Interview with Utrice Leid
Jim Freund: And you're tuned to listener-sponsored, non-commercial Pacifica Radio in New York City, WBAI, broadcasting at 99.5 FM. You are listening to "The Morning Show" - I think is the best, most accurate name of it. My name is Jim Freund. I am normally host and producer of "Hour of the Wolf," which is heard on this radio station on Saturday mornings from 5 to 7 a.m. where I have resided for now 28 years.
Utrice Leid: (indaudible)
Yeah, right? And with me is the interim station manager at WBAI while we are in the midst of making news here, I guess. Oh, and there is one thing I wanted to say before I turn it over. And this is a quote from another staff member. And this person said simply, "You know, it wouldn't be a crisis if they didn't call it a 'crisis.'" That's my word of wisdom for the morning.
UL: Well, I quite agree. Good morning, Jim!
JF: Hi, Utrice. I wasn't expecting that last hour there.
UL: Oh, that's fine.
JF: I was expecting something different.
UL: No, that's good, that's good.
JF: But if shows the discourse we have here, doesn't it.
UL: It does. And it shows a number of things, as well: some good and some kind of disheartening. The idea is: in this alleged crisis and since my very short tenure the one thing I have decided we should do is air views, you know. Let people say what they have to say. At some point, as adults, and as responsible adults, and as responsible journalists and so forth, we will come to the conclusion - one would hope the logical conclusion - that we ought to get on with good radio and just cease and desist the listener abuse. But, for the moment, this is quintessential WBAI. I think the idea is that we should have something to compare to new WBAI to. So this is the old WBAI.
JF: Yeah. And it is. And in so many ways. And I guess this is one of the reasons you asked me to be here in the mornings - is that - well, one person when I came in Friday night and the rumors that we were being locked out were rampant - one person in particular, a long-time producer here at WBAI, said, "Jim, does this all seem familiar to you?" And the answer is yes in some ways, but not in the way that person meant. The ways are the dynamics of the politics. Because what's really going on here, in my humble opinion, is that we are looking at internal struggles, which by the nature of who we are, get broadcast. I am not sure whether or not we are if the ideology of who we are is at risk. One of the things I'd like to do one of these mornings is read quotes from Chairman Lew, the actual articles …
UL: Oh, they're quite instructive. I wonder how many people have revisited the words of Lew Hill.
JF: They are. And let me mention: if you'd like to read it in advance, you can find it at www …
UL: Oh, shameless self-promotion.
JF: Absolutely … .hourwolf.com.
UL: That's "H.O.U.R."
JF: hourwolf.com/listenersponsored.html. And, it's also on the KPFA website.
UL: Well, gee. It's been an interesting number of days. And I just want people to know that in the coming days with you as our morning voice - I must say, I like your voice whether it appears late night or early morning or somewhat later in the morning.
JF: Thank you.
UL: And I always like your programming because it is a very intellectually stimulating one. And the refreshing thing is you happen to know what you're talking about.
UL: Well, you fake it real good.
UL: All right. So I should kind of get down to business in a way and let people know that we are here. The station continues, though in rather frenetic form. And still we are held together. We've received a number of calls and people have come by all weekend long. I've spent all weekend here and the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. Programmers are concerned of course, about what will happen. And one of the reasons I stayed here all weekend long is to assure each and every one, coming through the door to do their programs, that things will continue. I should start by saying that I am distressed by the circumstances. In fact, I had described myself as a dissenter and a person not agreeing with the way things were developing, simply on the basis of logic, as opposed to emotional catharsis. And also on the basis of what I think would be a method, method. When all is said and done, no matter how this situation we are in is characterized, I think the depressing thing, to me, is that essentially we are having, inasmuch as it affects particular individuals in the first instance - these personnel issues - and I have a particular feeling about personnel issues, even though in some cases I have been myself a victim of personnel practices. I really believe that if we as adults and as professional people - and I expect us to behave that way - that we recognize the need to keep all struggle, all fights - this is not a struggle in my view; this is a fight. This is a brawl.
JF: Very good distinction.
UL: Struggle requires consensus building. Struggle requires an
effort to bridge communication gaps. Struggle requires protracted effort
at examination, self-examination, to find out where we are amiss and where
we need to go. A struggle requires planning for the entity, but a fight
is a whole different thing. When you want to do a brawl it's a whole different
thing. On a particular level, Jim, I just think that whenever - or if we
believe, truly, that we are sovereign, if that's the word we have used
- independent, or that we have our own ways of dealing with things, it
then becomes completely illogical to me - I sound like Mr. Spock - but
it is completely illogical to me in my mind that all that exists is in
the public domain. I mean, for my own dignity's sake, let's say that something
happened to me that I did not like, that I read as a personnel issue. I
would be - for my own dignity's sake, for my own sense of privacy, for
propriety's sake, I would try my best - no matter how angry I am on the
inside - but I would try my best to contain it and keep it on the inside.
