by Paul Rauber
Pacifica's Big Guns
The fractious dispute between Berkeley's KPFA radio and its parent organization, the Pacifica Foundation, took an amazing turn last week when the United States Justice Department inserted itself into the affair -- with the impetus possibly coming from Attorney General Janet Reno herself.
On Monday, June 21, demonstrators once again thronged in front of KPFA and the adjacent Pacifica offices on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Berkeley, following the ouster the day before of 22-year veteran volunteer programmer Robbie Osman. Protesters blocked the door to KPFA, barring the entrance of Pacifica executive director Lynn Chadwick (who precipitated the whole mess in late March when she laid off, without explanation, popular KPFA general manager Nicole Sawaya). Chadwick, peeved at the Berkeley Police Department's unwillingness to arrest the nonviolent demonstrators, forced its hand by conducting citizen's arrests of her critics. In the end, fourteen protesters were arrested.
Two days later, Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler received a phone call from Joe Brann, director of the Justice Department's COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program, inquiring as to why the Berkeley police were so slow in arresting the demonstrators. Butler later described the conversation as friendly; Brann, the former police chief of Hayward, is an old friend. On the other hand, Brann does have his hand on the purse strings of substantial amounts of federal funding, and it would take a particularly dim police chief to miss that point.
That evening, KPFA News Director Ailenn Alfandary reported that Brann's interest in KPFA affairs may have been piqued by none other than Attorney General Janet Reno. Alfandary says that she was told by a "very reliable source" that Pacifica Board chair Mary Frances Berry (also chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights) was so angry about Monday's demonstration that she called Reno to complain, and that Reno told Brann to check it out. Alfandary got the same story from Butler, who told her that Brann had mentioned Reno. At one point on Wednesday, even Justice Department spokesperson Dan Pfeiffer admitted as much, although he subsequently retracted that account. Pfeiffer now says that Berry, the former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, had in fact spoken to Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher, who in turn talked to Brann. Pfeiffer is very anxious to emphasize the supposedly informal nature of the whole chain of communication ("Two conversations among two separate sets of acquaintances somehow blossomed into something newsworthy") and the friendly nature of the call from Brann to Butler ("He was calling wearing his friend-of-Dash-Butler hat, not his head-of-COPS-office hat"). As well he might, for if Berry did attempt to use her high connections at Justice to put pressure on the Berkeley Police Department, it would be a clear abuse of authority on the parts of all involved.
On June 4, we reported that Marie Acosta-Colon, the former director of the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, had been hired as a fund-raiser by the Pacifica Foundation. In the course of that item, we incorrectly reported that Acosta-Colon and her departure from the Mexican Museum were linked to the museum's "last-minute attempt to fire the staff, break the union, and temporarily shutter the museum." In addition, the item's reference to the poor state of finances at the Mexican Museum at the time of Acosta-Colon's departure was not intended to refer in any way to charges of misuse of funds on her part. An independent audit had cleared Acosta-Colon of those charges. We sincerely regret any confusion, and apologize for the error.
A particularly ugly development in the Pacifica/KPFA dispute has been Pacifica's recent attempt to frame the issue in racial terms. Pacifica spokesperson Elan Fabbri, for example, explained the protest to the Tribune by saying that "People are afraid of change, even if it's change for the good. We're trying to encourae listeners of color and younger listeners, and again, that leads to more change." And after its meeting this weekend in Washington, DC, the Pacifica National Board stated that it "abhors the climate of violence, hate, racism and misinformation that has evolved" in the conflict.
On May 21, thirteen African-American programmers at KPFA sent Mary Frances Berry a letter, stating that they "will not be complicit in any Pacifica-driven purge of KPFA staffers under the guise of 'diversity'" and urging her to come to Berkeley to try to resolve the situation. No answer yet.
More Firepower, Less Speech
There is one constant in Pacifica's strategy thus far: every time it feels the heat, it adds more armed security guards to the pacifist radio station's premises. The first armed security guard appeared the day before the (fabulously successful) May fund drive. After last week's demonstration, a second armed guard was added. Then on Tuesday, a delegation including City Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, attorney Osha Neumann, Father Bill O'Donnell, and others barged into Chadwick's office seeking an audience. The result is that there are now five plainclothes security guards in and about the station.
The security guards have apparently received instructions not to allow more than one guest per programmer into the building. Thus, when young African-American vocalist Joey Blake showed up Sunday morning as the second member of the a capella group SoVoSo' for a live broadcast on Mary Berg's show, he was denied entry. Perhaps the US Commission on Civil Rights will take up his case?
(c) 1999, The Express
(At the bottom of the column is this: "Don't keep it to yourself: write Sticks and Stones at firstname.lastname@example.org")