A Reply to ‘Pacifica Myths and Realities’

May 23, 2001

Mark Schubb and his associates in, or close to, the management of KPFK-LA recently put up a statement entitled “Pacifica Myths and Realities,” which was quickly placed on The Nation magazine’s website. The statement is remarkable for the crudity of its apologetics for the Pacifica management. In Schubb’s account, whereas the thousands of protesters and hundreds of fired employees never have a reasonable complaint or make a valid point, as with Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet apparatchiks in “We Never Make Mistakes,” so also Schubb’s Pacifica management never makes mistakes.

In his opening paragraphs Schubb chastises the “save Pacifica” forces who “use tactics completely counter to the Pacifica mission.” This comes from a man who has aggressively used censorship, among other tactics and policies that are incompatible with the Pacifica tradition, as we describe below. His document is also an apologia for the Pacifica national board majority, which has not only consistently used censorship as an instrument of control but has also hired union-busting firms to deal with its “labor problems,” and has clearly set Pacifica on a path of centralization and mainstreamed content that abandons the Lewis Hill goals of local control and of a strong alternative voice.

Schubb’s statement is also notable in that, on each point it addresses, it misrepresents reality.

Taking his points in order:

1. Schubb: “Myth: There has been a corporate takeover of the Pacifica National board.” To which Schubb responds: “Reality. Untrue. Pacifica’s board is little different than any other progressive nonprofit. There is no corporate influence or formal corporate presence on the board.”

REAL REALITY: There was a Pacifica board coup in 1999, as the board changed the bylaws to make itself completely self-selecting (see also #8 below). The claim that there is no “formal corporate presence” hides behind the word “formal.” Businessmen in real estate and accounting, a home-construction industry lobbyist, a financial entrepreneur and a member of a corporate law firm with a specialty in union busting have been brought onto the board by the dominant control group and have been present and active. A New York banker was proposed by the management in 2000 but decided to withdraw because of the controversy.

On the alleged absence of corporate influence, control groups on boards make overall policy, and enforce it not by board orders but through hirelings. Thus a WBAI is overhauled and dissidents are fired by people like Utrice Leid and Bessie Wash who are selected by the dominant members of the board to do the designated work.

On the alleged absence of Pacifica’s difference from other non-profits, the Sierra Club’s board is elected by members. State ACLU chapters select their boards and national representatives via member elections. Popular/professional organizations like the American Historical Association elect their president and council by member elections. Pacifica’s board of directors now selects itself, and it recognizes nobody else as having a formal binding role in governance.

Pacifica’s board, unlike other progressive nonprofits, is also being sued by listener-sponsors, by local advisory-board members, and even by five of its own directors, for misconduct. Pacifica has also been the subject of legislative hearings at the municipal, state and federal level initiated at the behest of constituents. Finally, unlike other nonprofits, the Pacifica management has ordered the arrest of its members and donors, many thousands of whom have protested, written letters, and are now boycotting the Pacifica fund drive in order to force its leadership to resign.

2. Schubb: “Myth: Pacifica wants to sell off one of its radio stations. Reality: Absolutely untrue…. the Pacifica National Board has passed multiple unanimous motions declaring that no station is for sale.”

REAL REALITY: Such motions and votes are meaningless. The dominant board members have a public relations incentive to give such a unanimous vote until they finally make a decision to sell; and they have discussed sale, secretly, and more than once. In 1997, Schubb himself told his Local Advisory Board that although selling stations was once taboo, it could now be openly discussed. And who would be discussing it but the Pacifica management? One such discussion was disclosed only as a result of a misdirected e-mail by board member Micheal Palmer, who proposed the sale of KPFA or WBAI. He was subsequently promoted to chair of the Pacifica Finance Committee and Treasurer of the Foundation.

More to the point, Tomas Moran, one of the five directors suing the Pacifica Board, has tried since 1999 to get the Board to place a no-sale clause into the Pacifica bylaws. The Board majority refused to put forward his amendment.

3. Schubb: “Myth: Pacifica wants to water down or mainstream its programming by tilting toward the Democratic Party. Reality: The National Board has no direct authority over programming and has not made any directives or suggestions to any staff about the content of such [sic].”

REAL REALITY: Schubb’s statement glides over the well-known fact that board control is not normally exercised by direct intervention, but rather by bringing in managers like Mark Schubb, Garland Ganter and Utrice Leid who will carry out the desired policies by firing dissidents and putting suitable people in their place. But the statement is also false in asserting that there is “absolutely no interference from program management.” Schubb himself was present at a meeting called by the Pacifica management on September 14, 2000, where Schubb and others gave Amy Goodman detailed criticisms of her programming and style in a clear illustration of “interference from program management.”

