Fired by Pacifica
Bensky Leads Staff Revolt
By Jeffrey Blankfort
Whether they are merely demonstrating the
arrogance of the ignorant, of which the US provides no shortage of
examples, or carrying out a sophisticated COINTELPRO operation as an increasing number of its critics have
come to believe, the Pacifica Foundation is clearly engaged in a process of willful self-destruction. Having antagonized both listeners and staff by steamrollering through a controversial by-law change at its February board meeting in Berkeley, Pacifica has again shot itself in the foot.
On March 31. Executive Director Lynn
Chadwick, a doughy version of the much detested and now departed Pat Scott,
fired KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya who happened to be the most popular
boss the station has had in at least three decades (and who had previously
served as program director at KZYX.) Not technically fired, according to
a Nixonian statement issued by Chadwick, who, in taped statement,
told listeners, "Let me make it perfectly
clear that Nicole Sawaya was not fired. Her contract expired on March 31 and we made a decision not to renew it."
Close to 200 angry listeners and present and former station staff could be excused for failing to see any difference between the two interpretations. They came out on one day's notice to protest Sawaya's dismissal beneath a huge banner that hung over the balcony expressing the staff's love of Nicole, a word not usually associated with community radio (and last used to describe people's feelings about the late Mama O'Shea, a popular programmer at KPFA who had been sacked during the 1995 purge). Similar sentiments were voiced by several speakers and were visible on many of the protesters' placards..
The speakers represented a coming together
of the broadest cross-section of opposition to Pacifica yet assembled.
Leading off was Larry Bensky, arguably Pacifica's most well-known voice.
Standing on the bed of a pickup in front of the station and the adjacent
office of Pacifica which served as the speakers platform, and gesturing
with one arm raised defiantly in the air, he described the the expanding
chain of Pacifica's offenses with which many AVA are already familiar and
called on the stations' supporters to do something about it.. He
was followed by Dennis Bernstein, host of Flashpoints, Barbara Lubin of
the Middle East Children's Alliance, media critic Norman Solomon,
former long-time programmer William Mandel, Mary Berg, unpaid staff rep
on the local board, former programmers Maria
Gilardin and Sue Supriano, Earth First's Daryl Cherney, and this reporter, speaking for Take Back KPFA.
The significance of Take Back KPFA joining
together with the station staff was pointed out on the KPFA's news department's
extended report of the demonstration, which was just one of multiple violations
of Pacifica's gag rule by KPFA staff. All morning and even while
it was in progress, programmers bravely talked up the protest, even when
directed not to do so by Chadwick.
Mary Frances Berry, chairperson of the Pacifica's executive board as well as Pres. Clinton's Civil Rights Commission, who, at best, is clueless about what community radio is all about, said she supported Chadwick's decision.
"As executive director, she has a right
to have staff there that she is comfortable with," Berry told the Oakland
Tribune. "(Chadwick) described her as not being a good management fit," Berry said. "She didn't feel that Nicole
was helping her make the administrative and staffing changes.." Chadwick was apparently the only person Sawaya didn't get along with. She had raised staff morale from rock bottom where it has been for years, and, moreover, had more than met the station's fundraising quotas. Sawaya, however, was not Chadwick or Pacifica's rubber stamp, complaining to the local advisory board about the increasing level of funds levied by Pacifica on its five stations which now stands at 17.2 per cent and her own difficulties in working with Pacifica management.
In a statement to the press, issued by
union stewards Dennis Bernstein and Philip Maldarai, the staff strongly
questioned Chadwick's decision: "We... are totally confounded," it said, as to why the executive director
would dismiss our general manager, who has met and exceeded all fundraising goals and maintained the station strictly with in its budget. Her firing is the latest malfeasance of a national Pacifica leadership which appears to be on a path of self-destruction."
At the KPFA local board meeting the night before her firing, Sawaya confirmed, as we alleged earlier in the AVA, that the demand by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that Pacifica cleanse its national board of representatives from its local boards, was a result of collusion between the CPB and Pacifica.
