I Want My Democracy Now!
Israel invaded Palestine once more Monday night. Where did I turn this morning for an alternative to the mass media? Amy Goodman's award-winning program, Democracy Now! of course. That's where curious folks have turned for years when they are seeking some relief from the homogenized drivel the establishment media pass off as news.
I read the New York Times version: Israeli tanks "rumble" into a Palestinian-controlled town but "pull out quickly" in what "seemed" to be the strongest assault to date. Then I turned to "Democracy Now!" to hear someone or several people -- who might talk sense, whom I don't see nightly on MSNBC or CNN or FOX.
This fresh perspective might point out, for example, that if the tanks that had violated an internationally-recognized border were Iraqi, rather than Israeli (and Iraqi, rather than Israeli soldiers had commandeered the headquarters of a foreign city's governor and bulldozed the police station of a foreign state,) the United States, would probably be at war, or at least heading up a NATO mission to exact vengeance on behalf of those who'd been invaded and occupied.
Democracy Now! aired voices like those on Monday ... when they were audible.
There were a lot of technical problems with the broadcast because early last week Goodman and her team were ordered out of the main studio at their station -- listener- supported Pacifica station WBAI.
Interim General Manager Utrice Leid exiled them to an inferior substudio. I know the place. It's a wonder Goodman's crew can call across town from there, let alone across the world. Monday's guest -- who was reporting live from Jerusalem -- could barely be heard and the program was plagued with ear-piercing feedback. It's no place from which to produce a national show that broadcasts live across the nation. Hell, that studio doesn't even have a working clock.
I understand that Goodman produced a typically strong show on Tuesday, dealing with racism in the US and internationally, and an activist lawsuit against the WTO and IMF. I couldn't hear the show live, and neither could my fellow listeners at more than thirty stations around the USA. Why? Because the people who've hijacked Pacifica -- the people's network, the network I've helped sustain for years with my work, love and, yes, my cash -- refused to distribute the program.
Since Leid took over WBAI this past December, Goodman's been the target of harassment and abuse from Leid's team in what Leid (on air) has called a "war." Those who've listened in have heard it. Some have seen it for themselves. You can find out more on a slew of websites. But try to call WBAI as I did, and -- forget it -- Leid's voicemessage box is routinely full.
On Friday, Goodman wrote to her Pacifica bosses, informing them that the crisis had escalated to physical violence. Leid apparently shoved Goodman physically and seized her camera when Goodman interrupted people rifling through the personal possessions of fired WBAI Program Director Bernard White.
Having received no response over the weekend from Steve Yasko, her supervisor, on Monday, Amy wrote again. "The Democracy Now team can no longer produce a program under these hate-filled and unprofessional conditions. We have no safe space at WBAI," she said, and she announced her intention to move elsewhere.
Tuesday, Goodman broadcast from a reliable community media facility that sent her signal, as usual, to WPFW, the Pacifica station that transmits Pacifica national programming to Pacifica's satellite. There in Washington, at Pacifica's headquarters, someone decided not to send out the program. (Instead they ran an "encore" broadcast.)
Goodman's bosses talk about professionalism. It's been the rallying cry for the Pacifica "reformers" for years and in some cases the excuse to purge programming and programmers that certain station managers didn't like. But there's nothing professional about what's going on at Pacifica. The denial this morning of Democracy Now! to a network of community stations that rely on Pacifica to bring them the broadcast -- that's not professional. As Christine Ahern, station manager of affiliate station WJFF in Jeffersonville, N.Y., put it Tuesday morning, "Professional? It's anything but."
Ahern waited as usual for Democracy Now! Like more than 30 other stations, a few years back, she signed on at some expense with Pacifica's own KU satellite service, so Pacifica controls the flow of their programs to her audience. She heard the out-of-date tape and called WBAI. "Amy didn't call and she didn't come in," Ahern was told.
