Our coverage of the situation at KPFA in San Francisco--Marc Cooper's "Pacifica on the Brink" (Aug. 9/16), our own editorial "Pacifica Static" (Aug. 23/30) and the letters Exchange "The Pacifica Struggle Continues" (Sept. 6/13)--has drawn much fire: more than 250 letters and e-mail messages and scattered subscription cancellations. Readers (with a few exceptions offering kudos) were "stunned," "outraged," "shocked and insulted"; Cooper was accused of a secret conflict of interest (although his connections to Pacifica were clearly set out in his author's ID); our coverage was characterized as "naïve," "pussy-footing," "mealy-mouth," "lap-dog," "spin-job," "biased," "vomit"; one reader summed it up, "Shame on you. What a way to treat your friends." A sampling follows.--The Editors
Long Beach, Calif.
Given your coverage of the Pacifica situation, perhaps it is time to drop your masthead banner, "Unconventional Wisdom Since 1865." The only remnant of truth remaining is the date. Your coverage has been neither unconventional nor wise.
SHERNA BERGER GLUCK
By any objective view, the crisis at KPFA is very frightening. I am extremely upset that The Nation has seen fit to trivialize our fight for free speech and has accepted Marc Cooper's word for what is happening in the Bay Area. Cooper lives in Los Angeles.
I greatly appreciated Marc Cooper's take on the Pacifica crisis. As a Berkeley resident, I found it refreshing to hear a call for meaningful discussion of the issues. Around here, it is impossible to find any forum for discussion--only very strident rhetoric supporting the KPFA cause. Opposing or even shaded points of view are definitely not appreciated.
Kudos to Marc Cooper for being one of the few progressives to make an honest attempt to cut through the rhetoric, apportion blame evenhandedly and offer constructive suggestions for saving Pacifica.
I am a field reporter for KPFA and an eyewitness to what happened to Dennis Bernstein in the newsroom the night Pacifica pulled the plug. I was in the room waiting to go on the evening news with my report on the press conference, the broadcast of which landed Dennis on "administrative leave." I was arrested along with Dennis, KPFA's news co-directors and several other colleagues. Marc Cooper's description of the events in the newsroom, which he did not witness, are not only inaccurate but are phrased so as to be a scurrilous attack on Dennis Bernstein. I hope The Nation, a progressive periodical that should be firmly on the side of the KPFA staff, will have the integrity to call Cooper to account for his gross mischaracterizations. My account, as well as the accounts of two other witnesses and Bernstein himself, are at http://www.radio4all.org/fp/0818bernstein_exposes_ cooper.htm.
I wish to correct any impression that I believe "aging white males" are the problem at KPFA or anywhere else. What I have called attention to is the need for greater diversity and a larger audience at KPFA and at other Pacifica stations. The data analyzed for us by Audience Research Analysis show that about 90 percent of KPFA's audience of only about 146,000, in a potential market of 8 million persons, is nonblack and non-Hispanic. The greatest share of that audience is male and white and over 45, with many over 50. I did not point this out to play a race or age card but to deal with a reality.
This reality does not mean jettisoning the existing audience. It does mean greater attention to the populations of people of color who live in the area from San Jose to Mendocino that KPFA is expected to serve. The Pacifica network is not some slightly more leftish National Public Radio, and our goal should go beyond replicating NPR's audience in smaller numbers. Pacifica's mission includes peace and social justice, inclusion and a voice for today's and tomorrow's voiceless. The goal includes change and not stagnation. There must be greater involvement of children and youth and people of color as volunteers, programmers and audience, both to sustain KPFA and other Pacifica stations and to extend the reach of the progressive voice. Existing local staff, programmers and listeners can make it happen.
MARY FRANCES BERRY
Pacifica Foundation governing board
Santa Monica, Calif.
Nothing in your coverage even remotely suggests an investigation into the charges, which are serious enough to warrant an outpouring of protest by some of the most famous people on the left: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and others. The editors of Z put it quite well: "At Pacifica we see a struggle being waged between people doing the bulk of the work and people consuming the product, on one side, and managers and what are virtually 'owners,' on the other side, over the class structure, the remuneration patterns, the job definitions, and the decision-making allocations inside the institution." It is not simply a matter of stupid mistakes or ill-behaved old white guys. The Nation should have done a much better job of covering this story.
