Here is the partial transcript from Larry Bensky's show, which aired
(Dec 31, 2000) at 9-11 am Pacific Time on KPFA in California With Mimi
Rosenberg and Eileen Sutton
Larry Bensky: ...[WBAI] which, as I think almost all of our listeners
and, uh, should find out more about, is now under siege itself, as we have
been here at KPFA by our parent Pacifica Foundation, with the abrupt
firings, a week ago Friday, of the station manager and the program
director and a producer and shop steward as well. Since then, the changing
of the locks in the building, the banning of 3 more programmers from the
premises, one of those who joins us, Mimi Rosenberg, has been a programmer
at WBAI even longer than I have been here at KPFA. I didn't think that
was possible, but she actually, you told me the other week when I met you
at a conference in Madison, Mimi, you started at WBAI in 1968?
MIMI: Yes, it's frightening (laughs)...
LB (laughs) No it's not, it's encouraging (slight pause) that insane
people like you and me would hang in here (laughs) this long at such an
institution. And also joining me is, Eileen Sutton, who is a volunteer
producer in the WBAI news department, who has now been banned from the
station. Eileen Sutton, one of the leaders of Free Speech Radio News, one
of the freelancers on strike against the censored PNN for over a year now.
Welcome once again to Sunday Salon Eileen.
Eileen Thanks Larry.
LB: And Mimi Rosenberg. Mimi, you are a programmer who does, along
with Ken Nash, a labor program now regularly on Mondays, for what,
about 20 years?
MIMI yeah, actually I do, uh, several programs. I do Building
your community and labor report...I also... do a program called "In Brief"
which is an analysis of the law and legal issues and the legal system
LB because you're an attorney and you work with legal services for poor
MIMI The Legal Aid Society.
LB in New York City. Mimi, what's your take on what's going on
right now? Is this something that will ultimately turn out to be a
good thing, as we believe what happened here in KPFA may
ultimately turn out to be, a good thing, in exposing what the
Pacifica Foundation is really up to in negating our principles and
tradition over the years, and enabling us to let people know what's
going on with this current imposed board of directors, or do you
think you're in bad trouble there and its, um, goin' down the tubes?
MIMI (laughs) One correction by the way. thus far.. I await my fate.
program is on tomorrow and I do not know if I am on the infamous list that
has sought to bar people from the station. I find it distasteful to use
the word banning, even though our appointed general manager Utrice Leid
does, since banning to me of course came out of the terminology of South
Africa and is repugnant to me and incomprehesible to use, ah, in
conjuntion with WBAI, but, indeed, it's being used. But I don't know if I
will be allowed to continue to do my programming or not. I do know that I
was physically prevented from gaining entry, along with other colleagues
last Saturday. You know (laughs), I--
LB ...you were out of town, your program was on last Monday, with your
cohost Ken Nash, and, like many people on the air now at WBAI, he spent a
good part of that program talking about the situation. It's being talked
about by many programmers on the air there, to the apparent consternation
of your appointed acting general manager and to the appointed executive
director Bessie Wash, who, yesterday, I understand, barged in, on the air,
in what must have been a marvelous moment of radio theater, and tried to
stop a programmer from discussing this on the air, _on the air_!
MIMI Well I (laughs) particularly since it was Grandpa Al Lewis whose
program Bessie sought to intervene in. I mean, Al is a venerable member of
the progressive community. He is, as he would state, 90 years young, and
has nothing to fear, he's been part of the Hollywookd blacklist, etc.
Unfortunately this kind of, (and i dont look at it as censorship), this
kind of coup, this kind of takeover uh from the Pacifica National Board
with the cooperation, unfortunately, of some local personnel, remains a
time of infamy, and certainly Al understands that in the historic context,
and was not about to be *cowered* by the intrusion of Bessie, as she says,
"M.", Wash. I must be clear, I hate to learn by adversity. But when one
is on the precipice of disaster, one can either go over the edge or choose
to learn from that experience and use it to one's advantage. And I
maintain that now the New York listenership and the New York personnel had
been a little, uh, behind our colleagues in California in understanding
the might of the Pacifica National Board and their abrogation of all the,
uh, political principles, moral and ethical concerns that the Pacifica
stations have had since their inception. Perhaps now, albeit late in the
game, we can, uh, catch up quickly and address what is nothing less than a
complete transformative process which invariably will alter the content of
LB Mimi, let me just, uh, say that there are some positive things that
have gone on there as well, and bring in Eileen Sutton here. Eileen, when
we spoke last, you were planning a large community meeting to try to
organize, and I understand that it was so large that you couldn't even get
enough people in the room last week.
EILEEN Yeah, that's true, Larry. There was upwards, of, official
the building folks, there was about 1100 I think over the course of the
evening because there were waves of people coming and going, it was
probably, the total number of people who came to at least a portion of the
meeting was closer to 14 or 1500. It was a standing-room-only crowd,
people, you know, literally in the lobby outside the meeting hall, you
know, pressing security people to let them in. And, uh, it was an
extraordinary evening, I think historic in many ways. And, as I think I
have mentioned in other programs, perhaps some of your listeners have
heard, as a group here in New York trying to reach out to the community
and bring the New York listenership up to speed, in about 8-10 weeks we
went from 100 people at the first comunity meeting to 1100 people or more,
um, at the 6th community meeting, and that was over the course of 10
weeks. And I was also extremely heartened to see that the group that came
out wednesday night, again on a very very cold night in the dead of a New
York winter, was extremely representative, um,ethnically and culturally,
of the station, so should anybody at Pacifica National, uh, try to play
the race card in New York and insist that somehow you know it's a bunch of
white guys over 50 in New York who are barking about changes, um, that has
already been put to rest.
