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New Left, No Left, Nothing Left: Saul Landau Dumps the Pacifica Sandbox

by Radio Free Willy Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002 at 7:25 AM

Saul Landau's bilious Pacifica News signoff once again shows the vapidity of the KPFK "Third Faction" he so transparently promotes. Landau, Cooper, Arcos, and their buddies are just plain wrong this time.

Saul Landau is a good man. This undisputed fact makes it that much weirder when he remains so out of the loop on the 7-year Pacifica crisis, which nearly everyone else agrees is a struggle for the freedom of our nation's last independent radio voice. It is also why Landau causes so much trouble for our nation's agonizingly rebuilding left whenever he writes on the subject.

And Landau's a good writer. He's insightful and persuasive. His commentaries delivered over Pacifica Network News were one of that benighted organization's few redeeming features, and one of the few products anyone will miss with PNN's recent demise.

For all these reasons, we just keep on wondering what's gone wrong with Landau. With whom is he really angry? Why? Who got to him? Who so thoroughly fouled his brain in regard to the whole Pacifica battle?

In light of all that has happened to this unfortunate little foundation - the 1999 power grab, the flight to DC, the purges, the union busting, the destruction of anything and everything relevant or passionate; then almost from nowhere the legal victories and the sincere attempt by so many people to set Pacifica back onto its feet - Landau simply remains clueless. And that's the only word for it. He is utterly, totally, clueless. Why?

Perhaps there's significance in how Landau got his job in the first place. He was originally brought in by Gail Christian, another of those axe-wielding Pacifica program directors of the Clinton years, when Mary Frances Berry and other prominent Democrats made the first attempt to drag the freewheeling California foundation into Beltway politics. One assumes he was always intended as another means of de-Mumia-fying the content of the news, adding the cachet of Real Journalism, and all the time serving the faction that hired him. Until last Friday, the climax to all this was in 2000, with his dizzyingly boneheaded "Appeal to All Progressives."

Basically, this particular screed condemned "Pacifica bashing" as divisive, and (by default) stuck up for the same post-Berry bosses who by then were so busily neutering his beloved PNN along with everything else. It began as an e-mail emanation, apparently another whiff from PNN's toxic internal politics, that circulated the Internet, picking up signatures from semi-famous leftists the way dogs pick up fleas. It wound up on Pacifica's own web site, but most people thought Landau had come to his senses when he demanded they take it down.

Well, we were wrong. Landau appears to be the only one surprised by PNN's sudden budgetary euthanization. Dan Coughlin, another PNN victim turned network executive director, was the one to pull the plug from the wall, but everyone else in the world knew the patient was already gone. PNN was used up. It was dead, from too much executive BS, too many bosses, too little money, and too few ideas. It was irrevocably strike-bound, though its bosses' union couldn't quite get up the balls to admit same. The fat lady had hit her double high C and gone backstage to undress. Sad, but then most operas end sadly.

As PNN sang its swan song, Landau drew every commentator's dream slot; The Outraged Final Sign-Off. It called for a rant. It demanded one of those exquisite invectives that finds its way into anthologies read by generations of high school journalism classes. It was a chance to roar forth with all the us-vs-them moral indignation that the news business does so well. After all, nobody with half a brain denies journalists their right to keep to themselves and fiercely defend their stonewalled fiefs against all comers. It's expected. It's a privilege, and an obligation that serves free speech. It's the professional thing to do.

And so everyone expected someone as eloquent as Landau to rise to the occasion, to nail one, to go for gold in this Olympic month. Surprise, surprise, then, when he simply copped to a bitter fuck-the-world, repeating the same old half-truth from his open letter, still refusing to be intimidated by such irrelevances as reality.

For example:

"But I found charges that they planned to sell Pacifica stations or plotted to corporatize the network and make it mainstream ridiculous."

It's nice that Saul is so optimistic. Contrast his head-in-the-sand denial with the following authenticated e-mail sent by a National Board member to the Chair in 1999:

"The primary signal [KPFA] would lend itself to a quiet marketing scenario of discreet presentation to logical and qualified buyers. [...] Private media companies would be the most aggressive in terms of price, which he [Bert Lee?] thinks could be in the -75m range depending on various aspects of a deal."

They ain't sellin' flowers here. And later:

"Even with that data my feeling is that a more beneficial disposition would be of the New York signal [...]. It is simply the more strategic asset."

Now, given this and several other smoking guns, such as the KPFA lockout which at one point put 12 to 15 thousand demonstrators into the streets of Berkeley, we can only wonder: where has Landau been? And why would he spread what is obviously calculated misinformation over a national network?