But I think what has happened and is happening is proof positive of the
very thing that I've been criticizing. And that is the total failure of
internal mechanisms to self-govern and
resolve issues in here. Now the exportation of an internal matter, the putting it outside is to some a great tactic because it hearkens back to the days when blah blah blah, when fight, team fight, you know, go, team go, let's, you know, fight the enemy. But in my view the enemy is us in the first instance. I've maintained that the greatest threat to WBAI is internal. Internal in the sense that our internal operations are not operating properly, that we have tolerated the complete breakdown, or the almost complete breakdown, of internal systems of self-governance and that we have yielded, really, the capacity to solve our own problems. In the name of sensational exportation which, in fact, invites attack. It invites interference; it invites intervention. On another level, if indeed we had within WBAI the kind of rapport that we should have with each other, the kind of camaraderie and the kind of collegiality, there is no way this, whatever "this" is - and in coming days a number of people will be here to explain what "this" is. If we really had faith in our ability to solve our own problems there would be no need to inflict these matters on an unsuspecting and innocent public which I think, by the way, has been harmed, has been assaulted, has been harangue by a constant barraged by what seems to me a matter that should remain internal. That's my view.
Taking all the other things into perspective, all the things that have been done - I mean sharp lines have been drawn and cussing and dehumanizing and …
JF: Name-calling …
UL: Name-calling and behavior unbecoming a human being - all these things have come out along with a great deal of misinformation, a great deal of distortion, and a great deal of contradiction actually. The whole idea - this is one of the things that we need to pause and do. We are the communicators of information.
JF: That is our mission.
UF: And I think we have substantially failed our test because
it is clear that among ourselves - and this has been my constant criticism
- the communication mechanisms internally are not working. The fact that
something, no matter how grievous, should first be appreciated in its many
distorted forms, in a public arena is shameful to me. I just personally
feel affronted by it. For myself, if something had happened to me - and
things have - rather distasteful personnel things have happened not only
at the station but in my life, but I have never spoken about them in public
and used it as a campaign to vilify, to condemn, to do anything like that.
I think it's a sign also of maturity that you get a lump, you take your
lump, and you try your best if you believe indeed that you have the support
of your comrades and your colleagues, if indeed there's a form internally
that can cope with these difficulties that arise in every organization
from time to time, if indeed there is an atmosphere of mutual respect and
faith in our capacity and in our skills as professional people and as colleagues
to self-govern, then I don't understand why we are
having a public, and a disgraceful public brawl.
JF: You will hear - and this is talking from my experience through '77 - that there are a lot of listeners who want to participate, some of them non-stop. Any time you listen to the station, there are those listeners who call up and that's all they want to discuss.
JF: I still get letters from John Stanley about the 1977 putsch, in his words. And yet, I think - and after the '77 crisis, we went through at least a year of talking about it on the air almost exclusively. It is arguable which side one, what happened, was it an uneasy truce, or whatever that is. All that aside, there is little question that we've lost a great deal of listenership. I think that the listeners want and deserve a certain amount of awareness from the management and staff of WBAI in terms of reports.
JF: I also think they don't want it 24 hours a day or 24 hours a month.
UT: You know, this is the thing. We assume what the listeners want.
JF: It harms the station a great deal.
UT: Of course, it harms the station. That has been my argument. If indeed we are grown people with the capacity to think and reason, if we are the professionals we say we are, why is it - the fact that this exists in the public arena at all is the greatest proof yet that we are not what we say we are.
JF: And yet, the fact that we have heard all that we have heard this morning is the proof that there is access and that nobody - or I should say that the people you have heard have not been shut down.
UT: That is correct.
JF: Although I must, if I may, ask, what is the status? Obviously, people have been hearing that there have been changes at the station - in your official capacity, what is the official - well, first question, we heard in the previous program about a "selective lockout."
UT: You see, words like that bother me, because again …
JF: And I should mention, by the way, that I wiggled my fingers for quotes over the words "selective lockout." I have had no issues or problems. My understanding - no, my experience was anybody on the air came in on the air. There were some people who came in over the weekend who apparently honestly wanted to do some production.
UT: They were here.
JF: And some who did not have immediate access. But this is obviously not an ongoing issue. Is that correct?
