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This pretty much covers it... 8-23-01

Here is a letter from a WBAI supporter that beautifully articulates what we are fighting to keep.




August 23, 2001

To: Mr. Frank Ahrens, Staff Writer
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Mr. Ahrens:

Although your title is apt, for what you have presented is entirely restricted to "image," I beg to disagree with your lead sentence.

Pacifica is not eating itself alive. The illegally seated governing board of the Pacifica Foundation and its operatives are slowly masticating the life out of this national treasure by systematically gutting the progressive content in the broadcast schedules at its five stations. The hatchet jobs at WPFW and KPFT in Texas are already completed, the progressive life is slowly being squeezed out of KPFK in Los Angeles, and the station manager at WBAI is doing her best to fire the listeners.

This is no internecine struggle - as it is invariably misrepresented in the mainstream media - when the mainstream media deign to give it an inch of space. This is a struggle for the heart and soul of the only progressive, listener-sponsored, community radio network in the United States that takes no corporate underwriting. And, frenetic and expensive spin doctoring to the contrary, the governing board hasn't calculated the power of the loyalty, the outrage and the tenacity of listeners in the Pacifica communities nationwide.

I may have missed it, but I wonder if you have actually interviewed Amy Goodman or any of the "dissident" members of the Pacifica Foundation Board of Directors or Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News columnist who resigned in protest over the harassment of his "Democracy Now!" co-host. How about any of the 6,000 listener-sponsor signatories to the Listeners' Lawsuit - of which I am one - or why not interview Carol Spooner, lead plaintiff in that suit? Have you interviewed Dan Coughlin or Verna Avery-Brown? - Dan, former national news director and Verna, anchor of the previously excellent Pacifica Nightly News who resigned in protest over Dan's removal. How about an interview with Dennis Bernstein who was dragged by armed guards from the studios of KPFA for reporting outside press coverage of the crisis at that station following the firing of the popular station manager, Nicole Sawaya, in 1999. Have you interviewed Larry Bensky, Pacifica national correspondant fired for breaking the "gag rule"? Or Nicole Sawaya herself?

I see from your article that Ms. Wash cites KPFK Los Angeles for a dearth of Latino broadcasting, when KPFK is actually adhering to the ill-conceived five year Strategic Plan to mainstream the network. Incidentally, the reason it's so hard to get an interview with Ms. Wash is because she talks out of both sides of her mouth and it's a challenge for her handlers to control which side has the ascendency at any given moment. I think her comment about "eating our young" very accurately addresses what Pacifica is doing to its sacred trust. Of course, as a sound bite it plays well. Incidentally, I saw that same glib comment in a piece prior to yours. I wonder which of the many PR firms employed by Pacifica since the 1999 lockout and shutdown of KPFA wrote it for her.

I assume you intend your readers to judge Pacifica Radio by WPFW standards, which is a Pacifica station in name only. I also assume that you don't know WBAI. (Why should you? The majority on the Pacifica Board don't.) I refer to the WBAI that flourished through listener donations in the year 2000, before the "Christmas Coup" and before the rape and takedown of the excellent and diverse broadcast schedule. Most of the WBAI programming is in the "talk" format - some programs take listener calls, some do interviews, some provide news and analysis and some do all three. There are regularly scheduled weekly programs targeted to our Haitian community, our diverse Latino communities, our African and Caribbean American communities, our progressive Jewish and Irish communities. WBAI carries a regular schedule of programs on health, on science, music in a range from classical to alternative with all stops along the way, humor and opinion.

Here's what I learned when I started to listen to WBAI in 1996. I learned about the Indonesian occupation and oppression of the people of East Timor; the plight(s) of Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Lori Berenson; the depredations by oil-hungry Occidental Petroleum in the sacred land of the U'wa of Columbia; the rape of the Nigerian oil fields by Chevron and the slaughter of its dissident indigenous protesters (for which documentary Amy Goodman won a Polk Award). I learned about Appendix B to the Ramboulliet Agreement which set up the US incursion into Serbia in service of securing passage to Caspian Sea oil. I learned about racial profiling and police brutality in communities of color, about the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, about environmental racism.

Well, of course the neo-liberal corporatistas and their government sponsors don't want that kind of news riling up the passions of a populace already grown wary and weary of empty promises by public officials bought and paid for by the corporations who own our civic soul.

So, are we to be impressed or intimidated because the folks who brought Washington, DC all that jazz (with a sprinkling of badly produced, badly written, badly researched "news") have hired an expensive PR flack and a "white shoe" law firm to defend their contravention of California corporate law, to defend the mediocrity they call broadcasting, to defend the violation of the listeners' trust? With whose money? Mine, thank you very much.

We Pacifica listeners don't fret too much about the technical quality of the broadcast; we care passionately about the editorial quality of the broadcast and we very much like the fact that we are the "owners" of the Pacifica Radio Network. And we are going to wrest it away from the illegally seated governing board who are in the process of trying to fire us by gutting the progressive programming in all the signal areas.

They thought we'd walk like lambs to the slaughter?

They don't know Pacifica.

Ruth Benson
WBAI listener-sponsor
Staten Island, NY

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