Leid's voicemail box was full and the machine wasn't taking messages. Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash's machine in Washington was on. Calls to WBAI's direct, on-air line were not answered. By noon, no one had called Ahern back. It's par for the course, she says. "It's abominable how Pacifica treats us affiliates. They don't return calls, they don't answer letters. They're not responsible." At this point, she says, "The only reason WJFF is an affiliate is to get Democracy Now!"
Pacifica's treatment of Goodman, is indeed abominable. This is no way to treat the host of your most well-known and most acclaimed show. It is no way to treat clients -- those stations who give the Pacifica Foundation precious, pledge-drive donated dollars in exchange for reliable, high quality, programming. They have a right to the programming they pay for, and to communication and respect.
It's also no way to treat us, the listeners, who pay -- or have until now paid -- the vast majority of the network's bills, and have fought, and still fight, to keep alive the nation's only commercial-free, listener-supported network of radio stations. (For a reminder of why this fight's important, read Tuesday's Wall St. Journal, on how Religious Right broadcasters are using FCC rules to expand their empire at NPR's expense.)
Some stations, including KPFA in Berkeley and WMNF in Tampa, did figure out how to broadcast Democracy Now! on their own initiative Tuesday. The show streamed on WBIX, "WBAI in exile" a web-based station (www.wbix.org.) On Wednesday, the airwaves were filled with listener outrage. KPFA even aired an hour's discussion of the Democracy Now! situation during the hour in whcih the show is normally heard. And protests took place outside Pacifica's stations in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and New York.
Dissident Pacifica Board member Leslie Cagan addressed the crowd in New York. "The latest moves only further clarify how out of control the national staff is and how the national board has abdicated responsibility, and in so doing, has given a green light to the staff." The goal of a majority on the current board and of the national staff, believes Cagan, is to "water down the network." It's a process that's been going on for years. "If people didn't catch on as it happened in Washington, in Houston maybe they'll catch on now." She said. In Washington and Houston, Pacifica's stations have changed radically: to mostly popular music, from mostly cutting-edge talk.
On Wednesday, Goodman and her team were unable to produce a live show because they were in meetings with Pacifica lawyer Larry Drapkin, National Program Director, Steve Yasko and others about the conditions under which Goodman would return to WBAI and live, to Pacifica's satellite. Pacifica Executive Director, Bessie Wash, in a statement released Tuesday, declared that she was "Disappointed that Amy Goodman had chosen not to host the award winning Democracy Now! from the studios of WBAI," and that she is "trying to bridge any differences." Wash has led Goodman to believe that the program will not be aired live for as long as she broadcasts from a remote location, but as Pacifica activist Denis Moynihan points out, there are several male programmers at WBAI who have broadcast from remote locations for years -- including Gary Null and his daily healthy living show. Says Moynihan: "Why does Amy have to be the battered wife of WBAI?"
Goodman, for her part is skeptical of Pacifica's offers to guarantee her safety. When told by management that her supervisor, Steve Yasko would guarantee her saftey, she and her team responded "This is absurd, since it is Mr. Yasko, through his refusal to address any of our complaints who has sent a green light to WBAI management and employees that they can physically and verbally harass us, even assault us, without fear of consequences." Goodman is demanding immediate steps to hold Pacifica managers accountable for their actions.
Juan Gonzalez, who was Goodman's co-host on Democracy Now! until he resigned in protest earlier this year, is asking people who care to pick up the phone. Call the people who have taken control of Pacifica and tell them to stop the threats, slander and physical intimidation of Amy Goodman and to resign. Tell them to step aside and allow for new leadership to begin to rebuild.
Contact information for the Pacifica board is available on many sites including Gonzalez's Pacifica Campaign (Pacificacampaign.org). You can also get updates through WBAI In Exile, KPFA and the Concerned Friends Hotline at 800-825-0055.
Together, as Juan says, we can stop this madness. Pick up the phone. Do it now.