UT: What is happening, of course, is as a result of the way things have developed and they've mushroomed quite a bit … And with it, again, in my view, and an unfortunate by-product of it are threats to do harm to the station, to smash equipment, to do that kind of stuff and it is understandable that we are operating in a heightened state of security, to the extent that we can use that phrase, meaning that we wish to preserve what we have. We wish to not have the premises damaged. We wish to not have confrontations. And so access to the station is being regulated, not denied.
JF: One thing I forgot to mention on the program earlier is that
people who were not on the list, generally the security people
downstairs called up here and asked whether those people could be allowed in. And for the most part - I mean, I saw people coming up that were not on the air at that moment.
JF: Those people that I saw were not denied access.
UL: No, not at all. We have not denied access, but we have in the state - and let me explain where we are right now. And I really would - I'm going to in the next couple days - I'm actually your guest. At some point - I'm really glad that I can hear your voice in the morning. A lot of work has to be done. I'm a trained group worker, among other things. And I understand that in the aftermath of any major so-called crisis …
JF: Let's use the word "trauma."
UL: … trauma, any major trauma, people are sometimes both at their best and at their worst, and sometimes together. Oh, you want to do an ID.
JF: On WBAI New York.
JF: Oh and let me mention that it's 8:31. It has been a long time since I've done drive time.
UL: Well, the thing is that in any major trauma people will react, sometimes with reason but mostly irrationally, absolutely with great passion and intense feelings and all of these other things that are hard to manage. These expressions, these feelings need room to be expressed. I do not envision myself having enemies. I envision myself as having difference of opinion with people at this station. We have differences of opinion. Some people envision themselves as having sides, or factions, or you know, this personal animosity and so forth. And all of this, in fact, has been part of the character of the station which I want to change. We are all working at a station. It doesn't require a long-term romance that we must be madly in love with each other. There will be an atmosphere of mutual respect. There will be a recognition that you are dedicated to your work as I am dedicated to my work. And together we have to forge a method where, irrespective of what we feel, we are clear that we are here to perform a task for which we volunteer or for which we get paid, but for which we are absolutely dedicated. In your case, for a zillion years.
JF: Yeah. Of course, the problem will be that, by the very nature of the type of people who are attracted to this place, will have a certain kind of ego to begin with and will live within the cult of personality.
UL: That's too bad. And that will change. This is not about personalities or cults.
JF: I dare say that the programs we do are …
UL: Oh, that's fantastic …
JF: … are personality shows.
UL: That's great and I love that.
JF: And I'm saying that cult of personality is also an asset when you're doing live radio and …
UL: Oh, that's fantastic, but that's what brings …
JF: But it's a double-edge sword.
UL: Personality is what drives a program. People tune in because they connect with a personality. And that's fine and that's the way it ought to be.
JF: When personnel changes occur it seems like major, major things.
UL: The thing is that, I think, there have been irresponsible and unprofessional actions. That's the thing that bothers me. Irrespective of the gravity of the situation, that not withstanding, I believe just the same that as rational, logical, thinking, professional people, what I have seen as reaction and treatment of a development is completely unacceptable to me and very distressing. And it betrays all the claims, in my view, to professional conduct. I just don't understand.
JF: Well some of it is just politics and using the tools of broadcasting
UL: No …
JF: … media at the disposal of …
UL: No, we will differ on these things because, again, I have maintained, I really have maintained that our greatest threat is internal.
UL: I have also maintained that this opportunity presents itself for those of us who are serious and committed, and for those who wish another path, that the opportunity exists at this point to do the thing that we have most desperately needed for a long time, which is self-examination. In all of this, in all of the call-to-arms and in all of the let's-go-get-'em, no one really has yet examined, to me, a critical and basic question, which is where if you're truly revolutionary where you start. And that is to ask a simple question: to what degree am, or have I, or have I not contributed to the problem? Is there anything I might have done that might have precipitated the problem? And to what degree am I responsible for the mushrooming of what should remain and still is, in my view, an internal matter. I believe that to so-called "come to the air and tell the listeners" is an arrogant assumption and a distortion of our responsibility. Our responsibility is not to intrude on people's lives, to tell them about our individual miseries. Our responsibility is to do exceptionally good radio. And our responsibility is to find methods and ways to connect with each other so no matter what the problem, no matter how loud we have to scream in a soundproof room, that we do that kind of work ourselves. The ceding of this very vital and fundamental function, to me, to others is to take the illogical position that you neglect to do your business, you neglect to do your homework. You have given the teacher the authority to grade you and then you upset the grade. I don't get it! So I will be explaining in greater detail as we go. Today, for example, we will be gathering. And the station in the next couple of weeks will be in think-tank mode. Introspection mode. Reconstruction mode. We have torn ourselves apart. No one has torn us apart. We have done it ourselves. We have abrogated our professional responsibility ourselves. We have created much of this crisis ourselves. We have abrogated the right of self-governance. We have done this ourselves. And we have proven to those who are in charge of governing us that we have limited capacity to govern ourselves. We have taken the path not of collective consciousness-raising. We have abrogated the whole idea of struggle and we instead cling to the specious notion of wanting to fight. I have never liked a brawl or a fight. I have always been a person involved in struggle and this is not a struggle. I mean, this is not a fight. This is a struggle and the struggle is to reconstitute who and what we are internally. It has been a struggle long postponed. It has been a struggle absolutely necessary. And we still continue, even now, to avoid it.