But there's more. On, he ranted:

"Today PNN dies, a progressive news institution killed by angry and righteous people who have waged a virtual Jihad against their supposed ideological enemies."

What, now, is the purpose of using the word "Jihad?" Surely Landau has been back from Cuba long enough to hear the flap over Bush's use of "crusade." With this verbal gaffe fresh in everyone's mind, does Landau really wish to use a similarly loaded buzzword? He must. Now, is this not just a bit overwrought? There are no screaming hordes waving scimitars outside KPFK's modest little building in North Hollywood. And I am willing to bet next year's subscriber fee that nobody is about to fly a 767 into it. What is his problem?

I think we have all our answers a couple of paragraphs down:

"Take Mark Schubb who ran KPFK in Los Angeles. [...] He was fired last week without cause."

Now, there are maybe 15 people on this entire, teeming, overpopulated planet who believe that Schubb is a victim, and about 9 of them work for KPFK. Yup; it's that same old same old. It's more stink from that same pissy little clique which tried to make KPFK a less personable version of KPCC.

These guys can't let go, can they? They'll fight the world for their golden-Rolodex Beltway authors, discussing every nuance of Washington policy-making, filling up air time that could have been used... to stop World War III, maybe? To cut through the Corporate Warm Fuzzy that so anesthesizes too many people? To FUCKING YELL BLOODY MURDER into the faces of Empire? Or to do any number of other scraggly-ass causes, as Marc Cooper likes to call them?

More evidence came soon after, when Cooper invited Landau onto the air to reprise his rant. For something like 12 minutes, they simply dissed anyone and everyone that wasn't Cooper and Landau, and restored Landau's old letter as the operative policy statement. FTW again; everyone sucks but them. It must be pretty gloomy in there.

Now we get it. Landau's a company man. The old company, that is, which is rapidly morphing into a counter-revolutionary cell describing itself as the "Third Faction." This particular obstructionist Thermidor is based at KPFK, and it remains forever loyal to the stone-graven Schubbista Creed, which I quote, from a 2000 news article:

"People use radio like an appliance," responds Schubb. "If they find something they enjoy listening to, they'll listen to it. It's a wonderful time slot. Whatever we put there, we'll find an audience."

In other words, the assumption that people are sheep, and that Lew Hill was crazy for thinking Pacifica radio could ever be a dialog with the listeners, even though it always was until people like Schubb got to run it.

And so, listen to Landau parroting same:

"And by its nature, radio is something that talks at you or plays music at you. And if you like it you listen...."

Here's our answer to this whole brouhaha. Landau and his buddies are about one-way radio. Pacifica, however, was about two-way radio for the first 40 of its 50 years, until the likes of Schubb, Cooper, and Landau decided things should be different. Now we, the "Pacifica movement" they so decry as direct-action thugs, think things should not be different, and we continue USING ANY MEANS NECESSARY to ensure such an outcome.

And, you know what? That's the part that really burns them. They say we should go after Enron. Well, we understand that thing about little steps, small victories, Pacifica today, all that other big stuff tomorrow.

We are joyous; they are jaded. We love the struggle; they are ground down by it. We make puppets and beat drums in the street; they close their windows against the din. We don't hate the left, we don't hate lost causes, we don't hate passion, and we don't hate ourselves. We are LEFTISTS. The corporatistas, the AudiGraphics junkies, the radio-as-numbers crowd, the Laughlin Group wannabes, cannot accept this. Folks, that's as deep as it's gonna get. Really, honestly, it's that simple.

And so it comes to pass, in the midst of all this fear and loathing, that KPFK is Pacifica's next big crisis point. Nobody envies Steven Starr, a good man who walked into Schubb's job, and now has to deal with the continual abuse of the air by this "Third Faction" clique. If he sends the whole lot of them walking, they're martyrs, and the fund drive suffers. If he doesn't, they piss on everyone and anyone, and if nobody opposes them, the fund drive suffers. Meanwhile, up on the mountain, the clock ticks a jury-rig transmitter ever closer to its final buzz, and to a legal nightmare for KPFK's FCC license. Time's almost gone. We need heroics, and we need them now.

Starr has thus reached the first really critical point of his tenure at KPFK. What happens in the next week or so will define his time there. Further, it will decide whether KPFK remains a powerful voice in Los Angeles, or an underused frequency sold to the highest-bidding Bible-thumper.

We wish Steven well, and pray that he can pull it all together over there on Cahuenga. The K must survive.

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