Bernard White speaks about the crisis at WBAI on the last Wakeup Call of the Millennium,
Friday December 29th,
with Mario Murillo and Amy Goodman
Mario: Simply because there has never been anybody in charge of Pacifica that knows anything about broadcasting. They don't know about broadcasting and they don't know about progressive politics. Maybe some of them did - I would say 10 years ago there were some people in Pacifca who at least did have some progressive politics and did have some community radio spirit in them. But certainly over the last 5-6 years that has died out, and some of you know about some of the battles I've had with Pacifica.
But they're not interested in cutting edge radio. I mean you can look at their track record: the town hall meetings in the early 90's - with big funding from CPB - they were total disaters. The Julianne Malvaux show, the program that they created thinking it was going to be a great national program - total disaster. Peace Watch. Remember Peace Watch, that program that was supposed to cover the Gulf War? It went on the air 3 days before the ground war, 5 days before the war was over. That's how cutting edge Pacifica National programming was.
And then they have the audacity to come in here and threaten Democracy Now! and threaten programmers who really have the spirit of building audience at WBAI and at Pacifica in general. You look at Newt Gingrich and the 1994 Congress - that's when it all started for this big turnaround, Pacifica suddenly felt that they had to give in to those demands that were being put out by the Republican Congress of '94. They cowered backwards - they started moving backwards, saying we're going to fight back but we're going to fight back by giving in to what they're saying - what Bob Dole was saying on the floor of the Senate about KPFK, and what other folks were saying about giving public money to communists and to anti-semitic and all this other programming. So they cleaned up the system, they decided to try to sanitize the programmng, and the leadership that was comfortable driving around in BMWs and having these nice expense accounts and staying at nice hotels - said hey, this looks good, this looks like a good plan, so let's do it. And then they got sucked into this audiographics game that David Giovannoni puts out.
I think those audiographics surveys have to be looked at as tools: they're valid, it's data. We used to use them with Samori, we all used to sit there and look at them and analyze them. But it wasn't the gospel of what we would base our programming and our mission about. So David Giovannoni - some people say he's destroyed public radio as we know it - I mean, he's putting out a service as far as I'm concerned, so to attack him - yeah sure, he's got some negative things to say - but it's just a tool! The people who use
his tools are the ones who are more destructive. People who use those and base that on their judgment calls on what they plan to do with the system...those are the people we should be targetng more.
Samori knew that and he understood this and he set out to address this. Before he was Program Director, Samori Marksman put out this massive memo which we worked with him on, about the way to build an audience - that yes, professionalism was necessary, that yes, building strong programming was necessary, that we have to improve the technical quality of what we do on the air, that we have to bring in people who are very talented, who are serious broadcasters to come on the air - Samori understood that, that's something that we laid out! And he laid out clearly back in '93 - '94, before he was even Program Director. And that's why we brought Utrice Leid in, that's why Wakeup Call was created Monday through Friday - to create this strip of professional radio - with Utrice Leid on Talkback, and Wakeup Call with Bernard White and Amy Goodman - that was the mission, to build audience. We're a listener-supported station, how could we reject the idea of building an audience, if we're a listener supported station? It doesn't make any sense, unless yo want to start taking corporate funding where you don't need to build that audience, and perhaps that's the direction that Pacifica wants to take us.
That model that Samori put out that Bernard was a part of, that I myself played an integral part in, that Amy Goodman played a key part in, that Utrice Leid played a part in, that Anthony Sloan and Matthew Finch, Michio Kaku and all the many, many great people who have come here - Robert Knight, Jose Santiago, Andrea Sears, all the many different people who contributed to the station - were a part of that and there were a lot of detractors, and it worked! From the end of the Gulf War, which was the peak of our listening memberhsip base when we had about 14,000 members, actually it was 12,000 but then with the Gulf War things shot up because people were listening to us. It went back down, it decayed.