Dissidents believe Pacifica is being mainstreamed for many reasons, and the Democratic Party establishment has played a well-documented role. Schubb’s assertion ignores the strong connection of former Pacifica chair and Clinton appointee Mary Frances Berry to the Democrats; it also ignores explicit pressures from above.

For example, in May 1997, the late WBAI Program Director Samori Marksman complained to the WBAI local board of pressure on Democracy Now! from Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott. Scott told Amy Goodman to “go easy” on Clinton and to tone down her coverage of East Timor. Management was disturbed when Goodman interviewed Nader on the floor of the Republican Convention in 2000. Pacifica then claimed falsely that she had brought Nader in under the cover of her press credentials, and used that to deny her press credentials to the Democratic Convention.

4. Schubb: “Myth: KPFA in Berkeley was shut down by Pacifica after programmers were yanked from the air because they criticized Pacifica management. Reality: Not true.” [Schubb gives a long version of the patience Pacifica management exercised before calling in the police, all necessary “in defense of its federal license”–a seriously biased account that recycles an earlier one by Marc Cooper].

REAL REALITY: Schubb’s statement that the difficulties began “after KPFA’s manager was not renewed by Pacifica” ignores that a popular manager was fired as part of a long series of hostile interventions. Schubb’s version is also contradicted by hard evidence: Pacifica ordered equipment to reroute KPFA’s transmitter one month before the disruptive events that allegedly caused the takeover and shutdown. Plans for the shutdown had been discussed at the highest levels, as is shown by the misdirected e-mail message from a board member, sent the day before the lockout, which says, “But seriously, I was under the impression there was support in the proper quarters, and a definite majority, for shutting down that unit and re-programming immediately. Has that changed?”

The notion that the takeover was needed to protect the license is also false. In 1954, KPFA broadcast a conversation between four marijuana smokers who could be heard smoking pot in the studio. The California State Attorney General seized the program, yet KPFA did not lose its license. In 1964, the Pacifica Foundation refused to sign a FCC-demanded anti-communist questionnaire without losing any licenses. KPFA went off the air in 1974 for a month due to a staff strike without losing its license. In 1975, the FCC cited WBAI for obscenity. Pacifica management took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and lost without WBAI losing its license. In 1977, disgruntled WBAI staff occupied the station’s transmitter and locked themselves in the station for six weeks without WBAI losing its license.

5. Schubb: “Myth: Pacifica carried out a ‘Xmas Coup’ this past December in its New York City station WBAI. Reality: [Schubb states there was a December 23 call by “‘dissidents’ and some staff” to occupy the studios; “In response,” the top management dismissed the manager, installed Utrice Leid, and Leid “requested that the locks be changed at WBAI to thwart the planned takeover…”]

REAL REALITY: The changing of the locks at WBAI was carried out at night on December 22 by Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash and now-interim general manager Utrice Leid–one day before Schubb’s alleged occupation threat. This takeover was planned well in advance during secret negotiations with Leid. (Weeks before Leid was tapped to seize the station, another staffer, who publicly declined due to staff resistance, had been asked by Pacifica management to replace WBAI’s general manager, Valerie van Isler.) Despite criticism of van Isler, many in the WBAI community–staff, LAB and listeners–were opposed to her unilateral and sudden removal by Pacifica national the night of the 22.

Although Leid announced there would be no program changes, within hours and days of the midnight coup, veteran staffers, paid and unpaid, were fired and banned from the station. Security guards were installed, and access to the station was, and continues to be, restricted. Leid has also banned the Local Advisory Board from meeting on site. Arrests occurred when they tried. A vicious on-air campaign of racist character assassination by Leid and her loyalists continues to this day. False charges of violence against the resistance movement have also been alleged by Leid and Pacifica management.

