The Scoop on KPFK from Marcos Frommer

This is an extremely interesting revelation from this source because Marcos Frommer was an early supporter of Schubb who pressed for his appointment to management. Frommer also assisted Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott in purging KPFK's pre-1995 management.  -- ed

Sent:   Monday, October 18, 1999 4:32 PM
Subject:        the scoop on KPFK from Marcos Frommer
Date:  Wed, 13 Oct 1999 23:37:33 -0800
From:  Marcos Frommer <
Subject:       kpfk.

  Dear Friends,

Thanks for your email and kind wishes. Sorry it took so long to write back I had about 400 messages to return, but I did manage to read them all.

thank you.

Many of your emails wanted more information about the reasons I left, my thoughts on the Pacifica crisis, and what’s going on at KPFK. Hopefully this will answer some of those concerns. *********WARNING!********** This
letter is for those of you who wanted details. While many of you requested this post mortem, I realize that there are many others who do not share the same interest in the bizarre politics of KPFK and Pacifica, and I don’t want to burden you with them. If the forensics of kpfk are not for you, PLEASE READ NO FURTHER and accept my apology for sending this to you . I totally respect your decision to DELETE. Frankly, for me, it’s all in the past tense anyway. My comments will cover two separate but related issues: what’s happening at Pacifica, and what is happening at KPFK. Keep in mind: I do not pretend to bring you the full story here; this is only synoptic. First, before going on, it’s important to emphasize that I was not forced out. I made a conscious choice to leave based on a number of reasons, both personal and political. But primarily among them was the fact that ten years at an instituion such as KPFK is enough. I never expected to be in one place ten years, and I really like the idea of change. Secondarily, I had serious disagreements with how the general manager and program director manage - some would say mismanage - the station. I do not believe their management style reflects well on the mission we purport to serve. But again, this was only secondary in my decision process. It’s important to understand one thing about Pacifica: it has always been in crisis since the day it was born. That’s because many bright and very opinionated people have walked through its doors and tried to mold it into what they believe to be the proper execution of political will. There is little to no money involved, staff are generally
overworked, and all you have is your opinion. That immediately causes problems. Furthermore, Pacifica’s governance structure is reminiscent of the Soviet politburo: self perpetuating bodies feeding on self-perpetuating bodies. Democracy never was really a part of the plan. And finally, let’s recall that Pacifica’s founder, Lew Hill, committed suicide. Talk about crisis! There have been many battles at KPFK and Pacifica during the last ten years, and many, many more before that. They seem to come in cycles, somewhat like el nino or the plague. They usually involve: 1) protests against undemocratic decision making; 2) charges of racism; and 3) charges of selling out. Usually, at the core of these, you will find: 1) huge egos and poorly formed personalities; 2) lack of vision and political strategy; and 3) complete incompetence. Unfortunately, many
people who claim to be progressive, liberal, left, etc., are as intolerant, corrupt, and unethical as those of any other political stripe. The current “crisis” at Pacifica is mostly due to “core issues” #2 and #3: lack of political strategy and complete incompetence. Lynn Chadwick, Pacifica’s executive director, acted with unrestrained arrogance in her decisions regarding KPFA. Since she doesn’t seem to have the sense to gracefully resign, she needs to be fired. Her incredible miscalculation about the reaction of KPFA listeners indicates that she does not have the judgement, intelligence, or insight to run Pacifica or any other politically charged organization. Mary Frances Berry, on the other hand, is not an enchilada shy of combo plate as is her executive director. She
is a smart person, a professional civil rights activist, and well respected in certain circles. Unfortunately, her incredible hubris has led her into the morass. She also greatly miscalculted the situation. And now she finds herslef in a no-win situation: either leave and admit defeat, or stay and prolong the crisis. Her standing among her peers is at stake. And given her professional involvement in the civil rights struggle, she does not want this to be a blemish on her otherwise “spotless” record. Hopefully, she’ll realize that the longer she stays the worse that blemish will get until that’s all she is remembered for. That would be unfortunate for her, and for Pacifica. Clearly, she needs to depart with all due haste. Adding to the crisis is the crazy fringe of people who make up a
small but vocal portion of the anti-Pacifica crowd. Ironically, they are a mirror image of Lynn Chadwick. Although the majority of protesters are reasonable people making some pretty basic demands, there is an element to
