Letters to The Nation Magazine in Response to the Editorial published in the May 10, 1999 edition:
"Whose Pacifica?" by Marc Cooper
Larry Bensky

Berkeley, Ca.

Mark Cooper's analysis of the current Pacifica crisis (Whose Pacifica? May 10) leaves the distinct impression that Cooper is unable to tell the difference between dirty laundry and a burning laundromat.

Had Cooper bothered to read what I actually said during the program for which I ostensibly was fired (text available at www.freepacifica.cjb.net ), he would have known that far from "interrupting" a program about Kosovo to "discourse" about "an internal Pacifica battle," what I did was carefully planned. I replayed a three-minute tape by Lynn Chadwick with her official statement about the firing of KPFA's general manager, Nicole Sawaya; then I responded to two false statements about me which Chadwick made in that taped statement; then I read a jointly drafted KPFA staff statement protesting Chadwick's and Pacifica's actions; and finally I read a statement which I had prepared for delivery to the Pacifica national board meeting in February. That statement, accompanied by charts and graphs, criticizes Pacifica for its out-of- control, expensive, self-perpetuating, secretive bureaucracy.

It should be noted that the so-called "gag rule" which purportedly bans discussion of so-called "dirty laundry" on the air, and for whose violation (supposedly four times during thirty years of broadcasting, which includes hundreds of programs and thousands of hours...) I was fired, is not a rule, but a custom. Despite management contentions to the contrary, I never promised - nor would I promise - to observe such a stricture which, by the way, nowhere exists in writing! In fact, "internal" Pacifica matters are constantly discussed during fund drives, although, of course, in self-serving and sometimes deceptively positive ways.

As I was but one of dozens at KPFA who went on the air - and continue to go on the air since my firing - to let listeners know there was and is a major crisis in Pacifica, why was I fired and a handful of others merely warned? The answer lies, I believe, in the very aspects of Pacifica that I criticized in my February statement  to the board (during which, by the way, board chair Mary Frances Berry walked out of the room; as Cooper correctly observes, she has abrogated her responsibilities to Pacifica by not being seen in Berkeley since then.)

Cooper has his interests in dismissing Pacifica's current illness as "dirty landry," of course. If he wishes to keep his paid job as anchor of a daily program on Los Angeles Pacifica station KPFK, and also wishes to have KPFK not censor off the air your own "Radio Nation," which he anchors (as FAIR's "Counterspin" was censored when it dared to include an interview with me!) he must toe the Pacifica line. The absurdity of the present Pacifica effort to keep its listeners from being informed about what their money now pays for - censorship to protect bureaucracy - thus could not be more obvious than in Cooper's case. He can opine at length about what is now a matter of national concern in these pages, but not on his own radio program, and not on the Nation's radio program either.

This is speaking truth to power?

Larry Bensky

Barbara Deustch

To the editors:

This superficial yet pretentious pronouncement begins with a false and invidious comparison.  Those trying to restore founding principles to the operation of  alternative and formerly independent radio stations, equally with those who have imposed a corporation-like structure and quashed individual and workers' rights within those stations, are likened to clashing Mafia factions.  To use the quintessential example of blatantly corrupt power, operating via fear, as the basis for any discussion of Pacifica, betrays complete contempt for its origins.  This comparison is filtered through the most commodified and controlled organ of fake culture, the big-money movie industry:

"There's a scene in The Godfather when Clemenza, anticipating the outbreak of a full-scale war between the families, nonchalantly  remarks to young Mikey Corleone: "This thing's gotta happen every five years or so...every ten years--helps to get rid of the bad blood." You could almost say the same thing about Pacifica Radio."

Marc Cooper's language has two similarities to this reference:  its terms derive from war, and they are used with moral nonchalance; in other words this is the work of a verbal hit-man.

The spurious history is made explicit:  "a periodic Pacifica war erupted recently" over an "impolitic" station manager's "dismissal."  Marc Cooper doesn't even glance at when, why, or in what way a corporate hierarchy became imposed within Pacifica.  For him, "Pacifica" itself IS this imposed hierarchy.  He uses in a single sentence the terms "egregious transgression" and "internal operations," both abstractions, yet, in rather contradictory ways, both deferential to a sacred or private realm that is, for him, that hierarchy.