Then Samori came in and from the time he came in until the time of his death we had 18,000 plus, almost 19,000 paid subscribers to WBAI. And according to audiographics surveys carried out by David Giovannoni our listening audience was indeed expanding. The Morning Show audience was growing, the Talkback audience was growing. But Samori recognized a lot more needed to be done. We needed to push forward and unfortunately Samori was taken away from us in an untimely fashion. But that was his vision, that he recognized the importance of diversity, he recognized the station's diversity, he didn't close people out. He tapped on the talents of individuals - he knew where strengths were, he worked closely with people to get the most out of them, he inspired us by demonstrating an inhuman - you know, he was a bear, he was a man who did so much work - so he inspired people by his unnatural and uncanny ability to work, to sweat, to dirty his hands. And he also reached out to many communities - he didn't close anybody out. He didn't think the station was for one group of people. You never heard him say that. I even used to have disagreements with him about some of the programs he wanted to put on the air, but he said no, we have to do this because this community warrants the space on the air. And I think White understands that mission. With all Bernard's weaknesses - Bernard, are you listening? I mean you and I have gone to battle a lot of things - with all your weaknesses I know you understand this mission, because you were a part of it. You worked with it - myself, Amy, a handful of others - we were an integral part of this mission.
Which by the way, Utrice Leid was a part of, and SAYS she wants to continue. She SAYS she wants to move forward this mission And I like I said, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. I believe Utrice Leid really wants to move this station forward, and I'm willing to recognize and I do recognize this. But we have to move the organization with a number of different steps - a number of steps to be taken.
And then finally, just to wrap up, because I've already gone on longer than I intended on this - these internal things have to be dealt with and we have to deal with them very delicately - meetings have to be held, a direct dialog between key factors, so-called factions - again I don't want to use that word - but that has to be held. And there also has to be finally a movement - and we have to support the movement - to change the National Board. That's ultimately the big enemy as far as I'm concerned - not Utrice Leid, not Bernard White, not Amy Goodman, not Democracy Now! The big threat to the station - the big threat to Pacifica - the threat to Lew Hill's mission that we've dedicated our lives to - it comes from the National Board.
Pacifica's too valuable an asset to let it go, you know media democracy and message pluralism is something that we have to fight for, it's not just rhetoric, it's something we have to fight for. We have to fight it against CBS/Viacom, we have to fight it against Fox News Corp. we have to fight it against Time Warner, and we have to fight for media democracy right here at Pacifica. And the movement to struggle against the National Board has to be supported, has to be pushed, and this in no way affects the current management here at WBAI. The current management at WBAI should participate - hopefully will participate in that push, notwithstanding of course, who's payng the bills.
And I think with that - I think you know, here on Friday, the last Wakeup Call of 2000, I think we have reason for concern, reason to be really worried, angry, bitter - let's try not to be bitter though. I think we have more reason to be optimistic, more reason to be pushing this project forward, to defend what is rightfully ours and rightfully yours as listeners. And again, I know you've heard a lot about this and I said earlier in today's program that we'd look at other things besides Pacifica, but neverthless I just had to let it out of my system. It's been creeping and eating inside me for the past week, And I just felt it was time.
There's been good times, but of course a lot of troubling times over the last week and it's something as I said earlier, on Saturday I felt like there was a death in the family, and talking to so many people calling up and you know, this is the first time in 13 years that I felt very uneasy about coming in here today.
Amy: But I want to say that I do think things can be turned around. As I said, I think you know, to say the least, a terrible mistake was made...
Mario: Big mistakes.
Amy: And right now the Executive Director of Pacifica has defintiely put the ball back in our court when she said on the air in an interview with Utrice Leid, our new interim General Manager, that it is up to Utrice, whether she wants to rehire Bernard White and Sharan Harper, who were fired last Saturday morning, and I VERY much hope that Utrice does that. Unfortunately I saw boxes in Bernard's office that people seem to be packing up withh his things, but I don't think that has to happen. It's very straightforward, Pacifica said it is up to WBAI's General Manager whether she wants to rehire Bernard and Sharan, and it's as simple as that. I think as you were saying, Mario, there has to be space for everyone here, that is the strength of this station, and Bernard White - 20 year veteran, and Sharan Harper, the producer of Wakeup Call, have a very special place here, that the listeners I think have shown in the kind of support put out at the meeting at the union hall - more than a thousand people last Wednesday night - it was incredible, and I think we can move forward together. The call just has to go out to reinstate Bernard White, and Sharan, it is totally up to WBAI, and ...we can do it! And I do think that Valerie Van Isler should be reinstated.
Mario: That was one of the main points I was making earlier, that
there were major mistakes made, and it's intolerable, it's unacceptable and unjustifiable what took place last week, vi-a-vis the firing of Bernard White and Sharan Harper. And again I think that the station can move forward in a relatively... you know, it's not going to be easy, it's going to take a long time. We do have a special guest on the line right now, a close friend and no stranger to WBAI's airwaves, Bernard White. Good morning Bernard.
Bernard: Good morning Mario.