On Easter Sunday morning, Sunday Salon
program, Larry Bensky put himself squarely on the road to crucifixion
Pacifica by broadly exposing the fictions in Chadwick's statement and calling on the listeners to plague her and Pacifica's Board Chair Mary Frances Berry with phone calls, faxes and e-mails. First he played Chadwick's statement which also referred to the earlier firing of Bensky which was reported in the AVA. She accused the KPFA news of having falsified the report of his dismissal. "Larry Bensky was not fired," said Chadwick, "nor did public outcry result in his new weekly show."
Bensky then exposed Chadwick as a liar
by quoting from the letter that he had received from Pacifica National
Program director Gail Christian, terminating him as a Pacifica programmer
which was unambiguous in its directness. He then quoted from a press
statement from Chadwick herself, attributing Bensky's reinstatement to
among the multitude of listeners who had objected to his firing.
From there Bensky read a statement
by the KPFA staff denouncing the firing of Sawaya and the recent history
Pacifica "malfeasance" which has perverted the network's stated mission, and followed that by reading a statement
he had partially delivered to the Pacifica national board, but was not allowed to complete, describing the expansion of Pacifica at the expense of its five stations. (See AVA, March 24)
Before giving out Chadwick's and Berry's
contact numbers, Bensky announced that a new e-mail address
<firstname.lastname@example.org> had been established by the staff to receive supportive e-mail from listeners.
Chadwick was adamant about the programmers
and the news department maintaining radio silence on Sawaya's
firing. "Internal Pacifica issues and management decisions are not news," said Chadwick "Our journalists have a responsibility to report the news, not create it," she said on a statement that was repeated over and over again on Thursday and Friday. "They also have a responsibility to detach themselves and provide objectivity when making a determination as to what is and what is NOT news."
Given this edict, It was apparent that this past week would be a critical one in the station's and Pacifica's future. The number of programmers, both paid and unpaid, who broke the gag-rule may run in double figures. Those vulnerable to being fired are long-time news directors Mark Mericle and Aileen Alfandary and veteran reporter Wendell Harper. If Chadwick elects to fire everyone who has broken the rule, there is sure to be a major listener protest that will greatly exceed the demonstration of last Friday, and the staff is likely to engage in a serious job action One demonstration has been scheduled for be on tax day, April 15, at noon, which also happens to be KPFA's 50th birthday.
The firing of Sawaya followed the death
of Samori Marksman, long-time Program Director of Pacifica's New York station,
WBAI, who had led the resistance to the attacks on station staff
and programming by Pat Scott, similar to what she had carried out at KPFA
in August, 1995. Marksman, who was clearly a thorn in the side of the Pacifica
management, died in his sleep of a heart attack four days after a stressful
three-hour meeting with Chadwick in
New York, which was so intense, apparently, that Marksman was prevented from hosting his "Behind the News" program, scheduled for that afternoon. There is a rumour circulating at WBAI that Chadwick had informed him, too,
that he was to be fired, an action that would have brought a major demonstration down on Pacifica's head. The number of mourners at his funeral were estimated at between 3000 and 5000 and Janet Jagan halted the
proceedings of the British Guiana parliament to pay tribute to Marksman, a native of Trinidad..
This story would not be complete without a report of what might have been a Pacifica-orchestrated mini-Reichstag fire. On the night of Sawaya's termination, someone fired shots into the window of Pacifica's office which, of course, is being attributed to Pacifica's critics. Some of the details which are being investigated, give it the same nasty aroma as that which arose from the claims by Pacifica and KPFA management (Pat Scott, Gen. Manager Marci Lockwood, and Program Director Ginny Berson) that they had received death threats after the August 1995 purge, (which turned out NOT to have been reported to the police, as they said) and the death threats that were received by Chadwick and two other Pacifica staff members prior to the Pacifica board meeting this February.
The names of those two staffers were virtually
unknown outside of Pacifica itself, which makes them extremely
unlikely recipients of hate calls. I did talk with both women and believe that they did receive threats but from
whom is open to question. As for Pacifica's office which is next door to KPFA , it has no name on the door
to identify it, the windows are clouded, and outside of the station few subscribers know of its location.
Chadwick can be reached by phone
Berry can be contacted by phone at 202-237-0382
or by e-mail at <email@example.com>.
KPFA staff be contacted at
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