After a month of open, on-air debate following the take-over, Leid imposed a gag rule which she now uses to censor only her detractors–including US Congressman Major Owens, cut off in mid-sentence. Leid has also fired and banned many of WBAI’s most prominent radical, as well as female, voices. To date, over twenty staff members have been purged, while the progressive content of the station has been dramatically reduced. Leid also pre-emptively censored the WBAI Local News recently, preventing coverage of New York City Council investigations into WBAI. This news censorship is the first at WBAI in recent memory, and continues the ugly practice of news censorship around the network in recent years by Pacifica management as it has tried to colonize and reprogram each sister station (see “Chronology of Censorship,” www.savepacifica.net/strike). As Leid has proclaimed: “WBAI is not to be the station of the left.” [April 30, 2001, WBAI staff meeting]

6. Schubb: “Myth: Pacifica and KPFK muzzle open on-air discussion with a ‘gag rule’. Reality: Not true…no gag rule.”

REAL REALITY: Schubb’s claim that there is no “gag rule” is based on the contention that the ban on discussion of supposedly “internal issues” on air is standard practice and is therefore not gagging. But there is a double deception here. First, although Schubb justifies his policies on the grounds that programmers are “speaking ‘at’ the listeners with no rebuttal,” his gag rule also applies to discussion initiated by listeners. In a February 28, 1996 memo, he informed station personnel that they would be expelled permanently if they failed to hang up on callers who raised Pacifica issues or even announced community meetings to discuss such issues. Volunteers who answer pledge calls during fundraising have also been told that discussion of Pacifica matters is forbidden in the phone room.

Schubb’s gag order extends even to the outside activities of interviewees that displease him. Last October, after participating in a demonstration in support of Democracy Now!, Cliff Tasner, a campaign finance reform analyst, was told that his interview on KPFK was cancelled because of his participation in the protest. In an e-mail exchange with Marc Cooper, Cooper explained to Tasner that “the first rule of politics is that you reward your friends and punish your enemies.”

The gag order of course does not extend to defenses of Pacifica’s management and denunciations of opponents of that management. Thus on May 22, as part of an on-air fund-raiser, Marc Cooper spent some fifty minutes in a diatribe against those boycotting Pacifica and KPFK–“saboteurs,” “self-appointed commissars,” knuckle-heads,” ding-a-lings,” all suffering “delusions” as they interfered with “our mission-driven programming.” (Cooper should check out Schubb’s 1998 advisory to staff to aim their political message at the “center,” in order to increase their market share, noted under 9 below.)

Second, the alteration of Pacifica’s policies, programming and purposes are not merely internal issues. They are matters that the communities that support Pacifica have a right to be informed of, and discuss. Those at the top of Pacifica have known from the beginning that traditional constituencies would object to Pacifica’s new direction, as evidenced by a July 1995 memo from the Pacifica executive committee:

At the October, 1994 National Board meeting, the Board mandated that the station managers re-configure programming to better serve core listeners in each signal area, to develop more relevant and professional programming and to, thereby, increase the audience. We were mindful that this would unfortunately inconvenience, if not distress, some staff, board and audience members. It will mean that there will be many alterations to current and long-standing practices at the stations…. If there are indications that actions are being taken collectively or individually to countermand the policies, directives, and mandates of the Pacifica Board, the Board will take appropriate steps.

7. Schubb. “Myth: Amy Goodman who hosts Democracy Now! is being persecuted for her political ideas. Reality: [Goodman] …has never been given any directives regarding the content of the program…When a program manager was finally named last year and some efforts were made to address longstanding non-editorial problems at Democracy Now!, some falsely politicized the situation by portraying Ms. Goodman as a victim of ideological discrimination.”

REAL REALITY: As noted, Schubb participated in a meeting in Washington at which Goodman was taken over the coals on content as well as style, with specific references at this meeting to subjects allegedly treated in excess like East Timor and capital punishment. No “directives” were given her, only implied warnings, which were then followed up by a letter from Washington requiring that her programs be submitted in advance to the Pacifica management.

She has been removed from the Wake-Up Call program on WBAI, after first being subjected to a hostile co-host who referred to her as a “racist” and a “bitch”. Following her removal, other WBAI hosts were told they were barred from having her on their programs as a guest or co-host. Her Democracy Now! offerings have been repeatedly dropped for reasons that would appear to be content related. The program itself, often described as national Pacifica’s “flagship”, was recently moved, without notice, from WBAI’s main studio to a smaller one not properly equipped for the broadcast. KPFK and WBAI phone room personnel have been instructed to tell listeners who are calling to complain about the removal of current Democracy Now! broadcasts during fundraising, that Goodman refused to fund-raise, a lie, and that their requests for the program’s return will insure its permanent removal. Goodman said that Pacifica management informed her, “KPFK General Manager Mark Schubb did not want me to fund-raise live on the air.”

