Radical media, politics and culture.

Marc Cooper's Public Statement on Pacifica Crisis

Marc Cooper writes: "Several individuals have attributed to me certain statements on
the issue of the situation known as the "Pacifica Crisis." As I am quite
capable of speaking for myself without easy-chair interpretations, I have
decided to make this public comment.

More than two years ago, when trouble was first brewing at KPFA, I
wrote in The Nation magazine that the entirety of the Pacifica network was
at risk. I stated at the time that the crisis had been precipitated by
Pacifica management‚s clumsy and unexplained dismissal of KPFA‚s manager,
Nicole Sawaya. I also called for the resignation of the Executive Director
and the reinstatement of Sawaya and accused the National Board and then
Chairwoman Mary Francis Berry of gross negligence.

But I also strongly criticized the KPFA staff for abusing their
on-air privileges. I wrote that it was a mistake to take to the air to
agitate and air internal grievances. One hundred days later, I was proven
correct when the station descended into chaos.

Just as in 1999, I firmly believe today that both sides in this
conflict bear heavy responsibilities for the dire mess in which Pacifica
now finds itself. For taking this position, I have been called just about
every vile name invented in English and probably one or two other languages
as well. But my assertion stands. Today, we see that the zealots and
bumblers at the Pacifica National Board, the Pacifica National Staff, the
WBAI management, as well as the „dissident‰ Pacifica Campaign and many of
their political allies, including key staff of Democracy Now, have now
recklessly escalated this situation. As a result, it is only a matter of
days or weeks, at the most, before the network finally and conclusively
implodes. When the smoke clears and the perpetrators can view the wreckage
their handiwork has wrought in the glare of daylight, perhaps then they
realize with a guilty gulp that no one came out the winner.

The unfolding of Pacifica‚s cheap trash radio drama is as
predictable as Jerry Springer, albeit less entertaining. Just when the
scarce remaining observers are convinced that Pacifica could not
possibility stage yet another vulgar display of self-abuse, a new outrage
erupts from one side or the other.

The latest chapter is the dispute over National Program Manager
Steve Yasko. For those who idle away their lives wondering about these
matters: yes, on August 31 I wrote Steve Yasko a private email ˆ not an
„internal memo‰ˆ demanding that he resign. This was not a new position. I
told him the same thing shortly after he was hired one year ago. I also
repeated my long-standing position that his boss, Bessie Wash, has no
business running a radio network. I told Yasko that he should quit because
he was an inept manager and that the current administration was driving the
network into the ground.

Now, I learn that Yasko has indeed tendered his resignation
effective September 15th. Unfortunately, he is resigning for all the
wrong reasons. Much to my horror, shared mercifully by some other decent
human beings, Yasko was driven out by a smear campaign mounted by Juan
Gonzalez, his Pacifica Campaign and Amy Goodman, constructed on the flimsy
basis of links Yasko had maintained on his gay-oriented website. Like a
claque of Church Ladies, Gonzalez, Goodman and friends have publicly turned
Yasko into a tawdry porno king -- or was it misogynist? Or was it a
dangerous sexual fantasizer? Or maybe it was just a plain old Pervert.
That‚s the nature of innuendo and smearˆ it‚s everything and nothing all at

Bad enough that this information ˆ the bulk of it wildly
incorrectˆ was trawled and slathered across the Internet. Worse yet, Amy
Goodman shed all semblance of decency and went on to Dennis Bernstein‚s
KPFA show for another leisurely paw through the methane. This is a new low
in Pacifica‚s already shocking history. This from a woman who is engaged in
a gender harassment suit against the same individual.

If Goodman were really concerned about Yasko‚s activities, she has
a wide-open door available to her in the form of a union grievance. But she
preferred a public trash job through the unilateral airing of her private
opinions, without the bother of any inconvenient rebuttal, all of which
constitutes a screeching conflict of interest.

The smear against Yasko has stunned some of Pacifica Campaign‚s
allies. But even this is disingenuous. The „dissidents‰ have liberally
applied the personal smear tactic from the very onset of this fight. Anyone
who dared to refuse to toe their line was branded as a „corporatist,‰ a
„highjacker,‰ a scab ˆ or in some cases a fascist. Or in my case, a
Pinochetista. I have on file more than 75 emails from activists in the Bay
Area alleging that when I served as Salvador Allende‚s translator, I was in
fact a CIA agent. Some added that I had had a hand in Allende‚s death. This
sort of scabrous libel merits no reply, only a weary shake of the head.

Likewise, when Saul Landau ˆ an intellectual with 40 years of
unblemished radical credentialsˆ suggested a „truce‰ in the Pacifica wars
last year, he was publicly pilloried and slandered by the same people now
in the forefront of the Pacifica Campaign. There was no debate, no
engagement, only howling denunciations and wild accusations, too often from
spoiled youngsters who know nothing of their own history and ought to be
ashamed of themselves.

