ENDGAME AT PACIFICA?
THE WASHINGTON MANAGEMENT TARGETS AMY GOODMAN
(With a Call to Action)
Edward S. Herman
Nothing could better illustrate the serious--indeed, desperate-- state of the Pacifica crisis than the fact that the Washington managers are now aggressively targeting Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!, censoring her, issuing instructions on what she can and cannot do, imposing onerous work conditions, and threatening discipline and possible job termination. She was given a written reprimand for bringing Ralph Nader on to the floor of the Republican convention, and outgoing Pacifica board chair Mary Frances Berry said that the "troublesome" Goodman had "embarrassed" the network (possibly meaning Berry herself, as she is a political appointee of the Democrats).
Based on this incident Democracy Now!'s press credentials were withheld for the Democratic convention. WBAI arranged for special coverage of Fidel Castro's recent speech at the Riverside Church in New York, including the lining up of well qualified hosts at the event, but after the Pacifica management's attempted last minute imposition of its own host was rejected by WBAI, the management refused to allow this exceptional program to be broadcast nationally, and it was heard only in New York.
This incident undoubtedly heightened the Washington management's determination to bring all of its recalcitrant underlings under closer control. Goodman was not permitted to hire a new producer for Democracy Now! when her former one left; instead, the Pacifica management imposed on her an individual whose most recent job was with Radio Free Asia. She has even been denied the right to use volunteers on her program--she should understand that she is an employee with a boss whose rules she must obey!
Culminating these attacks, Goodman was brought to Washington for a meeting with the top brass on September 14, where she was taken to task and given warnings by Steve Yasko, the new Pacifica National Program Director, and Mark Schubb, manager of KPFK in Los Angeles. (Yasko was recruited from NPR, where he specialized in marketing, not programming; but he deems himself qualified to intervene in all aspects of Democracy Now!'s operations. Schubb, a close ally of Marc Cooper, is notorious for having banned or fired dozens of people for violating gag rules on discussing the Pacifica situation, reserving this right to himself and Cooper. Both have long been noted for hostility to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now!)
Speaking as representatives of Bessie Wash, the Executive Director of Pacifica, these individuals raised questions about the content of her programming, suggested that her style was too confrontational and harsh, as well as being too intellectually demanding, and indicated that Washington expected her to spend less time on Democracy Now! and more on supplying pieces for Pacifica Network News (PNN). On content, she was accused of focusing excessively on East Timor, police brutality, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Lori Berenson (as cited cases in point). She was threatened with disciplinary action if she did not produce the demanded new material and adjust style and content. As Goodman works extremely hard to put up a daily full hour show, in the context of the clearly political objections to her programming, she was obviously being set up for demotion and ouster as a "personnel" decision.
These actions and threats forced Goodman to consider filing a grievance suit against Yasko and Pacifica for harassment and censorship. However, at the urging of representatives of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists (AFTRA), she was persuaded to return to Washington on October 16 to meet with the management in an effort to find some basis of compromise and conciliation.
But to their dismay, instead of a meeting to exchange views and reach an understanding, Goodman, her adviser, and two AFTRA representatives were met with a management lawyer and Yasko, who handed Goodman a letter with a list of demands and threats of discipline and termination. (One of the demands, that she refrain from using volunteers, was allegedly based on volunteer use violating the AFTRA contract, a claim that the AFTRA representative immediately declared to be entirely without substance. Another demand was that three Democracy Now! programs each week be prepared in advance, which denies its character as a news program, is onerous, and is clearly designed to allow censorship [in the management lingo, "editorial control"].)
The meeting was immediately terminated, and the AFTRA representatives agreed on the spot to go ahead with a grievance claim against Yasko for harassment and Pacifica's management for censorship. (Goodman's October 18 letter to the Pacifica Executive Director and board, describing these events and protesting the harassment and censorship, was released by the Institute for Public Accuracy on October 19.)
A problem for the Pacifica elite is that Goodman's show heavily outdraws the regular PNN broadcasts and most other Pacifica programs as well. This makes it awkward for them as they claim to be "reforming" Pacifica in the interest of enlarging audience size, which they have been doing by substituting popular music for politics (and softening any politics that remain). Thus the admonitions given Goodman by Yasko and Schubb, that listeners want a lighter touch and don't want to hear about police brutality before breakfast, are fraudulent--the audiences listen, and the sharp drop in listenership that FOLLOWS Democracy Now! reflects their own programmatic failure.