LB Don't worry about the race card, they play with a race *deck*!
LB Mary Francis Berry (laughs) has no other cards in her deck and neither
do the people, uh, who, uh, she's surrounded herself with and who have
tried to usurp the power and the, uh, necessary and invaluable work that
this network has to do and again I wanted to let our listeners know... You
can get the latest on this struggle: what you can do about it, and who you
can write about it, by logging on to www.savepacifica.net... I just got
yesterday an excellent article by the estimable Ed Herman, Noam Chomsky's
partner in many books about media who has, something he's just written
about the WBAI aspect of this struggle that's gonna be on znet in
zmagazine, we're gonna post it on savepacifica.net as well.
Eileen: Can I make one small correction? So far we have,
7 people have
been banned or fired. 3 people have been fired. Uh, 4 unpaid, um, unpaid
staff workers have been banned
LB And you're one of them.
Eileen I'm one of them. 4 of us, there's now 7. 4 were banned this week,
people fired last weekend. Were Mimi to be banned tomorrow, she would be
the first *programmer* to be banned.
LB: ...Mimi ... I think you, of all the people I've come across
struggle, have a really good analysis of whats really going on here, who
this Pacifica Board is and what they're up to. I wonder if you could just
take a couple of minutes to bring our listeners up to speed on that, and
what your conclusion is on who they are and what they're doing.
MIMI Well, I have long believed that there is an underlying
philosophy that has begun to crystallize. And it is a philosophy
that has been stimulated by a radio consultant by the name of
David Giovannoni, and it has in many ways shaped the face of
public radio and National Public Radio for some years, and this is a
gentleman who has been called in as a consultant by the Pacifica National
Board. And his philosophy, in, I would say, in short term would be to fire
our listenership. That to sustain the radio station obviously there are
two pots of money that need to be brought to bear. One is to enhance the
grants that come in from the Corporation for Public bBoadcsting. As a
quasi-government entity, it is very clear that if you accept money,
particularly based on the nature of their grants from the Corportaion for
Public Broadcasting, without making any demands, which at least, david
sellnickere did in earlier years--
LB I did it myself. I was one of the people who advocated, when I was
station manager here in the 70s, taking that money, as long as there were
MIMI I agree with that, I've come into contention with some of
colleagues about that. I am not one who is afraid of taking government
monies, although I believe that--
LB Government money is taxpayer money, those are our listeners
MIMI Exactly. It's our money. One can't do it without putting terms
on it or by becoming a grant-driven process. We, at this juncture, are
much more inclined to do it without any equivocation whatsoever. In
addition, the other pot of money is, of course, the listeners. And what
you look for under the prescription of David Giovannoni is a way of
increasing your funds tremenously with listeners who can afford to pay for
the programs, the 2-credit-card- plus housholds. We are looking for not
the brithers and sisters behind the wall or the Work Experience Program
workers in New York or other impoverished groups. We are looking for
people who want a program and are willing to pay the max for it. That
makes us a consumerist station with a fundamentally different mission,
purpose and way of funcitoning. And now that the Pacifica National Board
has brought on significant numbers of careerists, yes the Bessie M. Wash,
yes, the Steve Yaskos. I mean, Steve Yasko was the marketer for the Diane
reeve show for NPR.
LB This is the man who is... now Pacifica's national program director.
MIMI Before that... it's my understanding that.. he ran a pizza
business. I mean, one hardly uses this as references to do national
programming for a grouping of staions that comprises--
LB ... He wasn't running the pizza delivery service that Monica Lewinsky
called out of the White House, was he?...
MIMI One thing that is for sure now ... is that we have a theory
that is driving it, which is a "fire the listener" theory: to bring on a
fundamentally upwardly mobile managerial class of people who can pay for
programming, along with more grants, without any criteria put on
acceptance of such from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It's not
an immediate alteration but it will invariably alter the content of
programming and, first and foremost, the ends of course do not justify the
means. When people use the terminology like "banning" when they engage in
lockouts or construct blacklists, or "whitelists" if you prefer the
LB Actually most of the people who have been locked out in New Y have
MIMI Uuhh that is true but one always has to be extremely mindful and
sensitive of the context in these issues if one is anti racist.
LB Let's just be clear here, you can always find people of any
who will betray their ethnicity.
MR Oh theres no question about that--
LB For a few pieces of silver.
MR We understand that the Bush administration has accepted women and
Latinos into the cabinet, and we also understand that they have a
philosophy that is such that it would crush progressive social justice
campaigns, there is no question about that....
LB: ...we will be continuing, as we have for years now ... to
what's going on at WBAI in New York. Obviously there are very strong
people like Mimi and Eileen who are not giving up. In fact, an
overwhelming percentage of the staff is behind this effort to get Pacifica
out of New York and to be true to our traditions of community control and
listener sponsorship. And we wish you well and we'll be back with you
MR Larry it is definitely a power struggle and the power of the
people is, and will be, mightier than the bureaucratic neoliberal
politics of the people who have now gained control of the national
LB All right. Thank you very much, and we will find out tomorrow what
*your* particular fate is... whether you join those who are excluded or
banned and even if you are, I know that, along with those of us here who
suffered a similar fate on a short-term basis, you will continue to
struggle and get yourself back in, dedicated to the principles that are
the only reason for this network to exist.
Eileen:... can I kick out the hotline number? 718-707-7189
LB: ...Happy New Year, both of you, as happy as it can be.