matter. The producers are the heart of the program; it is they who must have knowledge of the various grassroots and activist movements in the U.S. and throughout the world. They must have this knowledge and a shared vision with Amy and the Democracy Now! staff; it is they who work closely together, book the guests and develop the format for Democracy Now!. Pacifica's hiring of producers with a different vision may well change the nature of Democracy Now!. This is censorship by another name.
AFTRA, which is Amy Goodman's Union, Has Not Objected to the Use of Volunteers On Democracy Now!, Nor Does Such Use Violate the AFTRA Contract.
In the memo handed to Amy Goodman at the October 16th AFTRA conciliation meeting, Amy Goodman was told that she could not use volunteers to assist with Democracy Now! Pacifica claims that such use violates the AFTRA contract. This is simply not true. Volunteers are permitted as long as they do not replace AFTRA jobs and AFTRA workers. For 51 years volunteers have been a Pacifica tradition and have not been a contract issue. What is really going on is that management does not choose the volunteers and therefore cannot dictate their politics. Prohibiting volunteers and dispensing with Amy Goodman's participation in the hiring of producers allows management more control over the content of Democracy Now!.
Neither Amy Goodman nor Democracy Now! Provided Ralph Nader With A Floor Pass to the Republican Convention; This Was Merely a Pretext, and a False One, For Denying Democracy Now! Credentials to the Democratic Convention.
Ralph Nader did go to convention floor at the Republican Convention, but this was not facilitated by the use of press credentials of either Amy Goodman or Democracy Now! employees. Ralph Nader entered the convention at the invitation of MSNBC. Democracy Now! arranged an interview with him in the hallways of the convention. He was soon surrounded by numerous journalists and he walked onto the floor without the necessary floor pass and without being stopped by security. Pacifica knows this, but continues to repeat a story that does not comport with the facts. However, even though the story was untrue Pacifica used it to forbid Democracy Now! staff from receiving press credentials to the Democratic Convention. Again, the story regarding the claimed misuse of the press pass was a pretext to keep Democracy Now! out of the Democratic Convention.
The October 16th Memo to Amy Goodman Was Not Limited to Obtaining Approval Only For pacifica Related Speaking Activities During Work Time; It Required Approval of All Speaking Engagements Without Limitation.
Management's reply to Amy Goodman states that the October 16th memo only required her to obtain approval for Pacifica related speaking activities during work time. This is simply false. That memo says: "you are not to accept any speaking engagements without first informing the Foundation and obtaining approval." It does not contain any limitation and would require Amy to obtain approval for all speaking engagements, Pacifica related or not, and at all times and places. If Pacifica is now limiting what they wrote to Amy in the October 16th memo, then they ought to say so officially and say so to Amy. Even were the requirement of approval of speeches modified, this should be seen for what it is; it is not about workload and insuring efficient operations at Pacifica. Amy had been doing a very fine job in producing Pacifica's most listened to program for the last five years. Like the other restrictions suddenly invoked against Amy Goodman, it is about censorship and getting prior approval over what -- and to whom --she will be speaking.
Pacifica Has Treated Democracy Now! And Amy Goodman Different Than Other National Programming Staff.
Contrary to the claims in Pacifica's web site posting, the fact is that Amy has been singled out for special treatment. I certainly hope that other employees have not been subject to the harassment, the yelling and screaming, that has been directed at Amy. I doubt that the head of Pacifica Network News must inform management of the topics to be covered the week before the news is broadcast. And I doubt that those employees must get all of their speaking engagements approved whether on Pacifica time or not. In fact, the demand that Amy clear all speaking engagements with Pacifica in advance is a blatant violation of Pacifica policy and practice. The Pacifica Employee Handbook specifically permits employees to speak publicly without prior approval. And Pacifica has consistently permitted employees to attend public events. To be sure, the Handbook encourages employees to, "of course publicly express whatever opinion they wish as long as it is clear (especially if the employee is well known) that the opinion is separate and distinct from Pacifica." Simply put, this arbitrary rule is another crude attempt at censoring.
The Board Must Take Immediate Action To Remedy The Situation.
I have responded to the Pacifica statement more or less point by point, but it must be emphasized that the various new strictures placed on Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!, the harassment, and the criticisms of the program by management lead me to believe that Pacifica wants to make it impossible for Amy to continue as host. Contrary to assertions by Pacifica these new requirements are not only personnel matters; they are a strong indication that management wants the direction of Democracy Now! changed. The Board needs to and must take immediate action. If it is truly interested in supporting Amy and Democracy Now! it must remove Pacifica's public attack on Amy from its web site-and remove it immediately! It must insure that Amy's working conditions and those of the Democracy Now! staff will allow Democracy Now! to continue to flourish.