Democracy Now! letter to the
so-call Pacifica national board
TO: Pacifica National Board
FROM: The Democracy Now! staff
DATE: 2 October, 2001
We have heard that the Pacifica National Board is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday, October 3, to discuss Democracy Now!. We have not been contacted regarding this meeting. We would like to express our willingness to discuss the conditions under which Democracy Now! will return to the airwaves. To this end, we have drafted the following summary of what has transpired between Pacifica management and the Democracy Now! staff.
Since August 14 the staff of Democracy Now! has been suspended without pay, after being driven out of WBAI studios by a vitriolic campaign of public defamation and harassment, including physical threats and assaults by the present Pacifica executive leadership. AFTRA, the union representing the Democracy Now! staff, has deemed WBAI an unsafe workplace. We are producing Democracy Now!, without compensation from Pacifica, at Downtown Community Television in Lower Manhattan. The program continues to be carried by Pacifica station KPFA and Pacifica affiliates around the country.
The Democracy Now! staff (and attorneys representing Amy Goodman) have previously written directly to Pacifica Management, to the Pacifica Board, and to its attorneys, detailing the harassment which we have faced and urging that immediate action be taken to stop the abuse of the Democracy Now! staff and to rescind the unfair disciplinary actions which have been taken against us.
Most recently, Pacifica's former National Program Director Steve Yasko, resigned following revelations that he operated a website which featured hyperlinks to sites containing hard-core pornographic material demeaning to women. In fact, one of the postings Yasko permitted on his website included a pornographic fantasy about Amy Goodman who was imagined as "a 6 3" muscular jock with a six pack and a heavy package that needs attention."
The Democracy Now! staff had already filed numerous complaints against Mr. Yasko. These included Amy Goodman's gender harassment union grievance. Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash and the Pacifica Foundation aggressively defended Steve Yasko on he AFTRA grievances, including the harassment and gender harassment charges. Amy was repeatedly called a "liar" and her allegations derided as "garbage" by senior Pacifica management and Board members. Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Walsh not only has failed to apologize for Steve Yasko's reprehensible conduct towards Amy and the Democracy Now! team, she has never even communicated with us about these events. In fact despite repeated e-mails to her, she has not communicated with us in almost a year.
Although management has not officially notified us, we understand that Bessie Wash replaced National Program Director Steve Yasko with former WBAI interim Station Manager Utrice Leid. Since her appointment as interim Station Manager at WBAI in December 2000, Utrice Leid and WBAI staff and producers under her authority have routinely vilified the staff of Democracy Now!, threatened us with violence, and made us the objects of racist and/or sexist slurs. These documented attacks have occurred during on-air broadcasts, at the station during working hours, and at staff meetings. Pacifica Management has never addressed the attacks.
In the incident which prompted the staff of DN! to leave WBAI for its own safety, Ms. Leid physically accosted Amy on August 10, 2001 This physical assault against a Democracy Now! staff member is now being grieved by AFTRA. The next week day, WBAI staff used a master key to enter our office and harass us while we were trying to prepare the show. They shouted so loudly that the on-air host left the studio to tell them they were disrupting his broadcast.
Pacifica management said they would investigate these incidents and report back the results on September 10. They never interviewed Amy or the Democracy Now! producers who witnessed the incidents, and Pacifica never completed its investigation. Instead, Pacifica promoted Utrice Leid to head of National Programming.
Two days after Ms. Leid was promoted, she told a WBAI producer to tell Democracy Now! engineer Anthony Sloan not to return to WBAI, referring to Anthony as "that nubian warrior defending that white maiden." On Monday, she wrote a memo to the building staff, that he was not to enter the premises. Again, this is after she has been named Pacifica National Program Director. This banning is management's first official action towards Democracy Now! staff since the "Peace Initiative" put forward by Mr. Farrell.
Incredibly, a week after the World Trade Center attacks, Ms. Leid instructed the Arts Director to inform all programmers at WBAI that they were not to discuss the tragedy or its aftermath on the airwaves, that only "healing music and poetry" were to be played. In addition, she removed the only weekly radio program on South Asian politics in New York City from the air and banned its producer from the airwaves. This at a time when the Asian community is under the most serious attack. The Jewish show, which had prepared a major World Trade Center special, refused to play only music as the Bush Administration prepared for war. Their program did not air.
