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by Mark Vallen - Art For A Change
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2002 at 11:47 AM
Controversy continues to swirl around the subject of Marc Cooper, the new interim Station Manager Steven Starr, former KPFK Programmer Ron Wilkins, and charges of anti-Semitism. To further a much needed discussion on this vital issue, I offer the following:
As everyone knows by now, last week Jim Lafferty gave his February 7th "National Lawyers Guild" airtime to former KPFK Programmer, Ron Wilkins. Wilkins had hosted the popular "Continent to Continent - African Issues" program up until 1996... when Marc Shubb pulled the plug on Wilkins' live show because Wilkins was "violating the Gag Rule." It should be noted that no other legitimate impropriety was cited by Shubb for banishing Ron Wilkins.
To me, the real crisis at KPFK began in '96 when Shubb censored Wilkins... NOT when he yanked Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" off the air. I stopped my financial support of KPFK in 1996 after Wilkins and the other African American Programmers were banned.
During last week's "National Lawyers Guild - Ron Wilkins" broadcast, Wilkins opened the phones, and everyone who called in was elated to hear him back on the air... everyone except for one fellow. That caller, without offering any specifics... accused the banned African Programmers of being "anti-Semites." Wilkins and fellow guests were properly dismissive of the harassment and moved on to the next call. I would only fault them for not taking the time to say, "Look... we condemn anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination." But that is something Wilkins has said time and again over the years.
The next day on his February 8th afternoon show, Marc Cooper verbally assaulted Ron Wilkins as a "Thug" and an "anti-Semite." He apologized to the listeners for the Wilkins broadcast, calling it "an embarrassment" and said he "wished to distance himself" from the broadcast. It should also be noted that weeks prior to this affair, Cooper had reacted to Amy Goodman's interviewing Dick Gregory... who had just been seated as a new member to the Pacifica National Board. Gregory is a well respected Progressive and a long time Activist in the Civil Rights movement... but Cooper choose to characterize him as "disoriented" and as someone "who should NOT be serving on the Pacifica National Board"... not so subtly implying that Gregory is insane.
Not even a week after Cooper's slandering of Wilkins, Steven Starr took to the airwaves on Tuesday afternoon (2-12-02), to give his "Report to the Listener." It was an honest, open, and well received discussion of the problems at KPFK. I was relieved to hear many of the things Starr had to say. Then he opened the phone lines for imput from the listening audience. The same hostile caller who had phoned the Ron Wilkins show a week earlier and accused him of anti-Semitism, phoned Starr... and on the air once more made the accusation that "Ron Watson (as the caller called Wilkins), was an "anti-Semite."
Honestly, if you are going to accuse someone of something heinous, shouldn't you at least get their name right? The caller stated that "Marc Shubb had done a good job of getting rid of those people." Starr merely thanked the caller for his imput. I thought that a very bad sign.
During the informal KPFK Listener's meeting, or "consulta" that was held this past Feb. 8th at Expresso Mi Cultura in Hollywood... many people expressed fear that Rightists would attempt to sabotage the upcoming KPFK Local Area Board elections. One cogent Women told those assembled that she was more concerned that "the elitist Liberals who've hijacked the station" would block any Progressive moves forward. Starr was at that meeting, and he spoke to those gathered. I trust that he is someone who cherishes the Progressive institution that is KPFK, and sincerely wishes to save it from ruin. So I would advise Starr to have strength and not buckle under to the many powerful forces that wish to thwart the progress made recently at KPFK.
The Jewish community is like any other... it contains a wide range of opinion and various political tendencies. Some Jews find it perfectly legitimate to criticize Israeli government policies and would think it foolish to automatically label critics as "enemies." Other Jews find it outrageous that anyone would utter a single word of criticism about Israel, condemning such critics for being "anti-Jewish." The former are of course usually of the Liberal persuasion and the later from the Right-wing.
Now, the label of anti-Semitism is a serious one. It is an accusation that sticks and is nearly impossible to erase. Jesse Jackson some years ago was bitterly attacked for an 'off the cuff' remark he made about Jews in New York... calling the City "Hymie Town." Jackson apologized profusely for his statement... and since then, I've heard him speaking on KPFK many times. Marc Cooper and company have never jumped up on their tables to shout "anti-Semite" at Jesse Jackson or those who have given him airtime on KPFK.
It seems to me that the real reasons Wilkins and the other banished African Programmers have been accused of anti-Semitism is because of their staunch support of Palestinian Rights. Wilkins and company represent an authentic Left tendency that Liberals shrink from. The aforementioned Jews of Rightist persuasion have made it their mission to go after and silence the likes of Wilkins... based on his supposed "hatred" of Jews. The Liberals who have controlled KPFK have also wanted to eliminate that Left voice... so as to "professionalize" the station and make it more attractive to the well healed Westside audience. Which means of course... no more "Black Militants" on the air.
Why not silence Noam Chomsky as well... he has also taken a firm stand in support of the Palestinians and against what he calls "Israeli crimes against humanity." In fact, many Rightist Jews DO attack Chomsky. Will Steven Starr and other good people submit to the will of Rightists for fear of being called anti-Semites?