Goodman has filed grievances for harassment and censorship, but no doubt she is confusing politics with the “longstanding non-editorial problems” that Schubb says is all there is to the matter.

8. Schubb. “Myth: Local Advisory Boards are fighting to democratize the Pacifica National Board. Reality: The National Board of Pacifica is no more or less democratic that the average nonprofit board. However, the Local Advisory Board (LAB) is completely self-selecting and not in any way accountable to the individual stations. In the case of KPFK, the current LAB has been hijacked by a small group of anti-Pacifica zealots…the overwhelming majority of KPFK staff have formally demanded that the leadership of the LAB resign…”

REAL REALITY: We pointed out earlier that the Pacifica board is less democratic than that of many other nonprofits, and is completely self-selecting. What is more, it has consolidated its control by illegally removing the rights of the LABs to elect a majority of the national board (an issue in all three lawsuits in process against the Pacifica management). While ignoring this national board move to self-selection, Schubb has the audacity to castigate the LABs as “completely self-selecting” and unaccountable, as if this were really bad business! He also ignores the fact that the KPFA LAB already holds subscriber elections, that the KPFK LAB has passed a motion in support of developing an election process, and that the listener law suit specifically calls for the institution of elected LABs.

When people who oppose Schubb take power they “hijack” the institution, whereas the Pacifica management can self-select and be unaccountable without criticism. Needless to say, he fails to show in any way that the LABs, who are “unpaid volunteers” (a phrase he uses to put his Pacifica board allies in a good light), are not trying to democratize Pacifica. His statement that the majority of the KPFK staff oppose the local LAB proves only that Schubb’s extensive firings of staff and volunteers who have disagreed with him (more than 150 people have been removed during his tenure) has left KPFK with a staff that will find that Schubb “never makes mistakes.”

9. Schubb. “Myth: Pacifica and KPFK have committed various acts of censorship. Reality: This is a lie.” [He claims involves only “a handful of incidents in which individual programmers have irresponsibly diverted air time from programming air [sic] their personal grievances…”]

REAL REALITY: Schubb normalizes a gag rule as a reasonable, non-censorship policy. We have noted under #6 (above) that the gag rule has been applied to disciplining outsiders, and does not restrict pro-management commentaries on Pacifica issues. We should also point out that as any believer in free speech and/or opponent of the ongoing mainstreaming of Pacifica will tend to violate the gag rule, it has been a useful vehicle for weeding out both leftists and other merely principled people from KPFK and Pacifica.

But even on his definition of censorship that excludes the gag rule, Schubb misstates the facts. An attempt was made to censor Amy Goodman with Schubb’s help in Washington on September 14, 2000, as we have noted, and all the attacks on her, and threats of discipline, have been a form of censorship.

Pacifica News Director Dan Coughlin, whose removal in 1999 for covering a Pacifica story prompted Pacifica News stringers to strike against censorship, reported constant pressures regarding content:

I was also told by the [Pacifica] executive director to tone down the news coverage. CPB [the Corporation for Public Broadcasting] wanted me to tone down the news coverage, to be more “balanced” as they put it. Especially this was at the time of the war against Yugoslavia, and they didn’t want to hear…about ‘our boys’ dropping bombs and killing babies in Iraq. We don’t want to hear about that on our airwaves. We don’t want to hear about the police brutality.

Programmers at KPFK have also been given directives about political content: in February 1998, a memo was issued that forbade hosts to encourage listeners to demonstrate against the resumption of bombing in Iraq; a few months later, 30 programmers were briefed by Schubb and instructed to aim their political message to the “center” in the name of increasing audience size. Those attending Schubb’s presentation were told that Pacifica was aiming for “balance” and “objectivity.” “If you’re gonna do a program on Jews, “Schubb reportedly said, “you better include a Nazi.”

At a deeper level, the struggle at Pacifica is fundamentally about censorship: about who will be allowed to speak on Pacifica’s airwaves, what they will be allowed to say, who will decide this and by what process. The Pacifica that Schubb speaks for is not only censoring directly and on a daily basis, it is imposing a new system that will cause Pacifica, as Utrice Leid says, to no longer be “a station of the left.”

10. Schubb. “Myth: The current ‘dissident campaign’ is aimed at making the programming and management of Pacifica and KPFK more progressive.” Reality: [In a nutshell: It was to help the lawsuits and ongoing boycott, which can only hurt Pacifica.]

