Interim WBAI Station Manager Utrice Leid WPKN's Counterpoint program,
full-length interview by Scott Harris, recorded Jan. 8, 2001
(in RealAudio)

"..." means that something was left out
"--" means that the speaker broke off in mid-sentence or was interrupted
"[ ]" brackets enclosing something are transcriber's comments, and they
are also used to insert words that provide the proper context, but which
the speaker did not actually say. "(laughs)" speaker laughs "(pause)"
pause "(inaudible)" the tape was inaudible at this point "[sic]" means
this is what it sounded like, it is not a typographical error "* *"
asterisks surrounding a word means the word was emphasized

Scott Harris: Utrice Leid, thank you for joining us. Um, we are speaking,
certainly, in the midst of a-- what many are describing as -- a crisis at WBAI radio with the, uh, firing of, uh, 10-year manager Valerie van Isler and program director Bernard White. You are now acting as the Interim Manager. But maybe, for the benefit of our listeners who are, are concerned about this, but don't know some of the facts, we'd like, maybe, for you to recount for us what, what occurred that, that, uh, brought us to this stage in events.

Utrice Leid: Well, I've maintained uh, that, uh, this crisis is a
self-inflicted wound and a case of manufactured dissent. We have,
unfortunately, with
us, internally here at WBAI, individuals who believe, who long have
believed, that any form of supervision is tantamount to a personal attack.
And, uh, we had a situation that uh, a *manufactured campaign*, uh, aimed
at discrediting, uh, the, the Foundation, largely because of a personal
agenda, was undertaken. And it was based essentially on a lie. There was
no attack on anybody's program, no "attack" on anybody in particular, but
it was a disciplinary action and my position from the very beginning was,
that this is an internal matter. No matter how difficult it was, no
matter how, uh, distateful it might have been to the individual, that
essentially it was an internal matter. And if, indeed, one recognizes, or
one even is cognizant of, the need for community and collegiality, what
would have happened would have been that the individual would have
come to colleagues and tried to deal with the situation internally. That did not
happen. Instead, the individual launched a public campaign based, again,
on misinformation and, I would even say, a lie. And it was embellished
upon, and it was embellished upon, and, before you knew it, what we had
was a campaign, a public campaign, uh, of disinformation that
unfortunately I think, uh, took advantage of the credibility of the person
involved and took advantage of the, the, the genuine good will of
listeners. It was a campaign of listener abuse and a usurpation of their
good will for *individual* agenda purposes and I feel very upset about
that --

Scott Harris: --you're, you're referring to an individual, but, uh,
what-- Who is this individual? Can you name that person?

Utrice Leid: I cannot-- for-- I mean-- for-- I have also said, that
because it is-- I deem it to be, an internal matter-- I just will not name
the individial. But the individual knows who it is, and many of us here at
the station know who it is. And many people in our listening audience know
who it is. Uh, but it is a particularly destructive thing to do and it is
also a very negative thing to do when one purposely manufactures a crisis
that simply did not exist. We are now in a crisis, yes, I would admit
that. But it has been a case of manufactured dissent.

Scott Harris: Now, as you took the job as the Interim General Manager, certainly theres-- um-- bad winds blowing around the station with the firing of long-term-- well not that long-- of Bermard White as ProgramDirector. Maybe you could speak to what kind of, um, agreement you made with the Pacifica Foundation to take this job, because, certainly, now you are in the hot seat.

UL: Well, I don't see myself as a hot, in the hot seat. I see, in fact,
the hot seat being, uh, the future of the station. The station itself is
in the hot seat, and put there, I think, by the indiscriminate and
ruthless actions of individuals who know full well that, while there are
legitimate issues to be discussed, number one: they are unhinged, they are
separate and discrete issues having their own particular origins and their
own particular sets of circumstances. That if we are interested in doing
critical analysis, that we should at least have the wherewithal to
appreciate how different the circumstances are, not that they are in any
way inextricably linked. But, again, that is part of the campaign that has
put the station at risk and, of course, has made it vulnerable, I think.
Because the intent here is to destroy it, if it means that a person or a
group of persons will prevail in, in the public view [sic].
[Transcriber's note: This sentence is hard to understand; I think she is
saying that if Bernard is trying to force a situation where there must be
one winner and one loser, then he will destroy the station.]
But it is a
very destructive act, and I construe it as such.

SH: one of the critical issues raised in this latest instance--
and certainly we can go back to the KPFA episode in Berkeley,
California--is the issue of local control. And I'm wondering, what are
some of your thoughts on the Pacifica National Board's role in determining
personnel issues and other things (now that you are the Interim General
Manager)that many people think should be decided at the home station
itself rather than at the Washington level?