But let us not keep the "enraged staff" waiting to go "to the mattresses." The first down is a "veteran programmer" (why no mention that he had been more, and more executive, than that, especially when it would have made more interesting reading?) who "broke an internal rule," not while playing some tom-tom, or cranking some mimeograph machine, but "in the middle of a nationwide show," not about some fringe subject, but "about the war in Kosovo."  He didn't break that (internal--remember, these are traitors) rule in a timid or desultory fashion; he "spent seventeen minutes discoursing on the Pacifica personnel battle." We know we need the word battle to keep our mental wartime morale high as we follow the bouncing ball of emphasis along the propaganda line, but why, with  one manager put out of position for no good reason, is this a personnel battle?  And why would this obviously high-handed executive act of obviously poor judgement have required Pacifica, as we are told it did, to "retaliate" to the point that it "offed . . . from his job" the "veteran programmer" in whose "absence the staff continued to violate Pacifica's rule banning on-air dirty laundry, and the mutiny continues . . . "

Marc Cooper's every second or third word is pugilistic, punitive, coarse: like Clemenza's.  If he were a good writer, he could lay irony upon irony with the names Clemenza and Pacifica, and from the differing battles he sees them wage.  Instead, he commits inadvertent and egregious lapses; e.g., "Sawaya's firing was dead wrong . . ."

He archly capitalizes abstract nouns to show how amusingly the language of idealists strikes this detached "programmer on and off" (I suppose he means by this word order to announce his position as an insider).  He looks askance at the "full-time obsession" deluding those "former programmers and other activists," who think themselves involved in a "clear-cut battle between Good and Evil, between Democracy and Dictatorship, between radical purity and encroaching commercialism . . . "  Misplacing his irony, he overlooks the aptness with which he has described the situation.  The strain shows in the next sentence:  "The bad blood that boiled over these past few weeks has been heating up for almost five years.  Fueling the conflict is a tension between two visions . . . "  Is Marc Cooper a split personality, a mafia male Malaprop and a tin-eared technocrat, vying for ascendancy within one body, distracted by the ghost of T.S. Eliot chuckling at his "tension between two visions"?

The multiple denigrations he compresses into the "tom-tom for activists," the patronizing attitude he takes toward grass-roots activity with his "mimeographed bulletin of the left," would be appalling if he did not betray himself to be merely a kind of ideological bully, identifying himself with "intellectual heft and depth," kicking his sand of contempt at those who are weak enough to ally themselves with some cause.

He does not have a cause, he craves ratings.  His vision quest:  "for Pacifica to stop occupying only the fringe."  He is impatient for the applause-o-meter to register greater response; he hasn't time to ask, fringe of what?  It's been FIVE years, and the Mafia, the warriors, and the technocrats are impatient.  Pacifica's way is an "awkward and inefficient way," we need a streamlined response to "a relentless guerrilla war" waged by those who block "every tentative step" (in what direction?  Beyond the Fringe?).  These are not fair-minded obstructionists.  They "accuse Pacifica of a long list of indictable war crimes:  unionbusting, creeping corporatization . . . and secret cabals and conspiracies to seize the network."  Why the use of "war" as an adjective here?  To add substance to accusations against those waging the "guerrilla war," against the grass-roots, against the intransigents, with only a bowl of rice, sneakers (maybe a tom-tom), true to their foolish cause.  Do you, as do I, recognize whose voices Pacifica was founded to make heard, and to answer, with a commitment to peace in no way resembling a Pax Romana?

Marc Cooper dismisses all this as "absurd," and proceeds to lie and to threaten.  The only serious fault he finds with this hierarchy he does not bother to examine (one might be forgiven for thinking of it as a "cabal," it is certainly involved in a conspiracy of silence), is that it did not use enough muscle.  It applied "weak half-measures that didn't go far enough . . . "

But I have gone far enough into the world where "rough air sound" is to be eradicated, where public affairs are reduced to "drive-time," where radicals receive their credentials in terms of how well they boost income, and where flacking for Jerry Brown is considered "sophisticated national programming."  I feel like reaching for the tom-tom when he lays claim to Amy Goodman's (and Samori Marksman's) Democracy Now as part of a "national menu," when he out-does the most flagrant confidence man by his choice of recipient for appellations of courage and vision, and when he speaks insidiously of "Pacifica's seemingly genetic inefficiency."

