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CENSORSHIP AS A PACIFICA MANAGEMENT TOOL


Edward S. Herman

Studying

the recent history of Pacifica over the past several weeks, I have been once

again impressed with how important a role censorship has played in the tactics

and apparent strategy of the Pacifica management. Censorship by the use of gag

rules has been used for years now to quiet dissent from management policies–but

while it has reduced discussion of Pacifica policies on the air, it has

certainly not quelled dissent; on the contrary, it has intensified protest by

angering both people who oppose management policies and want them discussed

openly as well as those who oppose censorship on principle.

But

this failure to quell dissent has been serviceable to the deeper management

strategy of weeding out leftists and those unduly wedded to principles like

freedom of expression. Such individuals will tend to violate the gag rules or

sign petitions and speak out against them, and this can then be used as the

basis of firing people–this has been done to dozens of Pacifica workers. Most

recently, George Reiter, a professor of physics at the University of Houston,

producer of the new program, Thresholds, on Houston’s station KPFT, was ousted

for participating in a protest supporting Democracy Now! KPFT station chief

Garland Ganter, who did the firing, is a favorite of the Pacifica management,

who rushed him up to KPFA to handle matters during the KPFA lockout.

It

is amazing that this structured violation of principles of freedom of expression

has not unduly upset the ACLU or editors of The Nation magazine, and was not

viewed as justifying any "management bashing" by the signers of Saul

Landau’s letter of last year. This despite the fact that, in addition to

violating free speech rights, the censorship system was being used

systematically to get rid of quality people. Of course it was being done

nominally because these folks were violating management orders and rules

established for everyone equally. So they were merely "personnel"

decisions. But how this could fool anyone who didn’t want to be fooled escapes

me.

The

ability to rationalize censorship is also striking–the spirit of the commissar

is widespread among those with a bit of power. When PNN News Director Dan

Coughlin ran a 20-second report on a boycott of Pacifica by 16 affiliated

stations protesting censorhip, he was denounced by Marc Cooper: "What the

hell was this doing on a news broadcast?" And Cooper also expressed

discomfort at some of the "global conflict reporting by Jeremy Scahill"

(who worked for Amy Goodman). Three days after this outburst and Cooper’s

complaint to the Pacifica management, Dan Coughlin was deposed (and without a

hearing). (See Ed Pearl, "Cloak and Dagger! Out of the Mouth of Marc

Cooper," Los Angeles Free Press, February 19, 2000

[http://www.radio4all.org/2000/0219cloakdagger.htm]). And just a few days ago,

Cliff Tasner, a member of the board of the Southern California Americans for

Democratic Action, was called on the phone by Cooper after he had participated

in a rally and protest for Goodman and Democracy Now!, and was told, after

considerable vituperation, "Don’t expect us to broadcast anything you

do."

Several

days later Tasner found that he had indeed been barred from access to the

station. As chair of the ADA’s campaign finance reform committee and a

spokesperson for ADA on a phony campaign finance reform measure on the

California ballot, he had been planning a presentation on that proposition on

KPFK’s morning show. While discussing the arrangements with the show’s producer,

however, he was told that he could not expect them to put him on after his

involvement in the protest. In the event, another speaker was found to discuss

the measure. In an e-mail exchange with Marc Cooper, Cooper had explained to

Tasner that the first rule of politics is that you reward your friends and

punish your enemies, adding further that actions have consequences and that

Tasner should be aware of that when he makes his choices. In short, the gag rule

and censorship extends beyond Pacifica personnel to anybody who crosses the

local Pacifica commissars.

In

the "new Pacifica" tradition, Amy Goodman is being set up for ouster

as a "personnel" decision based on her failure to follow orders. But

the censorship element is overwhelmingly strong. Cooper didn’t like that

"global conflict reporting" by Scahill–but read Amy Goodman for

Scahill–Mary Frances Berry referred to her in public as

"troublesome," and the Censorship Management clearly wants to drive

her out or fire her for reasons of hostility to her content. But they can’t

admit that–the censorship has to be transformed into her being troublesome and

failing to obey supposedly reasonable orders by her boss Steve Yasko.

One

of the most amusing rationalizations for her harassment and censorship can be

read in KPFK station manager Mark Schubb’s recent letter to Saul Landau

answering Amy Goodman’s grievance list (and my article on "Endgame at

Pacifica?"). Schubb was one of the management enforcers at the September 14

meeting with Goodman in Washington, where she was told to shape up on content as

well as style. In his letter to Landau, Schubb pretends that when he and Yasko

were telling Amy to cool it on some of her favorite issues like Lori Berenson

and East Timor, this was just friendly advice among colleagues trying to be

helpful and collegial! This is staggering misrepresentation. Yasko had shown

intense hostility to Goodman, encroaching on her autonomy as a programmer,

threatening her and shouting at her that she must recognize who is boss.

Schubb

also has long been highly critical of Goodman, and it is likely that he

continues to run Democracy Now! on KPFK, not because of any appreciation of its

quality, but rather because of its high ratings. So the meeting of September 14

was coercive, threatening, tense, and in no sense whatever collegial. It

therefore constituted a clear further case of attempted censorship, although it

was probably recognized that Amy could only be effectively censored by

termination or driving her out by harassment and the imposition of onerous work

conditions. Schubb was one of the prime censors at that meeting, as he has been

for years as manager of KPFK. (For example, he ousted award-winning reporter

Robin Urevich from the station in response to her August 1999 article on

internal issues at KPFK, published in a local activist newspaper

[http://www.radio4all.org/fp/0824robin_urevich.htm]).

The

coercive and censoring meeting of September 14 was followed one month later by

another call to a meeting that, instead of being the expected one of discussion

looking toward compromise, was arranged by the management only to serve Amy

Goodman with a harsh letter of instructions and threat of termination. The

commissars in Washington and at the Washington-allied stations are on the

attack. Defending Pacifica, and recovering it from the censors, will depend on

the effective organization and mobilization of the resources of the progressive

community that created and supported Pacifica for the past fifty years.  

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