UL: Well, you see, this is the case I was making. Because it fits the
personal agenda to refer to the situation out at KPFA as being linked to
the present circumstance, you know, I refuse to address it in that context
because I see it as not being related. I appreciate a certain number of
things that other people do not, about the KPFA situation: #1 the
circumstances there were genuinely contentious; #2 the station manager
was popular; #3 I believe that there were questionable actions by the then
Executive Director; and #4 that was the *then* executive director [note:
meaning she is not the ED now]. Ah, the Adviso-- the, the, the National
Board, as I understand it, and as other people ought to understand it, is
*not* an operating board. It is a governance board. Now, I understand
that there are concerns about that. But as far as I understnad it, the
Executive Director of the Foundation is a person who is responsible
directly for day-to-day operations of *all* the Pacifica stations. Now,
some people conveniently would like to confuse the role of the board with,
uh, actions taken locally. The *di-sci-pline* of one of our workers here,
the disciplinary action taken against one of our workers here, who, in
fact, *deserved* to be disciplined, uh, has nothing to do with the
National Board. So I will not discuss the role of the National Board as
it relates to a person who *refuses* to adhere to rules of, of, of common
*conduct* and professional and ethical conduct; they are not linked, in my
eyes, so I will not link them.

SH: But apart from this specific instance of personnel issues at WBAI,
there is a growing, uh, fear, I would say, and criticism, of the National
Board, for not giving enough, um, input to the people at the local level.
What's your take on that?

UL Well, I think, if-- If that is the perception, then that struggle
ought to happen *around* that perception, but, again, I am not interested,
in this specific moment, of [sic] linking the National Board with
personnel decisions. I see them as being unhinged [sic][I think she means
they are unrelated].

SH Um, just a quick reference to an interview that I happened to hear on
WBAI, between yourself and Pacifica Foundation Executive Director
Bessie Walsh. Um, you referred to the "take" of some people, that Pacifica is
engaged in some kind of cannibalism. I dunno if you yourself believe that
to be the case or not, but certainly there are there is a perception
around the country that Pacifica is in the process of destroying itself.
And I wondered if you would address that in terms of what you see going
on, both in terms of the personnel issues at WBAI and what we've seen
previously at KPFA.

UL There's no greater threat to WBAI than the internal contradictions
that have been here, and continue to be here. These contradictions have
to do with perceptions of race, nativism, anti-immigrant sentiment; the
contradictions have to do with egos; the contradictions have to do with a
number of things that are very uncomfortable to deal with and address. So
the finger very convenienely points outward, and points outward all of the
time. WBAI doesn't have to be "attacked" by the outside. It is doing a
very good job by itself-- and this is what I mean by the circumstances
that we find ourselves in largely being a self-inflicted wound. We
continue to ignore the yawning contradictions that we have been plagued
with and, as long as we do that, there is every reason to believe that we
remain vulnerable to attack by anyone. For example, in this whole
debacle, I believe this is the first real interview of a news organization
that I am doing. This is the first time that I'm speaking, and I'm
speaking to you, and I cannot describe the venom, the vitriol, the
cannibalism, uh, that has been demonstrated by people who profess to be
responsible broadcasters, people who believe that they are entitled to sit
down behind a microphone and actually elevate the consciousness of
people; people who believe they have the right to lead a revolution for the
better; people who believe-- in fact, people who are standing on such
moral high-ground, practically everyone has a *nosebleed*. But the thing
is that when it comes to the matter of self-examination, that is always
put off. It is extremely uncomfortable, it is always inconvenient and it
is where the problem is. The problem, I insist, is largely *internal*. the
contradictions that have been allowed to fester. And nobody wants to peel
away the scab and confront the festering sore.

SH I just have one more question for you, Utrice Leid, and that, that has
to do with the notion of some people at, uh, Pacifica radio stations
around the country that, uh, the National Board is on a campaign to dilute
the political programming at the, all the stations, in an effort to
broaden the listenership. Many people will say that the country doesn't
need another National Public Radio Network, and that what WBAI and the
rest of the Pacifica network stations does is quite unique and should be
preserved. What's your reaction to the idea that, number one, there is a
drive to water down the programming, to water down the political content?
And, just an aside here, there were some complaints made that criticism
was raised about the WBAI broadcast of Fidel Castro's speech in New
York, and the coverage of the Palestinian rights rally in Washington.