Why do I not believe Marc Cooper's dictum that "nothing alienates an audience more than airing dirty laundry"?  Why do I mistrust his prescriptions for an entity he diagnoses as having a "characteristic paralysis," its weakness revealed through a tyrannical move left un-made, disclosing a lamentably unprofessional and "pathetic power vacuum"?  This is the language of a coward with a club, pitching "national decision-making" to be enforced on Pacified natives, their tom-toms silenced, their mimeographs dry. Don't we all know from reading in The Nation, Daniel Singer most lately, that this never works?

Pacifica is an experiment that allied itself to first principles in its beginning.  Fifty years of that is not enough.  Time to reclaim it, and return it to its proper place in the history and experience of the human spirit.  If The Nation were to commit more than one page at a time to its most brilliant columnists, e.g., Alexander Cockburn; if Pacifica were to turn to such voices for more than pledge-time premiums; we might find our awkward, inefficient, individually taken pace quickening toward a more desirable future.

Yours very truly,
Barbara Deutsch
San Francisco, CA

e-mail undone@sirius.com

Per Fagereng

From:  Per Fagereng[SMTP:phantom@hevanet.com]
Sent:  Saturday, April 24, 1999 7:36 PM
To:  'letters@thenation.com'
Subject:  Pacifica Radio

Marc Cooper misses the central point about Pacifica: the network's lack of democracy. He writes about its "brash management style" and "seemingly genetic inefficiency" but nowhere does he tell us that its national board is unelected, sort of like Rome's College of Cardinals.

I have followed the Pacifica troubles since 1995 when scholar Bill Mandel and eminent jazz critic Phil Elwood were summarily fired. I've learned a lot, but let me just say that here in Portland we have a community radio station, KBOO, that bridges Cooper's so-called gap between newsletter and newspaper.

KBOO is now thirty years old. It has been through some rough times, but I am convinced it would not have survived were it not for its democratic structure. We have an elected board (of which I am a member). We carry some Pacifica programs, but are not required to. We broadcast all the well-known voices of the left, but we also have lots of fine local programmers. Like Pacifica (and NPR for that matter) KBOO has more listeners and contributors than ever.

My advice to Pacifica is, Try Democracy...now.

Per Fagereng
4108 SE 16th Avenue
Portland, OR 97202

Lyn Gerry

Marc Cooper’s description of competing visions of Pacifica as a “newsletter” versus a “newspaper of the left” was first articulated by Rep. Ron Dellums in the early ‘80’s. Pacifica was neither a “newsletter” of the left before, nor is it a “newspaper of the left” now. Mr. Cooper’s version of the core conflict misses the point. The real issue
is whether policy and financial decisions will be made by local communities and station workers through an accessible, accountable, participatory process, or by an autocratic, secretive self-appointed “leadership.”

Mr. Cooper’s pooh-poohing of the charges of union busting omits to inform readers that the assault on workers continues to date, and the current contracts he cites, drafted by union-busters, have removed every bit of worker oversight into financial and policy decisions. To pretend critics claim Pacifica management’s aim was to remove the unions entirely is a red herring. The Democratic Party establishment leading this restructuring gets too much money from Labor to try that. The point was to take away the ability of workers to affect policy by eliminating contractual rights, which included examination of financial records and approval of restructuring. Now, the original partners of the enterprise as envisioned by the founders – the broadcasters and the listener-sponsors – are in the cold, while a cadre of non-profit suits divert more and more revenue to a metastasizing bureaucracy.

Pacifica’s hiring of the professional union-busters, American Consulting Group  (ACG) was no fluke quickly corrected, as Mr. Cooper suggests. Pacifica Management used the services of ACG from April 1995 to August 1996. Pacifica terminated the relationship only after a storm of protest following press coverage that ensued after the release of a report of my investigation into the relationship. Dellums’ staffer Ying Lee Kelly, also a former KPFA board member, subsequently admitted to Take Back KPFA activist Jeff Blankfort that Pacifica couldn’t “get anyone else to do it.”

To this day, Pacifica spinmeisters continue to deny that more than 30 thousand dollars of the subscribers’ money was paid to ACG.  Neither Mr. Cooper, nor Pacifica’s management have bothered to inform subscribers that their donations to “free speech radio” continue to be paid to other labor lawyers and consultants, in Pacifica’s ongoing campaign to destroy the last hold out union, UE Local 404 at WBAI-FM in New York. Pacifica management initiated an NLRB action to forcibly decertify 90% of the union at WBAI. WBAI workers won at the NLRB in February of 1997. Management appealed, and to date, tens of thousands more dollars are being used to finance the crushing of WBAI’s union, an impediment to the creation of a top-down corporate-style hierarchy advocated by that “visionary,” Pat Scott.