But the reactionary quality of these criticisms of Goodman is also displayed in other ways: one top officer asked what Lori Berenson was doing in Peru anyway, asserting that she herself had quickly turned off the radio! Several questioned Goodman's program celebrating the anniversary of East Timor's independence vote of August 30, 1999, a pioneering effort using East Timorese and other on-the-scene participants, and applauded by BBC. But for the management, as Clinton, Albright and the New York Times were not making a fuss over this anniversary why should Amy Goodman? Her news initiatives are perceived by the management as "activism," which means failing to follow the official agenda.
What motivates and drives this management elite? One key is that this group, which acquired control in a quiet coup during the 1990s, has no community roots or constituency whatsoever, and it regards Pacifica employees as simply hired hands, not stakeholders and parts of a genuine community. The old Pacifica had roots in the Bay area, and the move of the Pacifica offices from Berkeley to Washington, D.C. reflected an important reality. The new Pacifica-- the controlling management--gravitated to a new constituency of power brokers in the nation's political capital.
Numerous employees past and present have told me that the management elite has its closest links to the officers of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and National Public Radio (NPR), with whom they hobnob, exchange views, and depend for ideas and material and moral support. I have been told repeatedly and given numerous illustrations showing that the Pacifica top brass has been trying for years to force a toning down of political messages, to make them more palatable to important people in Washington like CPB funders. (CPB President and CEO, Robert Coonrod, who has been closely involved with the Pacifica management for some years, spent most of his working life in the U.S. foreign service and with U.S. propaganda agencies, the Voice of America and United States Information Agency. CPB Vice President Richard Madden has regularly intervened in Pacifica affairs, to criticize its news coverage-- most recently, WBAI's reporting of The Right to Return Rally held by Palestinians in Washington, D.C.--and to support and advise the management in its efforts to "NPR-ize" the network.)
The second and closely related key is political connections and stakes. Berry has clear links, and the Pacifica management has long had ties, to the Democratic Party. Pat Scott was urging Amy Goodman to ease up on the Democrats years ago, and in a tough election year there are intensified pressures to get on board and not act as spoilers. So political conformity, staying within the mainstream, is demanded of the underlings. The managers are part of an elite and mainstream culture, far distant from the traditional Pacifica audiences and employees. It has never occurred to this group that audiences might be enlarged by more programs like Democracy Now! rather than depoliticization, mainstreaming, and popular music. For them the left is the enemy, and they have been fighting it for years.
One route by which the management has gotten rid of a series of quality dissidents and leftists has been to establish gag rules or other conditions that they cannot in principle accept, and then fire them for insubordination (e.g., Larry Bensky). In the ongoing Goodman case, dissident Pacifica board member Tomas Moran asked Yasko and Schubb on what authority and policy basis they were instructing Goodman on program content, but they said that he would have to talk with Bessie Wash about that as they were working on her instructions. When Moran asked the question of Wash, she said that this was just a matter of "personnel" policy, and on policy issues she referred him to David Acosta as acting head of the board. Acosta told Moran that this was not for him to consider as he wouldn't want to interfere with day-to-day management by Bessie Wash!
That was all Moran could get out of the management and controlling members of the board. This effort to control content is now a long-standing operational mechanism of the control group. Elevating Bessie Wash to manage Pacifica was logical in that the station she had headed, Washington's WPFW, was tops among the Pacifica stations for censorship, and several present and past associates of Wash tell me that "she doesn't have a left [or "progressive"] bone in her body." (A list of 12 incidents of censorship at WPFW during 1999 was issued by the Institute for Public Accuracy on February 28, 2000.)
The Washington station's hostility to Goodman and Democracy Now! is so intense that WPFW currently follows that program with a station disclaimer of responsibility for its content. Its manager, Lew Hankins, explained the station's failure to cover the Green Party convention to his local advisory board on the grounds that "it wasn't interesting." And he announced beforehand that at the Republican and Democratic conventions his station wouldn't cover the demonstrations unless "they" decide this would be interesting. He refused to respond to the question of who "they" were.
So Amy Goodman, a distinguished professional with several decades of experience, winner of the Polk and other awards in journalism, with a huge and intensely loyal audience, is now being instructed by marketing executives and other unqualified bosses on what subjects she can and cannot deal with. One would think that even the liberals who signed up with Saul Landau in his petition against bashing "Pacifica" (by which Landau meant the Pacifica management) would be a bit queasy at this combination of centralizing control and blatant censorship, but we haven't heard a peep from them as yet.
The evasiveness and lack of accountability that Tomas Moran confronted in trying to locate the policy basis for content censorship is equally apparent in the governance process at Pacifica. The manipulation of rules, the stacking of the board with people who will agree with the control group, the failure to disclose and discuss board nominations and policy issues, and the literal dishonesty of the leadership, will match anything to be found in the private sector. And the situation is in important respects worse--and even less democratic--than in the private sector.