UL Well, again, those two examples that you just cited are *utterly*
false and baseless and they are lies but they have been allowed to remain
uncontested. they are lies. The Castro speech was not a problem at all.
There was no intention here to dilute any programming. There has never
been an intention here. I certainly haven't felt it in my years here.
No-one has ever told me what I can and cannot say because I have been
doing responsibile broadcasting. And I, I, I performed my on-air duties
with, uh, in an ethical way. So in no instance, in my tenure here as an
on-air person, have I ever been told what to do and what not to do.

SH --um

UL And in no instance have I ever seen or witnessed or heard of anyne
being told what to say or what not to say. Including (laughing), in fact,
in the last couple weeks since this incident occurred, uh, *I* certainly
haven't, with all the vitriol that has been directed at me and others at
the station, I certainly haven't told a single person what to say or what
not to say. No program has been yanked off the air; nobody has been
yanked off their programs. So it is, uh, mystifying to me that people
will take the position that this is, in fact, true. I don't know about
other stations but I do know that at WBAI that is an utterly false claim.

SH Well, just a quick follow-up on that. Peter Boshen complained, I think
it was this morning, Monday, January 8th, that his program had been
clipped, some portion of it had been excised. Is that at all accurate?

UL Well, if-- [she breaks off] I don't think it is accurate, because I
was here when it was played in its *entirety*. And if it was clipped, I
find it interesting that he did not say a thing to me, although I saw him

SH --ok

UL --he has not said a word to me about that. And I would imagine that if
he was miffed about something the proper thing, again-- If we respect each
other and an internal process, the first thing you do is you deal with it
*internally*, which has not been *done*. And I find it curious that the
first person who would know about it would be you; you would know about it
before I do--

SH --mm-hm

UL --and I'm *here* and so is he.

SH Well, maybe I'm-- [he breaks off] Looking on the more positive side, as
we conclude here, Utrice, I wonder if you could speak to the possibilities
and plans for reconciliation. WBAI radio and the Pacifica Network is
viewed by many as a treasure that can't be lost, you know, to the greater
public which depends on it for the news and information they can not find
anywhere else. What are the chances, in your mind, that there can be
reconciliation and this crisis will indeed pass?

UL Well, I like the fact that people are calling for reconciliation
after, you know, repeatedly burying an axe in the middle of your head.
And, uh, now the question is, "ooh, we didnt mean to hurt you, are you
hurt?" (Laughs out loud.) With reconciliation is the demand for truth.
And I don't know that people are willing to submit themselves to the
veracity test as, in fact, my-- It would be the basis for my involvement
in any attempt at reconciliation that there be truth. Many of the things
that have been said, and that continue to be said, are *patently false*.
That is to say, they are *lies*. And much damage has been done. Many
people's characters have been asssassinated. There are deep scars and deep
wounds here that were consciously inflicted, and that is not a thing that
is easily overcome, especially when it occurs with intent, and with
malicious intent. The intention is to destroy. The intention is to drive
wedges beteen people who should be working cooperatively. The intention is
to break apart, not to reconcile. And therefore, some of us have no choice
but to respond to the signals that have been sent. I have said nothing.
I have simply observed the, the tone and the signals that *they* have been
sending, those who have been on this public campaign of destruction and
vitriol. And I cannot find it within my-- and I'm speaking now as a human
being-- I'm not yet at that place where I can accept the notion of
reconciliation without first having those persons, uh, indulge in a public
act of confession and some attempt to divulge the *truth* of their
motivations and their actions.

SH Well, Utrice, I thank you for taking time to speak with us--

UL Thank you so much, it's a pleasure--

SH If there's anything else you want to say that we haven't said--

UL --no, just that this is, in fact, a treasure. No one likes
the idea that we are thrust into the middle of a crisis, but
the crisis is a manufactured one (laughs). "Manufactured dissent," to
quote the flipside of, uh, of, uh, of the great writer Noam Chomsky
[transcriber's note: Chomsky wrote "Manufacturing Consent"]. And simply
to say that there are enough of us here who still are sane, and who still
are grounded in what it is we have to do, to keep the station going, even
for those who seek to destroy it now--that is the unfortunate thing. But
even-- despite that, we will continue. And hopefully the station will be
here when they come to their senses.

SH All right. Utrice, thanks, and best of luck. I hope things come
together real quick--

UL --thank you!

SH I know that everybody does, so--

UL --thanks so much

SH --take care

UL bye-bye

SH b'bye

[transcriber's note: towards the end of the interview, SH sounded disappointed.]>