the anti-Pacifica groups that is arrogant, intolerant, and worst of all, misinformed. They react to every bit of unsubstantiated website gossip as if it were the golden shining truth. They have spread huge amounts of
disinformation, made grossly exaggerated claims, and offered illogical and blatanly offensive analyses of the situation. Comparing Pacifica leaders to Nazis, claiming to stand for democracy when their own groups are not,
and believing any change at all is some conspiracy by the CIA and NPR have left them with almost zero credibility. People who truly want Pacifica to be a responsive, progressive network will not only have to work to get rid of the current management, but they will also have to work to illiminate or at least subdue the rabid vocal fringe. What Pacifica and its stations really need - more than hyper-active democracy - is 1) proper oversight;
2) accountability; 3) consistency in policies; and 4) the ability of management to accept and welcome constructive criticism. Although many on the rabid fringe have confused “professionalism” with “selling out,”
Pacifica is not exempt from the principles that govern all well-run organizations, non-profit and profit alike. These elements must be in place for a station to function, to retain bright people, to attract quality volunteers, and most importantly, to live up to its mission statement. Otherwise, you end up with a totalitarian style of management, total chaos, or both! And that is not a happy prospect for a radio network that is facing some of the most serious challenges of its fifty-year existence. FM radio will soon be phased out - is pacifica ready for the digital era? Internet and satellite radio are taking off - is pacifica up for the challenge? To keep up will take lots of money, demand detailed planning, and need sharp people to implement change. All of this is in
addition to making sure that what comes out the radio is still solid, mission-driven programming. Which brings us to KPFK. There are many people working at KPFK who I respect and admire. Most of them never get the true recognition they deserve. We’ve been through some rough times over the last decade - the recession of ‘91 combined with bad management led to mass layoffs. We made it through some spirit-draining lackluster
fundrives, and eventually fought our way back to economic health. Oddly though, the more recent years of economic prosperity have been some of the most combative. Much of it has to do with the management style of the current general manager, Mark Schubb, whose rather unique mix of nixonian paranoia, frequent retaliation, and campaigns of intimidation has left the staff divided and has caused the departure of some of the best staff
members and volunteers. I’ve never met anyone quite as bright and socially inept at once, kind of a  management idiot-savant, able to deal with complex technical and administrative issues, completely incapable of dealing with human beings. While many of the things Schubb has done have benefitted the station, he has also deeply alienated many good people who have come through the doors of K. It is not an exaggeration to say that Mark is deeply paranoid - he really believes that people are out to get him! He is unwilling and unable to accept any criticism, and if such criticism is brought up in a meeting, it usually ends with him screaming,
shouting, and exiting the room. He is openly disdainful and scornful of listeners who would be so bold as to complain about any aspect of the station. And he has come down especially hard on those who have voiced
concern about the direction of the station. Schubb has banned volunteers from the station who have written criticial pieces about kpfk in the press, and he has attempted to silence those who have raised concerns
about unethical management practices. There is absolutely no room for disagreement at the station. It all adds up to The Mark Schubb School of Management. Just to give a few examples of what has transpired as a result
of the Mark Schubb School of Management over the last few years (just a sampler): Schubb brings in a well-known union-busting management consulting firm to negotiate a contract with the union; when criticism
pours in from alternative media outlets, he claims ignorance. Schubb’s scream-n-exit negotiating style leads to a three year impasse in union negotiatons; a near strike by the union brings frustrated former Pacifica exec. director Pat Scott to the station who kicks Mark off the negotiating committee and signs a contract within two days. ·

Schubb fires a union member whom the program director can’t get along with (there are many people program director Kathy Lo can’t seem to get along with) and then tries to claim that she’s not a union member (and thus not subject to progressive discipline); on legally shaky ground, he decides instead of firing her to make her life so miserable that she’s forced to resign; he tells me in a “confidential” meeting “it doesn’t
matter how she performs: I’m going to fire her anyway.” ·