Mario: Happy New Year.
Bernard: I...I suppose.
Mario. How are you man?
Bernard: I'm ok. I was listening very carefully to what you were saying this morning and as you said, we are friends, but we have had disagreements in the past and I also have a disagreement with your analysis. And that disagreement is that...you know, you can't... one of the major contradictions in what you said is that...when you mentioned that Utrice is going to fight Pacifica's encroachment on WBAI, I think that Utrice IS Pacifica's encroachment on WBAI, that she has collaborated with Pacifica, and opened the door for Pacifica at any point in the future to come in and snatch out anybody on the staff. But you can't have it both ways. You can't collaborate with Pacifica and then say that you're going to stop their encroachment, because once you collaborate you become part and parcel of their encroachment, and... you know, you in particular, you and I were with Samori Marksman in San Francisco when we sat down with Pat Scott, and Pat Scott said that she was going to help us "eliminate a problem at BAI", that she was going to fire Valerie Van Isler for us. And I'm sure that you remember when Samori Marksman said "No. No good. We're not going to do that" The reason why Samori said that was because he understood, I understood, and I thought that you understood, that once Pacifica does that act, that then they can come back and do that at any time, and that we rejected that at that time and I think that it's one of the things that we have to reject now.
The firing of me and Sharan was not Pacifica's call. Bessie Wash doesn't know Sharan: if she came up and stood right in front of her, she wouldn't know who she was. This was a mean-spirited action taken by Utrice Leid. It was her call from the beginning, and one of the things she had to do was to eliminate anybody who would be there in her face, opposing her around the action that she took, so she decided to do that.
I've spoken to Utrice, I've spoken to Rosemari Mealy, I've spoken to Diabel Faye, I spoke to Habte Selassie, the real architects of this whole move, on many occasions, about why we could not allow Pacifica to make this kind of move. And Utrice has told me on EACH occasion that she didn't care, that her ONLY GOAL was to get rid of Valerie Van Isler. Now anybody who comes and says that they don't CARE about what happens to the station because they're going to satisfy their own selfish desire for revenge, is somebody that I can't see being in charge of WBAI.
It is just amazing to me that some people cannot see that by the mere fact that she is there placed in that position, she's a Pacifica appointee.
And you know, when we talked about Talkback - when we were developing those plans, Utrice was not a part of that development. In fact she has been a part of undermining many of the things that we've been trying to do to the positive. You talk about my weaknesses - I imagine that we all have weaknesses - but one of my weaknesses helped us pilot through a whole minefield of indifference coming from Utrice Leid. You remember that she boycotted several of the fundraisers that we had -boycotted in an attempt to sabotage our efforts. And at the same time, we moved forward, got rid of the deficit, to have a $70,000 surplus, and are increasing subscribership at this very moment - a subscribership that you can bet is not on the incline right now.
I think that you've been listening to what she says as opposed to what she's done. You need to take a look at what she's done in order to try and move things forward. She's very gifted, very talented in the manner in which she speaks, and how she is able to put things forward, but what has she done? Check with the staff - those of us who worked around these fundraisers, trying our best to get WBAI out of the hole, trying our best to increase our subscribership, working around whatever opposition was there, to mantain this radio station. Look what she's done!
You know, our listeners are not confused. Maybe some of the staff is confused, but our listeners are not confused. They understand exactly what this is - that it is part and parcel of Pacifica's move to get inside of WBAI. Utrice is just a tool for them. She's allowed herself to become a tool. They can fire her at any moment. When you take a look at Bessie Wash coming in there talking about all the things she's going to do for WBAI? She could have done those the day before she said she was going to do them! She could have done them last summer! But now she's going to do them? [laughs] One of the things she hasn't talked about is that she wrote Valerie Van Isler a letter, saying what a wonderful job she and the staff had done, and offered her a ten thousand dollar raise. The next time she speaks to her she's offering her a job in Washington D.C.! These people are liars! And Utrice has joined them in the lies!
You know, one of the things she often says when she gives presentations to the public is that you have to be ruthless in your quest for power. That's what's happened in this case. She's been relentless and ruthless in her request for power. You know this whole this is not about me, it's not about Sharan, it's about protection of this radio station, something that has been severely violated by the collaboration of a cabal of individuals inside the station who did not move in the best interests of the station, but moved in their own best interests. Now they're all trying to get jobs that are available as a result of these changes that are being made.