A small clique led by Berry selects board members without the slightest accountability to employees, audiences, or anybody. (In recent years these nominees have tended to be entrepreneurs and other businessmen who can advise on accounting, finance, legal defenses, and the buying and selling of real estate and other assets, including station licenses. Board Treasurer Micheal Palmer is a real-estate broker with CBRichard Ellis in Houston. The most recent nominees to the board, whose nominations were deferred until the upcoming meeting, were Francisco Rocciolo, a Citibank specialist in international investments, and Luis Wilmot, a consultant who works for a group committed to telecommunications deregulation in Texas.) In a private corporation at least the stockholders can vote and have a potential power to constrain and elect directors, and many of them have nominating committees of outside directors.
When Tomas Moran first got on the board in October 1999, he was put on the Governance and Structure Committee which, among other functions, nominates new board members. Several months later, after he had demonstrated that he was going to be a dissident rather than a yes-man, he found out that the Governance Committee had met and selected three new board nominees, but had failed to invite him to the meeting.
When he challenged this, Mary Berry stated that he was mistaken--that he had never been put on the Governance Committee. When he produced a transcript of the October meeting showing his name on that Committee, and making it clear that Berry was lying, he was told that Berry had "reassigned" him out of the Committee in May. But he was still unable to get an explanation for his exclusion from the Committee meeting that occurred prior to the unilateral (and probably illegal) reassignment, nor was he able to challenge the nominations made behind his back.
At the meeting at which Moran was excluded, John Murdock, a corporate lawyer with the firm Epstein Becker & Green, was one of three new board nominations put through by Berry and company. Murdock's firm advertises on its website that one of its consulting specialties is helping in "maintaining a union-free workplace."
The ongoing packing of the board with members hostile to Pacifica's mission and to broadly-based control of the foundation dates back some years. At the first Pacifica board meeting over which Berry presided in 1997, the board was threatened with legal action if it followed through on a clumsily executed plan to reduce local board control over national board composition from two-thirds to one- third on the then 15 seat board. This proposal was withdrawn and instead the board granted itself the right to elect an additional four at-large members, the maximum then allowed. A clique comprising the at-large (Pacifica board-selected) members and some local board-elected members have been in charge ever since, and have been able to maintain complete control via an Executive Committee that has made all the decisions.
Among the many charges leveled at the board in three of the impending law suits against Pacifica is that Berry improperly appointed members to the Executive Committee rather than allowing elections by the full board to determine that committee's composition, and further that the Executive Committee has exercised powers well beyond those granted it in foundation bylaws or articles of incorporation. In February 1999, the board removed the last vestiges of accountability to local station communities when it voted itself the right to elect its entire membership.
The half dozen dissidents on the board, several brought in to quiet turmoil or splinter station oppositions, have not been consulted in advance on nominations, major policy actions, or Pacifica strategies; they are essentially observers, although with a right to vote. This voting right has been a small bother in that some matters require a two-thirds board vote, as in the case of changing the bylaws. This has been dealt with by abuse of Executive Committee authority and simply bypassing the bylaws, as noted, but also by removing the voting rights of dissident board members.
Board members Rabbi Aaron Kriegel and Rob Robinson have filed suits against Berry and the Executive Committee for bylaw violations, including failure to disclose essential information on Pacifica matters. Berry therefore declared that, having consulted her legal counsel, the two dissidents forfeited their rights to participate in Pacifica affairs. No discussion or debate--just the authoritarian pronouncement from above. Meanwhile, at the most recent Pacifica board meeting, it was proposed that the bylaws be rewritten by John Murdock, of the union-hostile firm Epstein Becker & Green, for consideration at the February meeting of the board.
Although Berry's term as chair expired in September, she has presided over at least one emergency meeting of the board since then. At that meeting the board decided to form parallel alternative local advisory boards, given the fact that they were getting near unanimous condemnation and resistance from those coming from the local communities. In fact, in July 1999, 18 members of local advisory boards from four of the five Pacifica cities filed suit against the management for illegally changing the bylaws, misusing listener funds, and improper conduct.
As a further illustration of manipulation of the rules, when Tomas Moran submitted for board consideration a "No Sale Amendment" to the bylaws that would pledge Pacifica not to sell any Pacifica station, although he met all the conditions in the bylaws for offering an amendment, the Governance Committee simply refused to put it before the board for a vote. The chairman "explained" that the Committee had chosen a different amendment to submit, although the bylaws nowhere allow this selection and refusal process. These are not the only cases of rules doctoring and selective notification of committee meetings that Moran has encountered (see Tomas Moran, "A View from the Board," KPFA Folio, July 2000).
