Edward S. Herman
mid-February of this year Saul Landau issued an "Appeal to All
Progressives: Stop the Pacifica Bashing!" And he got some 40 liberals and
leftists to sign on, many associated with The Nation and Institute for Policy
Studies. (For a copy of the letter, a list of signers, and numerous
commentaries, see: http://www.savepacifica.net/strike/landau letters.html). Many
of us on the left who have closely followed or been involved in the Pacifica
struggle were appalled at the letter, and after several exchanges with Landau I
am more convinced than ever that his initiative is not only terribly wrong, it
is also the most divisive and damaging antileft act in many years. Let me
of us feel that the turmoil at Pacifica over the past five years is mainly
attributable to a management group that is trying to transform the
network–which owns five stations and provides programs to several dozen
others–from a left bastion with local roots and providing local service into a
mainstream institution that will attract a different and possibly larger
audience and will not be so upsetting to Washington power brokers and funders.
This has elicited a strong resistance from staff, volunteer employees, and local
audiences, and the result has been firings, lockouts, strikes, frequent
censorship, a temporary closure of KPFA, management threats to sell off one or
more stations, and poor morale in the traditional staff that feels under siege.
But the management has succeeded in largely transforming the Houston and
Washington D.C. stations into the desired mold, with more music and less
politics, and substantially less left politics. The Berkeley (KPFA) and New York
(WBAI) stations have put up more resistance, and the task of mainstreaming them
is incomplete, as it is also in Los Angeles (KPFK). The Pacifica management has
moved its offices from Berkeley to Washington D.C., away from a dissident
audience to the home of the dominant power brokers, in what some of us call a
"reverse carpetbagger" operation. For many of us, "Pacifica"
is not that management, the real Pacifica is the 30+ year veteran Larry Bensky,
fired last year by the management, Verna Avery-Brown, the ousted anchor of
Pacifica Network News, Amy Goodman of WBAI and Democracy Now, other staff fired
or under threat, and the large and devoted traditional audiences who have been
willing to go out on the streets by the thousands to protest the new order.
Landau’s letter, "Pacifica" means the management, and Pacifica bashing
is attacking that management, whereas for those of us in resistance, the
management is responsible for far more serious crimes than "bashing."
But Landau only calls the management’s crimes "mistakes" and
"lapses in judgment," and while he asks for a halt to
"bashing" he doesn’t demand a legally binding pledge not to carry out
the threat to sell KPFA, nor any other action from the management. Landau has
also never put up a public letter calling for any changes in management
composition, control, or policies. In short, his letter is de facto management
apologetics, which was conveniently put forward just a few days before a board
meeting in Washington. During that meeting board chair Mary Berry several times
quoted from Landau’s letter in support of her position.
have repeatedly asked Landau, by what moral authority does the Pacifica board
and officers decide to reorient the network toward the mainstream and carry out
its firings, censorship, and effective abandonment of a sizable left audience?
Isn’t their power deeply undemocratic, with a self-perpetuating body doing its
thing without any accountability to staff or audience? Isn’t this illegitimate
authority? Landau has never replied to these questions, but clearly he and some
of his co-signers are unwilling to challenge this unaccountable authority and
are prepared to accommodate to it in a way that is a bit surprising for liberals
letter speaks of critics of the management that "paint this progressive
network as some sort of runaway, rightwing juggernaut in the grip of a dark
conspiracy." Notice how he makes the "network" identical with its
management. But this reference to the critics’ "dark conspiracy" is
silly. I have told him that we don’t think there is any "conspiracy,"
but rather that there is a policy agenda that we passionately oppose. But he
hangs on to the notion that we believe in a dark conspiracy.
also keeps saying that Pacifica’s progressiveness is demonstrated by the
continued existence of programs like Democracy Now! And I respond that
counterrevolutions are not completed overnight, especially when there is
resistance, so that progressive programs will only go one at a time. I also tell
him that Amy Goodman has been repeatedly admonished to soften her program and
feels under siege, so that her eventual departure looks probable if the existing
management retains its power. But this doesn’t register with Landau.
sad fact is that he really seems to agree with the counterrevolution in process.
In response to my claim that we are fighting to save the only left radio network
in this country as a left institution, he replies that while it is true that a
left- oriented community and local orientation helps a left cause, "small
watt transmitters would be very well suited for local left community
radio." In other words, we should abandon Pacifica and leave the Washington
management to do with it whatever it wants. We should be satisfied with a more
appropriate, even if marginal, vehicle. But why should the board have a right to
abandon the traditional sizable and committed audiences and go their own way? He
simply asserts that he agrees with their policy of allegedly "seeking
larger audiences," at the expense of staff and existing audience
preferences, and the notion that maintaining a seriously left network is itself
an important objective has no weight for him.
puts an unwarrantedly positive gloss on the objectives of the Pacifica
management, asserting that they want "a larger…but still progressive
audience." How he knows their aims as regards audience politics is
puzzling. He fails to mention that audience size can be increased without
compromising substance. The Pacifica management’s extensive use of commercial
consultants, the cultivation of corporate and Washington power brokers, and the
steady pressure on radicals to tone down their messages or get out, suggests
that they are mainstreaming not primarily to enlarge audiences but rather for
ideological, political, and financial reasons. The modern breed of consultants
to public stations regularly urges depoliticization, getting rid of radicals,
and displacing the public sphere with uncontroversial music as the road to
legitimacy and financial solvency. The Pacifica management is closely following
this familiar course.
inquiries have established that a number of the signers of Landau’s letter did
so on the basis of personal relationships and trust, in complete ignorance of
the issues at stake. Nevertheless, that Landau and others on the left have
signed on to this apologetic for the Pacifica management and its slow
strangulation of that network as a left institution has angered many people. It
is a wound to left solidarity that is going to be extremely difficult to heal.