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Audio of WBAI program director hosted bylaws revision program

From: Pamela Somers
Date: Tue Aug 27, 2002 9:46 pm
Subject: Monday's Bylaws Audio posted

8/26 hour Bylaws Discussion Posted

Here's an interesting snippet:

At the start of this 2-hour bylaws discussion, Bernard White and guest Iyo Harrington are questioning the need for re-writing the bylaws and are suggesting that they may only need "tweaking".

Bernard: (commenting on the Spooner model of local control) "There's one proposal that talks about having 90 people involved. I think it comes out of - when the station was returned back to the community, among some people - some of whom had no real relationship to the station other than being listeners - who now feel a sense of entitlement because they went to a couple of meetings, they were out on the picket line a couple of times. However, they've developed from that a sense of entitlement that - we're gonna be honest about this - goes beyond rationality sometimes, and the demands that they're making on the radio station makes it very difficult for this station to function as a radio station because it cannot serve all of those varied interests."

Listener Patty (calling in): "This is Patty Heffley from the Coalition for a Democratic Pacifica - New York Chapter. All these bylaws can be seen and read on pacifica.org and wbai.net. There are 3 proposals out there now. The reason why the bylaws are being written is because there was a lawsuit and a settlement that gave listener sponsors membership status in the Foundation, which is what is trying to be had through these processes and through some of the bylaws that actually take seriously the idea that listener sponsors have some rights in the Foundation since we did manage to bring it back.

And I think that the bylaws that were in place were violated because they were not proper bylaws, and the people that were in that situation that changed the bylaws could only do it because of the silence on the air by all the producers and management that never spoke out, although they did know that the bylaws change in February of 1999 violated the connection between the Local and the National. So I'm all for re-writing the bylaws, I'm all for listener empowerment and I think all the listeners should also be for listener empowerment. I think this program today is a bit of a sham.

Bernard: Why so?

Patty: Because your opinion is just laughing about the bylaws that are - you know, they only need tweaking . There's been bylaws meetings, I have not seen you Bernard White at the bylaws revision meetings, nor have I seen much of the staff, nor much of the programmers, nor much of the Local Advisory Board. It seems that the listeners that have been fighting to save this network for years are the people that show up every week to argue about these bylaws, and it comes to pass that the Local Advisory Board and the National Board will be the people actually voting on processes that they are not even participating in! I think that should be revisited.

Iyo: I agree with you 100%.

Bernard: I agree with her about 20%.

Iyo: No,no,no - I don't agree with you 100%, but I do agree with the last comment that you made Patty, I do think that it's important for all of the stake holders to participate in the discussion...

Patty: But they're not participating!

Iyo: Can I finish? Because you also made a comment that I have to respond to: you said that you think that today's show is a sham. I don't agree with you. First of all it is something that has to happen. This discussion can not only take place at 75 Varick Street, it needs to take place over the air waves, a lot of producers for example can have discussions about the bylaws on their shows, I think that the more it is talked about, the better. However, ultimately there are right now for example, 3 sets of bylaws. How to determine what the final - and this is just our recommendation - it's not the other stations. So ultimately determining what they are going to look like has to be a process that is defined, it just cannot go on forever and ever and ever. I'm not saying it's bad that there are 3 copies, and I agree participation is important, but I don't think the program is a sham... after all it has provided you with an opportunity to give a little bit of history and context to other listeners about what has happened, and it will give that same voice to other people who call in, so...

Patty: Well I think that to just say the old bylaws need tweaking or that listener participation needs to be included - this has been going on since January, and so far there's been a process of a group that has been trying to make a program from the Bylaws Committee, and we have still to this day not had a program that we have been trying to produce, to give some history and ideas. But this is the use of the airwaves by the listeners: the listeners are not being included. Bernard made a comment about these people who saved the station and now they think they have a sense of entitlement. Well I would say the same about the programmers that have walked into the network and think the network is theirs. The network is all of ours, and until that is recognized through the bylaws change where listener sponsors become members of the Foundation, this is a sham!

Iyo: Well your opinion is important, and you certainly say "I would say" and you said it. Thank you.

Patty: You're welcome.


And earlier on the same day...

From: Stephen Brown
Date: Tue Aug 27, 2002 2:40 pm

The velvet glove slips at WBAI.

If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely -- how corrupted is Bernard White?

We used to tsk-tsk in horror when Utrice Leid cut people off the air in mid-sentence if she didn't like what they were saying.

Now that Bernard is doing the same thing -- will any protest?

Yesterday, August 26, Bernard White broke into the Gary Null show, cutting Gary off in mid-sentence and shutting him off the air because he didn't like what Gary was saying.

Did we struggle to eliminate the gag rule only to have Bernard replace it with a cut-out-your-tongue rule?

This is the moral equivalent of a mugging, and deserves a sharp rebuke from Pacifica's Executive Director.

Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a series of irresponsible actions by Bernard White, whose arrogant manner and disdain for consultation has provoked considerable unhappiness among producers and staff members at WBAI, as well as among members of the LAB and the listening audience.

This is no minor concern, for ever since the Pacifica lawsuits were settled nearly a year ago, Bernard has been quietly seizing the levers of power at WBAI, forcing out or replacing those who won't kiss his ring, until he now rules the station as virtual "war lord". Those who question his decisions are fired, replaced, deprived of air-time or spitefully "repositioned" to the graveyard shift at 3 AM in the morning.