Have the KPFA and other listeners who have protested the firings and censorship by the thousands, whose interests Management claims to be protecting with gag rules, been heeded?

This is the response of Pacifica CEO Chadwick, “Internal Pacifica issues and management decisions are precisely that - internal. We have made decisions that reflect the best management practices for the organization, regardless of their popularity.”

Mr. Cooper is right about one thing. Power IS the issue.

Lyn Gerry
Former staff member and UE shop steward
KPFK, Los Angeles
Keeper of the Free Pacifica website

Brad Meyer

In an effort to act as flak-catcher for the Pacifica Board of Directors, Marc Cooper deploys two familiar caricatures in his article on the crisis at Pacifica.  One is that of a well -intentioned but "genetically" clumsy, bumbling Pacifica management.  The other is that of a narrow group of "tom-tom beating" radicals blind to the virtues of quality, professional production and broadened audience appeal.  Place these two images together in the same article and the impression created is that the crisis at Pacifica is essentially driven by the actions of an "irrationally" fanatic band of paranoid conspiracy theorists.

 The abrupt dismissal of Nicole Sawaya by Pacifica management happened to coincide with both the 50th anniversary of KPFA and Pacifica as well as the outbreak of important events both here in the U.S. and on the world stage. This dismissal was just that - a coincidence - since there is no way to cleverly arrange the expiration date of Sawayas' contract in conjunction with current events.  But it doesn't require a conspiracy theory of individuals to understand that there is something SYSTEMATICALLY wrong with a management body that accumulates such a string of "errors" in a relatively short period of time.  By now, unfortunately, this pattern of "mistakes" has crystallized into a consistent, predictable and expected behavior.

 Contrary to what Marc Cooper would have us believe, this behavior on the part of the Pacifica Board has a real, systematic political and economic content.  It is a syndrome seen time and again in nonprofit agencies, who have proven in many cases to be as viciously antiunion as any small to medium for-profit business.  After all, nonprofit bosses are in business, too - the business of promoting their own careers in order to earn that six-figure salary.  However, given the normally tight budgets of nonprofit enterprises, it is not surprising that their bosses fight tooth and nail against giving all of their employees a living wage for the work they perform, as this might put that six-figure salary out of reach.  The nonprofit managerial elite would be left behind in the trend towards an ever-growing disparity between executive salaries and workers' wages. How's a poor nonprofit exec to keep up with their class?

 The general political content derives directly from this economic situation:  the "do-gooder" ladder-climbing nonprofit careerist, like the trade union official, is the archetypical profile of the Democratic Party mid-level political operative, for whom "politics" is just another business venue.  After all, this is what the Democratic Party has always been all about, a means for unconnected mediocrities to crawl their way into a warm and comfortable sinecure, snug in the lap of the American ruling class. In addition to this, there is the specific content of Pacifica's relation to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) which in the final analysis is, after all, an arm of the U.S. government.  Does anyone seriously believe that a government that is THE center for reactionary policies worldwide would not engage Pacifica in a Faustian bargain in exchange for its money?  Of course, the predictable empirical results now speak for themselves.

 There is more concrete evidence of the systematic political connections between the Pacifica Board and the right-of-center Democratic Party.  The Chair, Mary Frances Berry, is a political appointee of Bill Clinton to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.  Not surprisingly, this Pacifica Board works hand-in-glove with what has become Pacifica's "holding company", the CPB Board of Directors, who now exercise their 15% controlling "ownership" over the formerly independent network.  That is a Board which includes right-wing operatives from the U.S. (Dis)Information Agency and the anti-Castro "Radio Marti", both direct propaganda mouthpieces of the U.S.