Because the management is completely out of touch with both the Pacifica audiences and employees, their mainstreaming, censorship, and left-cleansing operations have elicited a steady stream of actions, protests, and legal suits. In consequence, the leadership has run up very large legal and "security" expenses, with board members as well as listener and employee groups sueing the management for unauthorized expenditures of funds as well as non-disclosure and violation of other rules of governance and charter responsibilities.
Recently, adding to its employment of union-busting and regular legal counsel, the management has hired the expensive PR firm Levisk Strategic Communications, which brags that "Our clients aggressively leverage media to attract business, increase market share, and raise profits." In part perhaps to obscure such expenses and the "consulting" fees of Chadwick, et al, Pacifica has begun taking control of finances and financial accounting away from the local stations and centralizing them in Washington.
So the left has been under attack by the ruling management for five or more years, and just as the corporate establishment's attack on the welfare state started with welfare mothers and only belatedly reached Social Security, so with Pacifica it was quite a while before fortress Amy Goodman could be targeted. Her ouster would have precipitated very serious repercussions from below, so best to pick off her allies and in-house supporters one by one. That the management has become more aggressive in attacking her, seemingly willing now to accept her "voluntary" exit under pressure or firing her, shows that their determination to control content in all the stations and NPR-ize the network has moved to a new and more threatening phase.
But this new level of attack also shows that the management is willing to scrap the Pacifica system altogether, as her departure is still likely to produce a very strong response from the "real" Pacifica (audiences and employees). The real Pacifica has already been stifled at the Washington, Houston and Los Angeles stations. The next phase would be to sell off the licenses of WBAI and KPFA and use the proceeds to buy other stations in what would be a fully converted music and vaguely NPR-type network. The management has been considering license sale for some years; it has been talking with interested parties and those advising sale as a viable option (Microsoft, Public Radio International, and CPB), and the controlling board membership now includes a fair number of individuals in business who do not have the slightest commitment to the Pacifica dissident and alternative tradition. The management is ready and willing to complete the dismantlement of a progressive network.
In the earlier exchange I had with Saul Landau, and in John Dinges's article on the Pacifica crisis in The Nation (May 1, 2000), both authors mentioned Amy Goodman's and Democracy Now!'s continued presence as showing the management's acceptance of a leftist and left news program. Neither of these writers had asked Goodman about her experiences and views on the Pacifica management--and even at that time she was quite forthright with anybody deigning to ask about the harassment and hostility she suffered in her work.
I thought this failure was poor and biased journalism by Dinges and disingenuous on Saul Landau's part. Both also ignored the dynamics of a deliberate political mainstreaming process, which in this case has involved picking off leftists one by one, coopting a few by giving them a privileged position--at least temporarily--and not attacking the strongest and best entrenched leftists until the ground was prepared.
And now that Amy Goodman is under direct attack, the silence of Landau, Dinges, and the Landau statement signers at the Institute for Policy Studies and The Nation is striking. It is also tragic, as some of the signers are leftists genuinely interested in pursuing a progressive agenda. They seem unconcerned with the fact that only the traditional Pacifica, under relentless management attack, was really sympathetic to the left and could be counted on to give their positions full coverage and a positive thrust. They will not get this at the New York Times, nor at NPR, nor under the new Pacifica being constructed by Bessie Wash, Steve Yasko and their associates on the Pacifica board and at the CPB. So based on an old boy left network, and possibly ignorance, the opponents of "Pacifica bashing" help sink a media institution that was their natural ally and would be important for their own effectiveness.
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a media analyst is that the left needs a left media for its messages to be given a fair shake and to be disseminated with any force. And without a left media any left politics, and the ability to build and maintain a grass roots political base, operates at a huge disadvantage (see Manufacturing Consent, pp. 15-16). When will the left learn this lesson and be willing to act on it?
A CALL TO ACTION NOW
Well, a great many people on the left, without ties to the Pacifica management or the old boy network, do understand what is at stake, as has been demonstrated by the resistance of the past five years or more. But we are at a critical juncture. The management is on the attack once again and a really vigorous response is now quite important. There must be an escalated challenge to its illegitimate authority.
The controlling management group that has abandoned both Pacifica's progressive mission and the communities long and well served by the Pacifica stations, and which is at war with the employees as well, has no moral right to rule and no legal right either. It is urgent that they be ousted, that a democratic governance structure be installed, and that communities and employees have a dominant voice in the management of this network. The management must be prevented from pushing out Amy Goodman and selling off station licenses.