I am one of those old white males, a retired professor, who has supported KPFA for forty years. I have always regarded The Nation as a good guide to my political thinking, but your obtuseness with regard to Pacifica has shaken my faith.
This letter is endorsed by forty academics from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, Sonoma State, San Francisco State, Hayward State and Stanford universities, from disciplines including ethnic studies, women's studies, journalism, geography, sociology, English, political science, psychology, art history, education and history.
The entire staff at KPFA, as well as we in the progressive listening community, are united in opposing the vicious tactics of the few recent arrivals who constitute the Pacifica Radio Network's present board and management. Despite its claim to be fostering diversity, Pacifica systematically killed culturally diverse programming at its Houston station (see www.savepacifica.net for Rafael Renteria's article). The firings and the unresponsiveness of the Pacifica board have provoked massive protests at KPFA by listeners and staff, civil disobedience, the arrest of community leaders and the "firing" of Lynn Chadwick by a group of Bay Area progressives that included Dolores Huerta, June Jordan and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Pacifica management has dismissed the protests as the work of a small group of "lifetime activists."
With the further consolidation of media control made possible by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the few independent outlets of dissent provided by Pacifica stations are more vitally needed than ever. As academics working with young people, we need KPFA as an introduction to social activism and the culture of dissent. The use of popular culture to reach mass audiences offers a powerful tool to introduce the next generation to grassroots organizing.
We are asking you to add your critically important editorial voice to the efforts to restore and maintain the integrity of the five Pacifica stations, and to keep its flagship station, KPFA, as an advocate for freedom of speech and social justice.
Sonoma State University
University of California, Berkeley
The heavy-handed actions of Mary Frances Berry and the board say loud and clear what their spokespeople will not: that the aim all along has been to provoke a crisis at KPFA. Why? KPFA is hot property. As the infamous intercepted memo makes clear, Pacifica has been considering the sale of KPFA as well as New York's WBAI. The crisis and resulting budget shortfall will provide the perfect pretext for selling KPFA, which is estimated to be worth more than $70 million. Moreover, it would effectively silence some of the most outspoken critics of Pacifica's ongoing centralization. The alternative to this depressing outcome would be the immediate resignation of Dr. Berry and her supporters and the reinstatement of all fired employees.
Facing constant and growing public demonstrations, Pacifica "returned" KPFA to its staff and listeners. However, the building has been damaged, the transmitter has technical problems (and is still controlled by Pacifica's armed goons) and the station's funding has been nearly depleted through Pacifica's wasteful spending on armed guards, unionbusting consultants and pricey public relations firms. Furthermore, KPFA has been given a deadline to become more "profitable" and "diverse" or likely suffer another hostile corporate takeover. This is all part of Pacifica's strategy.
We have already seen the impact of Pacifica's "mainstreaming" efforts to reach a wider audience. It means less local programming and fewer voices for diversity. The only exceptions have been at stations like KPFA that have resisted the national leadership. It was the Houston affiliate KPFT that provided the scab programming during the Berkeley lockout. KPFT's format is apparently mostly music, with no local news and some syndicated public affairs programming (from NPR, PRI and the BBC) with silent corporate underwriters. That is the Pacifica vision.
Pleasant Hills, Calif.
This is a struggle to keep local control of a resource of inestimable commercial value from the corporate dogs who want to rake in a profit and trash this last bastion of free-speech radio. We are trying to keep this great people's resource intact, free from outside control. We are a very mixed group of listeners fed up with the intimations of privatizing our radio station in some vague hope of "expanding" listenership. Expanding? I was at those marches with this amazingly diverse crowd: African-American, Latino, white and Asian, young and old, the politically savvy along with the neophyte. We fought to preserve our institution from a trend even The Nation has not been immune to: the "mainstreaming" of criticism and the muting of real dissent.
JOSÉ M. TIRADO
I have been reading The Nation since 1964 and listening to KPFA since 1970. Both of these progressive institutions are very important to me. They provide me with information and ideas that I use to form my own ideas; they also provide a sense of community and a feeling of hope for the future. If The Nation were to cease to publish, I would feel bereft and would have lost one of my greatest supports for my life as an activist. This is how many, many people feel about losing KPFA. The loss of KPFA will have serious ramifications for progressives everywhere, because we are all part of the same struggle, and in some sense, the same community.