REAL REALITY: Why those thousands should be spending money and time on lawyers and boycotts is incomprehensible to a man who cannot admit decent intentions on the part of people with whom he disagrees and who are challenging the vested interests he represents. He mentions that the Pacific board serves as “unpaid volunteers,” implying decent motives, but the thousands spending time and money to get rid of the controlling Pacifica management bewilders Schubb and must be “irresponsible” like those programmers who insist on talking about Pacifica issues.

In fact, the goal of the protesters is to remove a management at Pacifica that has abandoned the traditional Pacifica aims and attempted to impose a new mission by attacking local control, community participation, worker democracy and freedom of speech and association. An authoritarian hierarchy has been established with no mechanisms of accountability to the communities that have built and sustained Pacifica for over fifty years. Instead, in the words of a Pacifica spokesperson, Pacifica is now to be accountable only to “the IRS, the CPB, [and] the FCC.” [San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 3, 1999].

Former Pacifica CEO Pat Scott, a prime mover of the Pacifica takeover, declared at a 1996 “Media and Democracy Congress” that the goal of the reconfiguration was to make Pacifica a “leader of the progressive movement,” while she simultaneously advocated corporate-style management. Neither Scott nor Schubb understands that if Pacifica wants to lead a pro-democracy movement, it must embody its aspirations.

11. Schubb: “Myth: Pacifica is engaged in ‘union busting,’ workers are being mistreated, and there is a ‘strike’ against Pacifica National News (PNN). Reality: …Some non-union stringers…claim to be ‘on strike’ against Pacifica and have attacked unionized staff members…. But these stringers do not seek union representation, only editorial control over the work of others. This gross misuse of the rhetoric of union struggle…”

REAL REALITY: The list of past and present grievances, unfair labor practice charges and litigation related to wrongful terminations against Pacifica management is too long to list here, but is catalogued at www.glib.com/union.html and www.radio4all.org/fp/workers.htm.

Prior to 1995, Pacifica stations had a union contract that made management financially accountable to workers by allowing them access to the books. The contract also mandated worker approval of any organizational restructuring. Unpaid workers at WBAI and KPFA were included in the bargaining unit.

In 1995, when Pacifica management began to centralize control over programming content as well as finances, it hired a notorious union-busting firm, the American Consulting Group (ACG), to write a new contract that stripped power from workers in order to allow management to clean house of their political opponents. Management also brought a case before the National Labor Relations Board to force the exclusion of unpaid workers from the union. The management lied about its relationship with ACG when it became public, hiring the first of many PR spokespersons to deal with outraged donors. Since then it has employed a variety of attorneys to abridge the rights of workers, including, most recently, Epstein, Becker and Green, the firm of Pacifica Board member John Murdock, whose website boasts of its successes in preventing unions in the workplace.

More than forty Pacifica News stringers have organized to withdraw their labor to demand an end to censorship throughout the network and the freedom to do critical, accurate reporting about controversies within Pacifica. The strike, the withholding of labor in order to affect social policy, is one of the cornerstones of labor activism and is no way limited to the demand for a contract. Schubb’s disparaging reference to the “ideologically driven” nature of the stringers’ demands implies that wages and benefits are the only allowable arenas for worker activism.

Schubb’s assertion reveals the goals behind the union busting at Pacifica: the destruction of any countervailing power base that could impact Pacifica policy. As the repeated incidents of political censorship we have documented demonstrate, this struggle is not about ideology versus non-ideology; rather, it is about giving a particular group of people the ability to control which ideology is disseminated by this significant media outlet.

Pacifica was founded to stand for certain principles: free discourse on controversial issues, challenging the prejudices and propaganda of the rulers, resisting war, exploitation and empire and fostering the dignity and creativity of the individual by giving her a voice. The Pacifica control group does not recognize these principles and its course has clearly aimed at their abandonment.

KPFK reporter Robin Urevich, in a 1999 article that led to her banning (and later reinstatement due to community pressure) wrote, “People who came to KPFK because they felt they’d be able to report on issues they were passionate about are mostly gone. Newsroom conversation is less about issues and more about where to find a job at the very radio and television outlets that come under so much criticism on the station’s own airwaves. It’s proven next to impossible to encourage news and public affairs staff to question authority outside the station while suppressing disagreement inside. The ‘world of ideas’ that KPFK promises in station promos is an increasingly narrow one. There is little diversity of opinion at 90.7 FM.”

REAL REALITY: To get involved in the struggle to return Pacifica to its progressive roots, contact the Pacifica Campaign at www.pacificacampaign.org.