Pacifica has never taken action on any of the documented incidents involving Ms. Leid or other WBAI staff and producers under her control. Instead, Ms. Leid has been elevated to the No. 2 slot in the network. In that role, Ms. Leid has full authority over Democracy Now!, including authority over all budgetary and programming issues. Ms. Leid's promotion can only be seen as an endorsement of her conduct by Pacifica Management and by extension the entire network.
Leid has cast her attacks on all perceived opponents of the current management of Pacifica, including Democracy Now! staffers, as a battle against "white supremacy" despite the fact that many of these opponents, most of those fired by the current management, and a current staff member of Democracy Now!, are people of color.
Further, she has unambiguously incited listeners to violence against Pacifica dissidents. One of her typical on-air comments (made during a recent fundraising drive) was broadcast as part of National Public Radio's Morning Edition report on the crisis at Pacifica (June 21, 2001): "We're talking here today about the European psychological warfare against Africans. And that's what the whole thing is about" adding that "I need you stalwart soldiers out there . . . This is a call to arms. I told you it's a war."
Under Ms. Leid's supervision, the Democracy Now! engineer was threatened with having his legs broken, Democracy Now! producers have been harangued and insulted, and Amy Goodman has been personally targeted by a public campaign of defamation. On-air and off-air, for many months now, she has been called a bitch, a liar, and a "Svengali" who has, on her own, orchestrated the entire Pacifica crisis. Ms. Leid has gone so far as to accuse her of "defecating" and "vomiting" on the air. When WBAI producer Clayton Riley accused the news anchor Robert Knight of "kissing the ass of that white bitch," Ms. Leid called Knight into her office and in her presence, Riley went further, physically accosting him. Knight and Goodman were fired from their morning show slots within days. Leid rewarded Riley by doubling the length of his program. Rule of thumb: ban those who express support for Democracy Now; reward those who attack us.
Ms. Leid has claimed that Amy Goodman fabricated accounts of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, which she was witnessed and at which she was beaten. This baseless and bizarre accusation prompted an outraged letter to Pacifica by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos Horta in support of Amy.
Ms. Leid's attacks constitute just one part of a year long campaign of harassment tolerated and tacitly encouraged by Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash. The attacks on Democracy Now! began in earnest last Fall when Steve Yasko, then Pacifica's new National Program Director, threatened Amy with termination if she did not follow new work rules including prohibitions on public speaking on non-work time, an outrageous restriction of her right to free speech.
Immediately after Yasko's hiring, the attacks on Amy and the staff of Democracy Now! by other Pacifica employees escalated. When Ms. Wash named Utrice Leid WBAI General Manager, Ms. Leid fired Amy from her 8 year position as co-host of the local WBAI morning show Wake Up Call. Leid engaged in and tolerated vitriolic attacks on Amy over WBAI's airwaves, tolerated physical threats against Democracy Now! staff members, intermittently refused to broadcast Democracy Now!, and forced the show into inferior studio space inappropriate for the production of a national program, causing serious technical problems.
During his tenure neither Mr. Yasko nor Bessie Wash ever substantively addressed even one of our documented concerns and complaints. AFTRA soon filed a series of grievances on behalf of Amy Goodman. These grievances remain unresolved and are now heading for arbitration. Like so many others at WBAI, Amy has also filed grievances through United Electrical Local 404 union charging a hostile work environment and challenging her summary dismissal from WBAI's award-winning morning news show, "Wake- Up Call."
These grievances also remain unresolved and are also going to arbitration.
In addition, Amy has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging retaliation by Pacifica management for exercising her trade union rights.
Amy has also retained private counsel to help her find ways in which she can further protect her career and professional reputation, as well as provide for her own physical safety. The campaign of defamation has extended to the highest officials at Pacifica. Pacifica Board member, Epstein, Becker and Green attorney John Murdock, has gone on the record calling Amy Goodman s claims "garbage" and saying that, "she should take her show and go somewhere else." In Alameda Superior Court, Pacifica's attorneys claimed that Amy was sponsoring an illegal boycott against Pacifica, a charge that was not only untrue and defamatory, but which was apparently designed to harm Amy's relationship with Pacifica Board members and employees, and to malign her professionally. These same attorneys also filed court papers falsely accusing Amy of "extortion" and "economic coercion." Despite these wholesale attacks by the present Pacifica leadership and some Pacifica employees, the "Democracy Now!" staff has continued to produce an outstanding editorial product which is widely acknowledged as the most popular and successful offering on the Pacifica national schedule.