 A perverted system does not require a conspiracy of individuals to do its dirty work.  That Lynn Chadwicks' dismissal of Sawaya hit KPFA in its entirety with much the same impact as NATO's murderous missiles hit Serbian state television studios only illustrates how automatic are the reflexes of the system.  The unanimity of the KPFA staff, plus the superbly professional operational record of Sawaya herself, puts the lie to Coopers' characterization of the KPFA opposition as a fringe group of amateurish "tom-tom pounding" primitives - a strangely racist caricature in itself. Here Cooper is simply playing a clever shell game, attempting to  misrepresent to readers of The Nation the opposition of the entire KPFA staff as that of the reaction of some "ossified" programmers, such as Bill Mandel, who were so rudely purged a few years back.

 It is in this way that Marc Cooper, himself a well-worn transmission belt for the Democratic Party within the progressive Left, will keep his program, "Radio Nation" , on the air at KPFK.  Everyone eagerly awaits his commentary on this "internal" matter in that forum.

-Brad Mayer
Oakland, CA

WBAI/UE letter to The Nation

Below is the text of the letter we've E-mailed, faxed and will also be
mailing to The Nation.

May 3, 1999

The Editors
The Nation
33 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

Dear Editors:

We at WBAI were amazed to read in "Whose Pacifica?" Mark Cooper's assertion that there is no Union busting going on at the Pacifica Foundation, which owns WBAI.  Our Union has been fighting one Union busting tactic after another from the Pacifica Foundation.  When Mr. Cooper mentions the crisis at Pacifica he says that it is not a clear-cut
battle between good and evil.  We disagree, because we believe that unfair treatment of labor is indeed evil.

 It should be clear to anyone who looks at the facts, which Mr. Cooper seems not to have done, that the Pacifica Foundation is trying to bust its Unions.  Mr. Cooper wrote, "Yes, a few years back, Pacifica hired a management consultant with ties to a unionbusting firm--a stupid mistake that was corrected."  To frame the conflict in these terms seems odd given the facts: While Pacifica Management claims they only hired one person from the notorious Union busting firm The American Consulting Group they certainly derived the fruits of that organization's years of experience.

The Current Pacifica Employee's Handbook was drafted by the American Consulting Group.  The Contracts in effect at KPFA and KPFK were written, and in part negotiated by, operatives of the American Consulting Group. This same Contract was offered to the Staff of WBAI, but it has been rejected because it demanded givebacks, concessions, conversion of some Staff into employees-at-will and an evisceration of the grievance procedure, among other anti-labor provisions.

In 1996, Pacifica/WBAI Management attempted to remove 90% of the WBAI Staff from the Collective Bargaining Unit (CBU) by using the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  However, in 1997, the NLRB ruled that the Paid and Unpaid Staff that Pacifica/WBAI Management attempted to remove were rightfully members of the CBU.  But Pacifica/WBAI Management ignored this ruling and refused to negotiate the Contract. They have appealed part
of that decision, and whether they want to go all the way to the Supreme Court with it is a matter of speculation. Currently the Union at WBAI, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 404, has Unfair Labor Practice charges pending against WBAI Management for its refusal to negotiate.

Furthermore, Pacifica/WBAI Management is continuing to follow the script prepared for them by the American Consulting Group by attempting to steal jobs from the CBU and re-label them as Management positions.  This
tactic is also the subject of a number of Unfair Labor Practice charges which have been filed against Pacifica/WBAI Management.

 In Fiscal Year 1996, WBAI spent $32,000 on fighting the Union. WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler also admitted that Pacifica had spent an additional $30,000 fighting Unions.  Since then all fees relating to Pacifica/WBAI Management's fight against its own labor force have been hidden in Pacifica's budget.  The Staff at WBAI believe that Union busting is a terrible and unwholesome use of the donations made by listener-sponsors.

The Pacifica Foundation has even sought to extend the notorious gag rule to its affiliates.  After several affiliate radio stations aired interviews with people who are actively resisting the attempt to corporatize and undermine Pacifica, and with Union officials involved in the NLRB decision, the following appeared in all of Pacifica's affiliate contracts, "Pacifica may terminate this Agreement if ... Station dilutes the good will associated with Pacifica's name."

All of these facts are public knowledge and some of the primary documents are even available on line at www.glib.com/union.html.  It is unfortunate that Mr. Cooper chose to ignore them in his effort to maintain
that the current crisis is not a part of a larger conflict that affects all of Pacifica, its affiliates and its listeners.

We are disappointed that The Nation would run such an inaccurate article.

                                   In Solidarity,


                                   R. Paul Martin
                                   Chief Steward
                                   WBAI/UE Local 404

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