Those opposed to Ron Wilkins returning to the air often site their opposition to what is called "Hate Speech." But shouldn't the actual record of statements made by Wilkins be taken into consideration before condemning him for such a thing? I would like SOMEONE to show me a transcript where Wilkins has made a single anti-Jewish remark. When this evidence is presented I will cease my defense of Ron Wilkins since he will have become indefensible.
And speaking of Hate Speech...
A few months ago, Marc Cooper was out of town and left his show in the hands of Jeff Kaufman, the Senior Producer of the Morning Show. Kaufman choose to seek out and interview a Right-wing Christian zealot who is a "Leader" in the anti-Abortion movement. This fellow (whose name unfortunately I do not remember), was given around 40 minutes on the air to promulgate his contention that to murder "Baby Killers" (Abortion Providers), was a justifiable act. As if this wasn't enough... the guest was one of those behind the notorious Website (again, I can't remember the name or address), that keeps a WANTED POSTER of Doctors providing Abortion services. Each time some Christian zealot shoots and kills one of these Doctors... the Website puts an "X" through the name.
Now, my point is... Jeff Kaufman (and by extension Marc Cooper), thought it perfectly legitimate to present this fellow on the air... a Man who advocates killing Doctors as a "defense of the unborn." At the close of the show I called Kaufman to engage him in a conversation concerning his show. He defended his broadcast as being in the interests of Free Speech. Marc Cooper returned to the air the next day or so... but did he condemn the broadcast of Kaufman's interview? Did he make a point to condemn the guest as a "Thug"? (as he had condemned Wilkins). Did Cooper express his embarrassment that such programming would be allowed on KPFK? (as he had over the Wilkins broadcast). Did he say that he wished to "distance himself" from a station that would broadcast such a thing? (as he had stated after the Wilkins broadcast). No... he did not.
Apparently broadcasting the views of a Right-wing Christian zealot who advocates the shooting of Doctors, is in the interests of Free Speech... but broadcasting the views of Ron Wilkins is not. To my knowledge... Ron Wilkins does not maintain a Website where Jewish Professionals are pictured on a Wanted Poster. Again, I challenge anyone to present the evidence of Wilkins' alleged hatred of Jews.
Last December 1st, 2001, at the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles, the second mass event organized by the Free Pacifica movement took place. Over a thousand people gathered to hear Danny Glover and Amy Goodman talk about the crisis at Pacifica. Many banned and fired KPFK Programmers were also invited to be on that bill. Miya Iwataki of the Asian issues program "East Wind." Arturo Lemus from the "Colectivo Latinoamericano." Blase Bonpane of the "Office of the Americas." Former Pacifica News Reporter, Robin Urievich... and a host of others. Ron Wilkins was also invited to speak, and he was listed on the official program as being one of "KPFK's Fired and Banned."
Now, if what we hear from Marc Cooper is true... that Ron Wilkins is a Thug and a vicious anti-Semite... would Amy Goodman, Danny Glover, Blase Bonpane and all the rest of the Left notables on stage have willingly shared their platform with such a malicious bigot?Would the Free Pacifica movement align itself with a notorious hate monger? Would Don White and Roy of Hollywood... beloved members of our community, put up with sharing the stage with such a person? And those loyal listeners in the audience... would they have countenanced having to listen to an infamous Jew basher addressing them?
I think the answer obvious. The accusation that Ron Wilkins is an anti-Semite is spurious. It is a Red Herring conjured up by Rightists to throw the Free Pacifica movement into disarray, disharmony, and disunity. If Ron Wilkins was worth supporting during the December 1st event, then he certainly is worth supporting today.
During that event, Ron Wilkins spoke eloquently on the need for real equality inside KPFK. He took the position that there would be no future for the station unless African Americans were given an EQUAL footing and share in decision making powers. I fully agree with that position. The reinstatement of Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" and Fidel Rodriguez's "Seditious Beats" is only a partial victory. Putting the "Community Calendar" back on the air is not enough. A full democratization of KPFK would give Ron Wilkins and other banned African American Programmers an uncensored voice on the station.
Conversely, KPFK will never be fully revitalized until the obstructionist and belligerent Marc Cooper is removed from his position. He has used his show to fight the Free Pacifica Movement every step of the way. He has spread misinformation and outright lies. If Steven Starr thinks that reconciliation and healing will be accomplished at KPFK while Cooper is allowed to 'preach from his bully pulpit'... then Starr should think again. Marc Cooper may be popular with some... and his removal may cause consternation, but if the vacuum created by his firing is immediately filled by say, Larry Benksy (who once had a noon time talk show on KPFK that was as popular as Amy Goodman's Democracy Now), then few will actually miss the pugnacious Cooper.
In closing... I wish to echo Ron Wilkins' call to financially support KPFK in it's upcoming Fund Drive. As I stated previously, I have not been a subscriber to the station for years, due to the banning and firing of Progressive Programmers. The Democracy Movement now has more than a foothold in KPFK, and it is time to support the station with our money. If you've never subscribed to KPFK, now is the time!
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