It is time to act, and all those who care should do something. Let me list some of the possible avenues of constructive action, recognizing that this list is hardly exhaustive and that supporters of a democratic Pacifica must develop a program of resistance and action by further discussion and exchanges:
Educate yourself on the crisis: an important information website is:
Other important sites are:
New York area:
Los Angeles area:
Washington, D.C. area:
and http:www.stationadvisoryboards.org (currently under construction)
-----Join, organize and work with listener groups, which already exist in New York City, Berkeley and Los Angeles. Such groups are needed in Washington and Houston.
For NYC, contact Eileen Sutton: firstname.lastname@example.org
For Los Angeles contact the Frespeech Coalition, email@example.com
------Individuals and listener groups in each city in which Pacifica stations operate must start to put serious pressure on the board members and managements that have abandoned them by a barrage of letters, e-mail messages, visits, and picketing at homes and work places. Yasco, Wash, and acting board chairman David Acosta should be bombarded with expressions of outrage at the attacks on Goodman. They should be urged to resign forthwith and get themselves into the more congenial commercial media--or NPR! Protests should extend to board members in other locales who have lined up with the Pacifica management in its regressive actions. A list of board members is appended, with a double asterisk indicating that the member is a supporter of the Berry-Wash management group.
-----Send e-mail messages of support to the six board members, Bramson, Moran, Cagan, Lyons, Robinson, and Kriegel, who are excluded from power at present but who represent the real Pacifica. (See appended board list.) Urge them to protest the anti-Goodman actions and to step up their own opposition to the management's illegitimate authority.
-----A national campaign must be begun to oppose the management with coordinated local protests and legal actions.
-----Support the lawsuit to remove the Pacific board: Committee to Remove the Pacifica Board: 1136 Wild Rose Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95401. Donations to the Committee's legal fund are welcome
-----If you listen to Democracy Now! on a Pacifica affiliate, write to your station and urge them to state publicly that they will cancel their contract with Pacifica if Amy Goodman is removed or if Pacifica's censorship of Democracy Now! is not terminated
-----If a Pacifica subscriber, tell your station that you will no longer contribute until Yasko, Wash, Schubb and any others involved in political censorship of programming are fired or resign
-----Speak to others in organizations you belong to and ask them to pass resolutions condemning political censorship at Pacifica
-----Support the PNN strike, get their views on their web page: www.savepacifica.net, and listen to the strikers Free Speech Radio News, now carried on 38 stations on Fridays. Friends of Free Speech Radio has underwritten much of the political activity opposing the takeover of Pacifica, and they have supported the anti-censorship strike of long-time reporters for the Pacific News Service. Friends of Free Speech Radio have also contributed generously to the law suit brought by members of Local Advisory Boards, and they have helped pay for national ads on the strike. They have produced concerts and organized street protests, along with other supportive activities. Send them contributions--if you want it to go to the striking journalists, mark it "Stringers Strike" on your donation.
Friends of Free Speech Radio, 905 Parker Street, Berkeley, CA 94710
LIST OF CURRENT BOARD MEMBERS OF PACIFICA:
David Acosta, Chair**
102 S. Lockwood
Houston Tx. 77011-3124
phone: (713) 926-4604
Andrea Cisco, Secretary**
2390 Champlain Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Phone: (toll free) 888-770-4944
Ken Ford, Vice Chair**
11303 Sherrington Ct.
Largo, Md 20774-2317
Phone: (202) 822-0228
(works at National Assoc. of Home Builders)
Wendell L. Johns**
5117 Warren Place, NW
Washington, D.C. 20016
phone: (202) 752-8193
(works at Fannie Mae)
32 King Street
New York,. NY 10014
phone: (212) 741-0839
(works at WBAI!!)
c/o Los Angeles Sentinel
3800 S. Crenshaw, PO Box 11456
Los Angeles, CA 90008
phone: (323) 299-3800 x255
800 25th Street NW
phone: (202) 965-6224
(sports magnate, investor in broadcast stations)
John M. Murdock**
Epstein Becker & Green
1227 25th Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20037
phone: (202) 861-0900
Industrial Properties, Houston Texas
CB Richard Ellis
2500 W. Loop South, Suite 100
Houston, Tx 77027-4502
phone: (713) 840-6646
Karolyn Van Putten**
Western Public Radio
Fort Mason Center, Bldg. D,
San Francisco, CA 94123
phone: (415) 771-1160
14602 Quail Creek Court
Houston Tx. 77070
Rabbi Aaron Kriegel--KPFK
[Note: Mary Berry is no longer on the board, but serves as a "consultant," along with former Executive Director Lynn Chadwick. Bessie Wash, the Executive Director of Pacifica is also not a board member.]