Welcome to the re-Utrice-ification of WBAI.

* * * * * *

What had Gary Null been broadcasting when Bernard cut him off?

Gary had been lip-synching a somewhat bizarre view of the Pacifica struggle (possibly from a script written by Paul De Rienzo). I would guess that Gary had never even seen the script before going on air, because he seemed confused about what he was reading much of the time, often mispronouncing words, ludicrously transposing entire sentences from one paragraph to another, and generally showing only the most tenuous grasp of material which, he assured us, had taken him "over 800 hours" of research and interviews to bring to fruition.

Am I defending Gary Null's view of the Pacifica struggle? No, I am defending his right, as a programmer, to control his own air-time, and to broadcast without fear of censorship or arbitrary pre-emption.

Isn't this a basic precept of Pacifica governance -- shouldn't it be written into any new draft of the Pacifica bylaws?

The content of Gary's broadcast was irrelevant. (Though Gary can often be a jerk, and I have a number of personal issues with him, he is still one of the best investigative journalists in America, and in the last 25 years has given WBAI listeners more information of vital importance to their health and political awareness than any other voice at the station including that of Amy Goodman.)

Wasn't it Bernard White himself who resoundingly declared that when a producer enters his sound booth, and hits the on-switch -- the air belongs to him? Except, evidently, when it belongs to Bernard White. Who now behaves as if everything in the station belongs to him.

For example, just a few hours after he cut off Gary Null, he hosted a program on rewriting the Pacifica bylaws (which he pooh-pooh'd as a waste of time and unnecessary -- what a guy!). In the course of this program he revealed his royalist view of the station as his personal property, when he spoke contemptuously of (I paraphrase from memory) "those listeners who march in some demonstrations, attend some bylaws meetings, and suddenly think they have a right to a voice in station affairs."

We always knew you felt this way, Bernard. Thanks for laying it out so clearly on the air.

What should be done about Bernard White?

I mentioned above that Bernard's behavior should get a warning from the Executive Director. Actually, Bernard has been warned by the Executive Director and members of the LAB -- about his arbitrary behavior; autocratic style of management; lack of meaningful consultation with staff and Program Council; arbitrary and spiteful personal vendettas resulting in shuffling or removal of programs without warning or explanation; hiring and firing without due process on the basis of personal favoritism; absence of transparency in station affairs; evasive and often dishonest dealings with community groups and members of the LAB, as when he agrees to do certain things, then later disclaims all knowledge of ever having made those agreements, etc.

One wonders whether it is worthwhile having a Program Director whom it is so often necessary to drag kicking and screaming back onto the path he so solemnly promised to follow when he was given the job. Our top programming official should not be someone we can't trust, and therefore have to constantly watch over our shoulders. We should not have to continually push and plead with him in order to make sure he conforms to the precepts of Pacifica, let alone to the basic elements of common courtesy and honest dealing.

In point of fact, Bernard White never should have been Programming Director in the first place.Virtually all of his peers and colleagues at the station once went on record with this judgment. They voted that he has neither the professional qualifications nor the personal maturity to handle such a job (though given his present power, few will now dare say so openly).

How do we know this? When WBAI convened its official Search Committee of producers and staff to select a new Program Director (after the death of Samori Marksman), every one of Bernard's approximately 18 colleagues and peers on that committee voted AGAINST giving Bernard the job. He initially got only one vote, and that person later changed to vote against Bernard as well. The committee's first choice was Utrice Leid, its second choice was Laura Flanders.

Then how did Bernard get the job? Station manager Valerie Van Isler refused to accept the committee's choice, violated station process, and instead handed the job to her personal friend Bernard White.

It was this act, cheating Utrice Leid of a job she felt she had earned, that in large part made Utrice so ready to accept the job of Station Manager when Bessie Wash offered it to her. It was only when Bernard himself was quickly fired by Bessie (no doubt at the urging of Utrice Leid) that he became suddenly imbued with newfound affection for following due process. Thus his appeals to the listeners to restore the fired and the banned was more an act of personal rescue for Bernard than the principled attempt to protect Pacifica against the evil national board that he represented it to be.

For Bernard had not been a foe of the "evil" national board. Indeed, he had been a long-time fan of Mary Frances Berry, and was quite careful NOT to inform WBAI listeners about the national board's destruction of public affairs programming at WPFW and KPFT, its removal of hundreds of radical and minority programmers, its elimination of LAB authority through illegal bylaws changes, and its at-the-time ongoing attack on the integrity of KPFA, which was only saved when 10,000 Berkeley residents took to the streets in protest.

So instead of being a hero of the Pacifica struggle, Bernard was possibly one of the causes of many of the problems it created. But life is full of ironies --one of them being that, although Bernard may have viewed the struggle as a personal matter of getting his job back, it is undoubtedly true that without his "star-power" the listeners might not have so quickly and vigorously rallied to protect the station. Perhaps enough time has passed that this history may now be discussed frankly, and not swept under the rug for fear of "disillusioning the listeners" or becoming the target of one of Bernard's notorious vendettas.


My suggestion is that we keep Bernard as host of Wakeup Call, for which is he well suited, and look for a new Program Director immediately. Other opinions? (And let's try to keep them on a non-personal level.)

Stephen M. Brown


Responses invited. Send to:

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