As a result of this incident, the union sends a letter to Schubb complaining about his harassment of union members; his response is an intimidation campaign in which he claims that he’s just “investigating harassment;” he is forced to quit his intimidation tactics in order to avoid a national labor relations board complaint by the union, and promises to write a letter acknowledging that federal law protects “concerted union activity”;the letter is still not written. · Although Schubb has frequently accused the union of violating the union contract, he himself violates the contract with regularity. Mark has run “spin” campaigns in which he “confidentially” tells staff members about restricted personnel matters in order to win people over to his agenda - sharing confidential personnel information is a violation of the contract and federal law; he has also attempted to dilute union membership by placing non-union workers in union positions, a move he justifies by claiming they are “confidential” employees. ·       Although no apprenticeship training program has been run at the station in the last five years, Schubb continues to accept money from its State sponsor, the California Arts Council; no accounting has been made for the estimated $50,000 given by the council during that period.

These are just a few examples of how K has been run during Schubb’s tenure. What’s truly incredible and has at times been a great source of humor is his constant attempt to spin everyone on his agenda. Putting his former career as an actor to good use , he’ll float ideas and positions in a way that makes them seem very appealing. He’s quite good at it. Even on the second or third try after he has forgotten that he already tried to spin you on it! The scary part is that he is starting to believe his own stories. Maybe you’re thinking, “well, if schubb is this bad, why doesn’t everybody just get on the radio and say so.” While a survey would find about eighty percent of those who work or volunteer at kpfk have qualms with one or more aspects of his management style, most people believe that kpfk is such a unique and vital resource that going to the air with dirty laundry would only serve to undermine their ability to cover other more important issues. (It’s difficult to argue that pacifica’s dirty laundry
is on par with militias in e.timor, for example.) Fighting over the air does not make for good radio. Remember the last time kpfk went to the air with dirty laundry in the early 80’s - it ran out of money, went off the air, and almost ceased to exist. There are those who support Schubb - he does enjoy a thin layer of insulation. Most importantly among schubb’s supporters (and really the only one that matters) is Mark Cooper, who has
offered Schubb complete loyalty in the battle against those who would oppose him. Mark and Mark are very good friends and Cooper feels strongly about supporting his friend. Cooper and I have had some pretty intense
(that’s probably not the correct adjective) discussions about Schubb. His feeling is that Mark Schubb may be an asshole in some respects, but he’s doing what no other manager has done: bring order and financial health to
kpfk. This is definitely true to some degree: compared with other managers, he has gotten a lot done and deserves credit. Then again, you’d be hard pressed to try to do worse than past managers - Pacifica was never
very good at picking them. But ultimately, one has to decide if it’s all right to claim the mantle of progressivism and leftishness while acting like the very people you claim to oppose.  While I greatly disagree with Cooper’s support for Schubb and believe that he has not exercised the same journalistic scrutiny found in so much of his other reporting, I also respect his position because he is willing to engage the issue and argue it, a rarity at the station. I don’t believe we ever convinced each other of anything in our exchanges, but at least we spoke face to face about it and actually still talked to each other after it was all over. I can’t say the same for Schubb, whose scream’n’exit style and penchant for constant spin mode allows him to maintain his perpeutual state of denial.
Ultimately, this goes back to proper oversight and accountablility.  Petty tyrants like Chadwick or Schubb would not exist in a well-run organization. But it’s probably unlikely that Pacifica will ever be a well-run organization - there are just too many competing demands and agendas for it to really offer visionary leadership. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t demand that Pacifica live up to its mission statement. To the contrary, you have to keep the pressure on, though phone calls to the general manager may be more effective than picketing, if done well.
What’s really important, however, is the air: when you turn on the radio to kpfk, do you continue to receive in-depth discussions of the relevant topics of the day? If the answer is yes, then the station deserves your
support. Looking back at ten years at the station, I have to say I learned alot, met alot of great people, engaged in battles that were worth fighting, shared alot of hilarious laughs, and enjoyed it thoroughly. What I’ve written here about kpfk’s current management is just one small aspect of the experience at kpfk. Despite the lo-lifes - there will always be some - I have seen so much positive energy and committed political activity expressed in the work of staff and volunteers at KPFK that it makes up for everything else that attempts to dilute it. I wish KPFK the best of luck. ·

Marcos Frommer October 1999

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