Furthermore, when the Taliban cadre from the Pacifica Campaign
targeted the Pacifica National Board, it employed a strategy lifted
directly from Operation Rescue. The employers of the unpaid Board members
were hounded relentlessly, forcing them to either step down from Pacifica
or risk their outside jobs. But the most loathesome tactic, the same one
employed by the thug supporters of Megan‚s Law, was to leaflet the
neighbors of these same board members to alert them that a „criminal‰ was
living next door.

The Left, for the most part, remained silent as these personal
destruction tactics were played out. Regretably, even my own publication,
The Nation, couldn‚t find its public voice on this issue and buckled to the
moral blackmail exerted by these Gambino-like tactics employed by Pacifica

The sacrifice of Steve Yasko has, at least, broken that silence.
It was about time. Those who feel disgust at the way he was driven out with
tactics ripped from Ken Starr‚s handbook should start to voice that
sentiment. But they should also take a moment to reflect on the previous
„victories‰ scored by the Pacifica Campaign and ask themselves if those
were not, in retrospect consistent with the latest repugnant developments.

For the record, I would like to restate my opposition to the
boycott of Pacifica. I find it absurd that in the age of Bush and
conglomerate corporate media, these individuals can find no more formidable
enemy and can dedicate their nervous energies to choking the Pacifica
Network, whatever its real or imagined sins.

I also find it rather disingenuous that this campaign is led by
Juan Gonzalez, a man who has no conflicts about accepting a huge salary as
columnist from the corporation of the right-wing Daily News while warring
against the hapless Pacifica. That contradiction truly tests the imagination.

Nevertheless, I am peppered almost daily with impertinent emails
demanding that I state if I am now or have ever been a supporter of the
Pacifica National Board. The question is too absurd to merit a reply. But
those who believe that this collection of lost souls are either
corporatists or pawns of the Democratic Party give them too much credit.
For the 25 years that I have been aware of its consistently sad record,
Pacifica‚s Board has been dominated for the most part not by evil
conspiracy, corporate greed, or bad faith, but simple mediocrity. Those
responsible for Pacifica have amply demonstrated their inability to build a
mature, stable and progressive network. The current majority emit some
strong aromas of arrogance and sillyness. But mostly of rank ineptitude, as
did most of their predecessors going back into the late 1970s.

As to the „dissident minority,‰ the vaguely more political
elements among their bureaucratic colleagues in the majority, they
distinguish themselves as ideological zealots lacking a clue about
management or quality programming. Neither camp is representative of anyone
in particular, having never been elected but rather appointed to their
posts by the same majority they now decry as „criminal.‰

Neither side has a shred of political credibility. The majority is
incapable of articulating any visionˆ let alone a Democratic Party or
corporate model, whatever that means. The supposedly big, bad steamrolling,
centralizing National Pacifica juggernaut is, in fact, a bottomless black
hole. Pacifica‚s malady stems not from roughshod management, but from no
management at all.

The dissidents, meanwhile, can‚t get their story straight. Read
through their blizzard of websites over the last two years, and the „issue‰
keeps moving around: first it was Pacifica‚s firing of KPFA Manager Sawaya;
then it was „governance‰ and the local boards -- no, the national baord --
then it was the Democrats taking over, or was it the corporatists and the
commercializers; then briefly it was the FBI; soon after, Pacifica‚s
supposed plan to move out of California; promptly, it morphed into a
„strike,‰ against PNN; and then recently the dastardly „Christmas Coup,‰
which lasted only until the issue shifted to the National Association of
Homebuilders. As I write, the new flavor of the week is Democracy Now.
The latest crisis, indeed, flows directly from the chaotic bowels
of WBAI. And again, both sides bear the onus. Last Christmas Valerie Van
Isler and Bernard White were removed from station managment. Though Van
Isler was universally repudiated by the staff and White was an affable but
grossly ineffective program director, some sectors of the staff
opportunistically rebelled against their removal and began portraying them
as marytrs

Since early January Amy Goodman as has signed off her Democracy
Now show with a torch song about broadcasting from „the studios of the
fired and the banned.‰ While Goodman has the right to her opinion, she has
no place using the public airwaves to broadcast her personal grievances day
after day. Such antics would be unthinkable in any serious journalistic

At the same time, the new managment at WBAI has revealed itself to
be as morally bankrupt as its predecessors. The manager has let loose a
bevy of on-air bullies and helped forever tarnish what scrap of credibility
the station retained. Shame on Utrice Leid and Clayton Reilly.