And I just go back to say once again that you know, Samori's name has been brought up quite a bit. I don't think that there's anybody there at the radio station who has talked over the last 20 years, about WBAI with Samori, more than I had. And I know that he would NOT be in favor of this kind of move. When it came up and he was confronted by it he wasn't in favor of it, and he wouldn't be in favor of it today!
Mario: Well that was the point I was making. I mean I made that earlier, Bernard White, I said - I know you paid close attention to what I was saying - but I think you may have misheard the one point where I didn't say that Utrice was defending the station from Pacifica's encroachment. I said if she indeed wants to prove that she is defending BAI from the encroachment of Pacifica as she has claimed on several occasions - which is why she claimed she took the position -
she can take the first steps towards achieving some kind of - I guess you can say confienca - confidence in a staff that has serious doubts about her ability and her willingness to do so - if she takes that first step of restoring yourself and Sharan Harper - and lifting the ban on the other colleagues.
Bernard: Yeah but see...
Mario: But I just wanted to make clear what I said - I didn't say that she IS defending the station from Pacifica's encroachment, I just wanted to clarify that. She SAID that she has, and I said if she wants to take steps to convince us, or at least make the first steps to move in that direction, that would be the first thing I would recommend.
Bernard: OK, the first thing I would recommend is that she resign. Because she represents Pacifica's encroachment. She collaborated with people, she came in under the cloak of darkness, and did something that she said the staff wanted to do. If the staff wanted it she could have done it at 12 noon. It cost about $5000 to come in there and change those locks. If it was something that the staff approved, she could have done it during the day. But the staff did NOT approve of this action, they stated it on several occasions when we had meetings that they did not want this to happen. And all along she was sitting in some of the meetings knowing that she was already talking with Pacifica about this entire move. So how can the staff really trust her?
John McDonagh: Bernard, if she was to hire you back to do Wakeup Call with Sharan, would you do it?
Bernard: I took a position before we found out that Utrice was going to be the one...I don't know if you were in that meeting when Armand asked her directly: was she talking to Pacifica? Did she want to become
the Station Manager? And she said "No!"
I took a position that I was not going to collaborate with Pacifica. To work with Utrice Leid is to become part and parcel of collaborating with Pacifica. I think Utrice has to get out of there, she made a serious error, she made a selfish error, and she needs to own up to that and move out. Look what she's done to this radio station! 1500 to 2000 people coming out on a cold winter holiday night to protest! You think that's going to impact on our ability to be solvent? You bet it is! I think the only thing that would represent Pacifica leaving WBAI is if she went.
Mario: I think that's one thing that wasn't calculated, certainly the response.
Bernard: Because she doesn't really understand WBAI! She's only been there a couple of years. You know how long it takes to really understand some of the subtleties and nuances of a Pacifica radio station or of WBAI. And she was unwilling to learn! She knows more than all of us! She knew more than everybody else! And she wouldn't, she wouldn't - you know, when you tried to talk to her about what was going on, she knew better! We need people who don't know better, people who can understand, people who can learn, not people who know everything already!
Mario: That ws the point I made earlier, that it was one of Samori's strengths that he worked with people, and he worked closely in building - I hate to use the cliche of a team - but that's what he did. So when I do hear people refer to his mission loosely, it's very disturbing,
Bernard: Right, she's been anti-team since she's been there. But we had other work to do, so we did that other work. And you know - you know the accomplishments that have been made. And there were moves to straighten out some of the other things. I had gotten Valerie Van Isler to bring in a consultant so we could develop systems in how we relate back and forth to each other in how we do the work. And that consultant was there working with Valerie when when all of this took place. Rosemari Mealy knew that!
You have to deal with things one step at a time: first we become solvent, and strong so that we can point to our accomplishments. Then we wind up trying to work at you know - deal with all the personalities and the system differences that we have, and we were about to take that step. And Utrice knew that, Rosemari Mealy knew that, but they didn't care about it! They had another agenda, and now we're living inside of their agenda. I told them exactly what would happen if they collaborated with Pacifica, and they did it anyway and we're in the moment that I already explained to them we would be in, if that collaboration went forward. Now there are people there intimidating the staff - you know, just imagine walking through WBAI and there are people there, supposedly Utrice's bodyguards - well if they're her body guards, when she takes her body out of there, take her guards with her!