JF: My personal opinion is that this is a continuation of the struggle that came about in 1977, or rather, the first fight of the struggle that emanated in 1977 in that it was never really settled in many ways. As a result of that we are still getting the ripple effects of that going through all these people who weren't even around and are still being moved by those currents that continue to ripple within the dynamics of the station itself.
UL: This is why I thought you would be the perfect person because you know what has happened, you are intimately involved. You are a great authority on the recent timeline of the station and its recent developments. In fact, I would like to ask you a question: do you really believe that as we exist today - and you are great as a point of reference to do comparative analysis …
JF: Or at least my opinion.
UL: Do you see our current situation as a struggle or a fight?
JF: I see what's going on as fighting. I'm not saying that that's what it should be, but I perceive those as the dynamics. I perceive that people of conflicting opinions, differing opinions are trying to not even convince others necessarily through intellectual or even rhetorical uses but rather through political pressures, and worse. That, to me, is not fair. That is not the premise under which we band together, we artists, teachers, or reporters.
UL: We are behaving, in fact, quite unlike what we claim.
JF: Or what our ideal situation is.
UL: Alleged ideal situation.
JF: One thing I wanted to ask you directly - because we've been talking in very general terms - I think we need to get to very specific terms - is that we have had actual personnel changes within the station. It has been mentioned with various kinds of spin what those changes are. We know that by fact that you are here as interim station manager. Everybody here is aware of that change. Everybody who usually tunes in at this time is aware that Bernard White who's usually here isn't here. We should just say, what are the status of such people at this time? They have been fired?
UL: They have been terminated by the Executive Director of Pacifica, Bessie Wash.
JF: In each case, all three of the … ?
UL: Yes, all three.
JF: Okay. Were done by Bessie Wash.
JF: Yeah, because I heard conflicting things.
UL: Well, this is what I mean. I am hoping to take it nice and slow because I really believe … First of all, I really hate the idea that we are even dealing with internal matters, no matter how grave, no matter how discomforting, but they're internal matters. But I don't like having to deal with it in public.
JF: Of course, the other side of that is, for better or for worse, we're looking at what was a front page of the Metro section news story in Saturday's New York Times.
UL: Again, it was a front page of the Metro section of the New York Times because the New York Times was invited in here in what should have been a staff meeting. Again, this is a self-inflicted wound. And we continue to engage in this type of conduct that suggests that we are not interested, first, in doing the necessary work of self-examination. When you have a staff meeting, and first, before you even give the dignity and respect to your colleagues to apprise them of what the situation is, to invite their advice and counsel, but you fire off salvos all over the place. In effect, you take it upon yourself or yourselves to declare a war single-handedly that now embroils all of us. You have to examine who has the right to do that. Who has the right to embroil us all in something that is individually based, even if it has other implications, larger implications. These are very serious procedural questions and they relate to the essential point that I'm making. And that's is that it is proof that in some people the mindset is, "I do not need advice; I do not need counsel." I do not need to think about the repercussions that will befall all of my colleagues if I take a singular action. And therefore, with this out of control, the media - there's this hysteria and the intent despite advice to the contrary - this knee-jerk reaction: "I am being harmed; therefore, everybody must be involved." It seems to me that, if that is to happen, that too involves a process; that too involves a procedure. You cannot be arrogant enough, it seems to me, to presume that an attack, if there is such a thing, that anything that involves you as an individual gives you automatic right to declare a war, and to declare a war in which troops are expected, if they know what is good, to show up and man the ramparts.
JF: And in the meantime the station and the listeners are held hostage.
UL: The station and the listeners to what essentially, I maintain, is a serious development, but it still is a personnel issue. We are very clear because we are thinking people that everything has repercussions, including reckless conduct, unthinking action, and singular motives. These are things we have to examine. How does the conduct of one of us impact all of us? How does the action of any one of us imperil all of us?