But shame on Amy Goodman and her Democracy Now staff as well. They
have consistently made themselves „the issue.‰ And that is not what good
radio is about. Good radio is focused on the listener, not the programmer.
Wearing masks to work, claiming grand political conspiracies, distorting
and twisting even ordinary and sometimes necessary criticism directed at
them, the Democrcay Now staff has only poured gasoline onto the fire,
taking obvious delight in doing so like frenetic vandals. Goodman‚s on-air
sexual smear of Yasko last week is entirely consistent and merely the most
egregious of these displays.

Since mid-August when Goodman unilaterally decided to no longer
report to her workplace to do her show, she has held the future of the
network hostage. That was wrong. Initially, an agreement was reached
between her union (of which I am also a member) and Pacifica for her to
return to work. But, rather predictably, WBAI‚s management allowed its
werewolves to go on the air and trash Goodman. The deal was sunk. And now
both sides, again, seem intent on pushing the whole mess over the cliff.
This could occur as early as next week when the Pacifica National Board
attempts to meet by phone.

Twenty years ago there was talk about using our five stations and
new satellite technology to forge a strong, national, progressive voice. In
1981 Pacifica‚s first national show, the Pacifica National News, went on
the air. Twenty years later, Pacifica has exactly one additional hour of
daily national programming to show for its efforts, a frankly pathetic
achievement, reflecting the consistent caving to individual station, or
more exactly individual programmer, interests. And that show, Democray
Now!, currently consists of on-air flames, thanks to the infantile
self-indulgence of its bosses and staff.

I have not made a final decision, but I may soon decide to put an
end to the enormous financial sacrifice, which I estimate at approximatley
$35,000 per year in refused writing assignments, that I incur by continuing
to be employed by KPFK in Los Angeles. I have stayed with the daily program
because it resonates with a large audience and because I enjoy the
interaction with my guests and listeners. I am proud of my work and stand
by it 100%, including the interviews with Pat Buchanan and Robert McNamara
that got so many pairs of knickers in knots. I owe my audience the Greater
Los Angeles Press Club‚s Radio Journalist of the Year award which I won
last year. I have it on the wall.

Over the last three years I have raised some $1 million for KPFK
and Pacifica. Ironically, a chunk of that funding helped finance the
broadcast of programs like Democracy Now! Perhaps I should feel guilty.

This war was really touched off five or six years ago when a
moderately enlightened and short-lived Pacifica Executive Director sounded
the alarm. She was concerned that the network had ossified and grown
insular and was not effectively responding to the challenge of a right-wing
dominated media that had grown beyond anyone‚s imagination. But no sooner
had she rung the bell, that a backlash by entrenched long-time local
programmers was unleashed who believed they had some enititlement to the air.

It is no accident, that KPFA, the Pacifica station that the
so-called dissidents so celebrate as the only „liberated‰ station, is in
fact the most ossified. Is it not passing strange that at a station which
pays endless lip service to „community‰ involvement, many of its key, paid
staff are people who have clung to those jobs literally for decades. Take a
look at the heart of the KPFA News and Public Affairs Departments: Aileen
Alfandary, Mark Mericle, Wendell Harper, Phillip Maldari, Kris Welch all
have held their positions for 20 or even 25 years. If that isn‚t
entrenched stagnation, what is?

The crisis of Pacifica has little or nothing to do with either the
National Board, or the Local Boards, or the By-Laws, or the CPB, or the
Democratic Party or Marc Cooper or Amy Goodman, for that matter. As John
Dinges insightfully pointed out in the pages of The Nation, the crisis of
Pacifica has been brewing and maturing for more than 20 years. Over those
two decades, Pacifica has stunted. Its national audience is an anemic 3/4
million. It has failed to produce compelling programming at either the
national or local level. At a moment in history in which telecommunications
has an explosive role in the lives of Americans, Pacifica Radio emits only
a death rattle.

The current fight is between two entrenched bureaucracies ˆ one at
the national level, and a collection of similar entities at the local
level. There‚s plenty of hot air being blasted around about democracy,
community, representation, etc. But no one is talking about how to produce
thoughtful, responsive, agile, intelligent radio and how to bring
Pacifica‚s mission to a wider audience. I am now convinced that this
necessary and primary discussion has been forever lost in a bloody,
pointless fight, a classic scramble for deck chairs on a rusted out and
severely listing Titanic. Or in Pacifica‚s case, more like a Tugboat Annie.

For my part, I now have absolutely no interest in the actual
denouement of this tiresome remake of yet another Friday the 13th. I don‚t
think it matters very much to journalism, the so-called Left or what‚s left
of Pacifica‚s listenership. The historic project of Pacifica Radio as it
was conceived and nurtured over several decades is now dead. Bessie Wash,
Amy Goodman, Eutrice Leid, Juan Gonzalez, Dennis Bernstein, FAIR, John
Murdoch and Leslie Cagan alike will serve as pallbearers.