April 9, 1997 - San Francisco Bay Guardian
By Van Jones And Andrea Pritchett
PACIFICA "Free Speech" Radio was born here in the Bay Area 47 years ago to present an unfettered alternative to the closely controlled and much censored corporate press. But the Pacifica network's current management appears hell-bent on scrapping that brash, risky voice in favor of a more Milquetoast liberal tone.
One clear indication of the problem is illustrated by a "confidential" March 11 memo by the network's first-ever national PR flack, Burt Glass. He describes it as a "cheat sheet" for how station managers should answer tough questions. For example:
Q: Why did Pacifica management hire [American Consulting Group], a union-busting firm, to deal with unionized workers?
A: To this day, we have been unable to verify these allegations.
Either Pacifica's management is lying outright or it's simply not trying to find out the truth. ACG has a reputation among union organizers nationwide as one of the most vicious antiunion firms in the country.
The Glass memo is a study in professional dissembling. It bubbles over with half-truths and outright lies. In the last of his canned Q&A primers, Glass deals with his own recent past as a flack for the U.S. Justice Department's Community Oriented Police program (COPS):
Q: Why did you hire a former press secretary for the Justice Department's police hiring office? Isn't that antithetical to Pacifica's mission?
A: Burt worked for the Justice Department's office dealing with community policing, a crime-fighting strategy that more fully involves the public and reconnects the police to the communities they're sworn to serve. A good community-policing program, for example, places less emphasis on reacting to 911 calls and more time preventing crime.
While it's not antithetical to Pacifica's mission for it to work with a former official of the Justice Department -- former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark works with Pacifica -- it does run against the network's mission that Glass would continue to publicly laud a program like COPS. Funded under the draconian 1994 crime bill, COPS is nothing but a smokescreen for expanding police budgets and power. Indeed, some of America's most brutal police departments have received millions in community-policing funds -- funds that have often been used to further abuse and terrorize the poor communities they are "sworn to serve."
Consider the case of the current police chief of St. Petersburg, Fla., Darryl Stephens, who was a key advisor to Glass's publications team at COPS. In a letter accompanying his department's annual report, Stephens boasts of the positive impact of the COPS "policing philosophy" on community relations.
In St. Petersburg that "philosophy" has boiled down to several years of out-of-control cops roughing up and shooting African Americans at the slightest provocation. Last winter, enraged residents took to the streets after a killer cop was given a walk by the grand jury. Stephens's response was to detain local activists and break up community meetings.
According to a July 10, 1996, COPS memo, the program was responsible for "an increase of almost 20 percent to the country's police ranks." At the same time, we have seen a soaring incarceration rate, accompanied by a prison construction boom and major cuts in programs for the poor.
Pacifica deserves a public relations manager who opposes the expansion of the police state, not one who apologizes for it. As the government commits billions of dollars to locking away millions of poor people and people of color, the meager resources of independent media must be used to speak back clearly and honestly. Glass is a poor candidate to lead Pacifica in playing this role.
Pacifica's secretive top management should not require a front person to cover its ill-advised and perhaps illegal actions that have very little to do with the furtherance of true free-speech radio.
We say power to the people -- not the police. It's time for Pacifica's top brass, along with its new mouthpiece, to take a powder. Long live listener-sponsored, uncensored, free-speech radio.
Van Jones works for Bay Area Police Watch. Andrea Pritchett works with Berkeley CopWatch. The writers of this open letter also include some two dozen current and former Pacifica workers and friends. They remain anonymous for fear of retribution by management against those still working for the network.