JF: Don't you think some of these people are acting out of an ideological point of view?
UL: Oh, I think so. And they're entitled to do that. But to usurp the good will of people, to assume an automatic right to do so is arrogance beyond belief, I think. And it speaks to an egocentricity that requires treatment. That's me talking here about a sensible - I'm not even asking for a revolutionary thought and action. I'm saying that on the basis - this is a human level, on the basis of professional conduct, on the basis of a consciousness that one is part of a whole, on the basis that if indeed there is a recognition much more is required of us all in the standard of conduct that we practice and hold to, it is mandatory that we behave differently. This situation that we're in is a direct outgrowth of the failure of the conscious decision, an ill-advised conscious decision, to so corrupt what I think to be the logical, sequential, methodical behavior that I - that is what appalls me about this whole thing. There is no tragedy in my view that we can't cope with. The greatest tragedies that we have suffered in the last year or two have been the loss of our program director, Samori Marksman, and the loss of our colleagues like John Harris and others who have left us. And we are diminished by their absence. These were tremendous tragedies. And yet we coped with it. The tragedies were recognized as such. We recognized them as mature, responsible people do - that the first order of business is to come together and to find out how we can work together. And that was a responsible, and mature, and professional way to respond to that kind of a trauma. This is not that kind of an action. It does not smell like it. It does not feel like it.And, in my view, it is exceedingly harmful. It puts us all at risk. It puts the station at risk. It is an imposition on the lives of our listeners who deserve to have a faith in ourselves that we know what the hell we're doing.
JF: And that we're concerned about them.
UL: That's correct! In my view, where we are now is not unlike living in a household where you have two drunks and the children are caught between the pathological behaviors of the two people who say they are - I see you're drinking your industrial-strength, strong-brewed coffee.
JF: Oh yeah.
UL: This is how we are behaving. And we really need to examine that.
JF: If Robert Knight acts up today, we'll blame it on the coffee. I fed him a whole bunch of it …
UL: You gave him your coffee?
JF: That's a Coals/Newcastle, but it's the same thing with me, yeah. That's my first personal attack of the morning.
UL: Thank you. This is the kind of conduct we must stop because it is harmful, especially to us, the people who are here, and who are in many cases paid, and who are expected to not do this. We are being paid to not do this, and it is my hope that some sanity will emerge somewhere along the line. But let me tell you where we are. In the ensuing days, we will be doing a lot of thinking. A number of people are going to be coming in and out of the station. We're forming cells of thought and assessment in a number of areas. We need to find out where we are.
JF: When you say "they," you mean "we."
UL: Yes, of course. I mean the people coming in.
JF: I mean, because the greatest - are these people from outside?
UL: Well, it's us. It's all internal.
JF: I just want to be very clear on this. The great fear for a lot of people has been that people would come from outside and impose all kinds of change.
Robert Knight: Robert Knight, on a point of personal privilege, I actually drink coffee to come down.
UL: Oh Lord.
JF: In that case, my coffee did not serve you.
UL: Well, the thing is that we are going to be spending the next several days and weeks even in introspective mode. We have to improve the way we operate with each other. We have to re-examine what we think to be our professional calling and our professional duties and what we are supposed to do in the name of good radio here on Pacifica's WBAI, to continue in fact that tradition of Lew Hill. I'm so delighted, Jim, to be with you. We've had great conversations.
JF: And probably no one will find me, could find me sitting on both sides of the fence here. Because the fact of the matter is that I form my opinions by paying attention. And my opinions change people find over the years.
UL: As they should. When one gets access to information that enlightens, you change your opinion.
JF: And as years go by … it's been 23 years since 1977.
UL: Nobody in radio has the same opinion forever. But again, I wanted to thank you for coming in and serving this wonderful purpose of facilitator.
JF: Thank you. That is what I see myself as. I want to be a facilitator and I don't even want to be a position person although some people will already have determined that I am being traitorous and climbing up people's rears and stuff like that. In which case, I challenge the question, why then did I go through the previous hour? But being a facilitator and using what I consider to be my vision, (facetiously) which of course is the one true vision of WBAI …
[loud screeching noise]
JF: Well, gee!
UL: Oh, I thought the harbor had come in.
JF: Let me just mention, by the way, that was from the Arts Department of WBAI.
UL: Ah, sabotage.
JF: No, no, I think it was a mild …
UL: I'm saying that, is that a mantra … ?
JF: It was the musical …
Robert Knight: You have your DAT …
JF: Amy was there before. At any rate, it's about time for us to get off.
JF: But I wan