Democracy Now! has exceeded every measurable objective for the program, from audience building and fund raising to journalistic accolades and publicity. The program, originally started in 1996 as an election year special, proved so successful that it soon formed an integral part of the Pacifica programming line up. By 1998, under the direction of Julie Drizin, the Pacifica national programming line-up consisted of five daily programs Larry Bensky s "Living Room," "The Jerry Brown Show," "Pacifica Network News," "Democracy Now!," and "Voices of Pacifica."
In fact, the record established by Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now! team has been unparalleled in the history of Pacifica. Democracy Now! won the 1998 George Polk Award for the radio documentary "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria s Military Dictatorship." Amy Goodman has also won numerous awards for the radio documentary she co-produced with journalist Allan Nairn, "MASSACRE: The Story of East Timor," including the Robert F. Kennedy Prize for International Reporting, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Silver Baton, the Armstrong Award, the Radio/Television News Directors Award, as well as awards from AP, UPI, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Goodman and Nairn were both present during the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor in which Indonesian soldiers gunned down more than 250 Timorese. Amy Goodman has also reported from Israel and the Occupied territories, Cuba, Mexico, Haiti and last year became the first journalist ever to interview Lori Berenson in her Peruvian jail. Goodman also broadcast the first US radio interview with imprisoned East Timor rebel leader Xanana Gusmao and conducted an exclusive half hour interview with President Clinton on Election Day.
Prior to the beginning of the Democracy Now! crisis last year, the program raised more than one million dollars in pledges through on- air fund raising and generating enormous positive publicity for Pacifica. Democracy Now! also pioneered multi-platform broadcasting, resulting in the most dramatic increase in audience in Pacifica Radio history. Through a unique multi-media collaboration involving non-profit community radio, the internet and satellite and cable television, Democracy Now! expanded its potential audience to twenty five million households nationwide during the 2000 Democratic and Republican conventions. It generated scores of positive articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other publications and media outlets from Fox to NPR at a time when the coverage of Pacifica was negative to nil.
While Democracy Now! has continued its editorial excellence, Pacifica National Programming has otherwise been gutted. Polk award winner Larry Bensky and the Living Room team were fired following the removal of KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya and the change in Pacifica's governance structure in early 1999. News Director Dan Coughlin was ousted in November 1999 for covering the Pacifica crisis and esteemed Pacifica Network News (PNN) anchor Verna Avery-Brown, the only African-American news anchor in public broadcasting, resigned in protest over this censorship. More than 40 stringers launched a strike protesting the ousting of Avery-Brown and Coughlin and the on-going censorship by Pacifica. The striking reporters currently produce a half-hour daily news program, Free Speech Radio News (FSRN), which airs on 49 stations nationwide.
Pacifica Management's actions have made the network a laughing stock and a pariah in the journalistic community, seriously undermining a reputation that has taken decades to build.
Pacifica's affiliates, the backbone of our nationwide "network," have been up in arms since the KPFA crisis, the subsequent collapse in Pacifica's national programming, and the removal of the Ku service from KPFA to WPFW.
The affiliates have complained repeatedly about poor service and questioned the integrity of Pacifica's programming given the on- going censorship and staff firings. Indeed, we understand the Pacifica Network News (PNN) now airs on less than 20 stations as compared to 63 affiliates less than two years ago. Democracy Now!'s affiliates, which number some 25, have made it clear that they will abandon the network and PNN if Democracy Now! is discontinued. Yesterday we received a letter from fifteen affiliates saying they are cancelling their contracts if Democracy Now! is cancelled.
Disgust, fury and outrage don't begin to describe our response to what Pacifica management is doing to our beloved network. But we have no time for those emotions. Even as we mourn the 6000 people who have died just down the street from our studio, the US is beating the drums of war, insuring more loss of innocent lives. We will continue to broadcast to the growing number of community stations that are running our daily two-hour War and Peace Report.
Host, Democracy Now!
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