Mario: Well I said this morning, Bernard, the first person I confronted when I was trying to get in the door was some person I'd never seen in my life before, asking me who I was! And I said to him, well who are you? What are you doing here? And he was like well sorry, nothing personal... Nothing personal? But I've been working here for 13 years! You know, why are you coming here and asking me who I am? And that is a problem. The other day was the same thing - I'll just let this be known that on Tuesday during our staff meeting - a very heated, contentious staff meeting, one of the ugliest I've been to in my time here at BAI, there were a lot of people uncomfortable with the fact that a couple of these folks were milling about right outside the room, listening in on what was going on, and there was a request to have them removed or at least move out of the way, and I went up to one of them and I kindly said "Look, given the situation, you know the situation is heated, do you mind just stepping aside? And he was direct and confrontational, asking me if I was deaf! Are you deaf? Are you deaf? As if he wanted to get into some fisticuffs or something!
And I said, well if you're here to be protecting the physical integrity of the station, as is being claimed, you're not doing a very effective job of it. And if I was somebody else, you know if I had another temperament, and sometimes I do, it might have gotten ugly.
So I agree with that, especially considering the fact that several key members of the station who have been here for years and who are no strangers to the station, are not allowed in, and meanwhile we have these folks here! That's another issue that has to be dealt with - the calling back of some of these folks.
Bernard: I mean look at the staff meeting, I wasn't there but several times it came up that people were saying "well you're worse than Valerie!" And who thought [laughs] that anybody would ever hear someone say that! Did she get a consensus from the staff that they wanted people to protect the place? Did she talk to the staff? I mean perhaps staff members might - if they agreed with her that there was a need for that perhaps they would have personed the doors, you know, to talk to people about not coming in. But she comes in this manner and she cannot now trust anybody. She can't trust the staff! And that's going to be borne out in days to come because she knows that the overwhelming majority of the staff said that they did not want this to happen. I know that there are people there - we always live on the edge at WBAI, we don't make a lot of money - so there are a lot of people who cannot speak out because they have families to raise, but the unpaid producers as well as the community are not in that position, and they're going to speak out. And this is just a terrible thing that has happened. And like I said, the only way I can see us rebuilding the trust in our community is if Pacifica's agent, Pacifica's operative - Utrice Leid - gets out of there, and apologises to everybody for the damage that she's done to this radio station, that most of the people around that table that you're sitting at, built.
Mario: I know. It was constructed by many, not by one person. But there's an illusion that it can be constructed by one person. At least that's what I heard last week.
Well Bernard, I want to thank you - in every sense of that term, thank you - not only for sharing your thoughts this morning, but also just the role that you've played. I've learned a lot from you, no doubt about it, I've been inspired by a lot of your work, and your role here at the station and in the community.
And again, as far as I'm concerned, you have to be here. Notwithtanding what you just said about not collaborating with Pacifica, you have to be here. You have to be inside, not outside.
Bernard: Well thank you Mario, and you have a good year. And
Happy New Year to the rest if you - around the table.
Amy: Thank you Bernard, and I hope we're doing Wakeup Call next week together, the whole team. I hope Janice K. Bryant is unbanned - we still don't know what she was banned for - I hope Sharan Harper is back producing the program, and of course I hope you're back at the helm.
Bernard: Was she banned by Pacifica?
Mario: I don't think so.
Amy: No. The bannings are being done by Utrice Leid. And we don't even know how many people are being banned: people only find out when they try to enter the premises, and they're told they're banned. This is - you know, really frightening. And when we ask, "What is the criteria for someone being banned?" nothing is ever laid out. "They know what they did" is the response. And I call them and I say "What did you do?" And they don't know what they did!
Bernard: Well it's just like Bessie Wash saying I was removed "for cause". And then telling Utrice Leid that she could hire me back!
Well what happened to the cause? If there was a cause to remove me, what happened to it? How come Utrice can hire me back? You know they're both playing games with us! So many untruths were told in that encounter [on the air] that they both had. Bessie Wash said nobody called her? Well I DID call her! Because there were some people who wanted to meet with her. And I made THREE phone calls to her and she returned NONE of my phone calls. So you know, she was just telling some blatant untruths while she was there. I didn't know that she was in New York, but I did have her number and I was trying to call her because there were some people who were interested in talking to her. Some people like Gil Noble, some people like Harry Belafonte, some people like Susan Sarandon. So she lied!
Mario: That's called a problem with the spinal cord. A serious deficieny in spinal tissue. And that's always been a problem with Pacifica. Again Bernard, I just say that you need to be inside. And the next level of struggle has to be conducted with you inside, not outside, and I feel strongly about that.
Bernard: Well thank you, Mario.