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Big D Democrat Party/Caucus Power and Influence at KPFA/KPFK and the Pacifica Mission
by Bob English
Tuesday Jan 15th, 2008 5:01 PM
Tune in to KPFA 94.1 FM rebroadcast of the Green Party presidential candidate forum on KPFA tonight Jan 15 7-10 PM.
Corruption of the Pacifica mission of peace and justice occurs when: 1) coverage and analysis of government and electoral politics is reduced and focused on traditional two party politics and candidates to the exclusion, dismissal or diminished coverage of third parties and alternative movements; and 2) corporate interests and/or Democratic party/club members and operatives organize and collaborate with station and network management to gain disproportionate access, influence and control of Pacifica democratic governance, institutions, news and public affairs programming.
Big D Democrat Party and Caucus Power and Influence at KPFA/KPFK and the Pacifica Mission
Green Party Forum Rebroadcast On KPFA 94.1 FM Tonight Jan 15 7-10 PM


The recent announcement that KPFA will rebroadcast this evening of the Sunday Jan 13 Green Party presidential candidate forum in San Francisco (Tuesday Jan 15 7-10 PM, see http://www.kpfa.org/highlights/?airdate=2008-01-15) initially seems surprising because of the rarity or relative lack of coverage of third party politics and events on KPFA. Apparently in response to long term, cumulative criticism, advocacy and pressure from the Greens, Peace and Freedom Party and media activists, this special evening public affairs program, preempting two hours of the station’s mainstay music programming, is a prominent exception to the primary access and power of the Democrat Party (DP) at the station and the routine running of the corporate two party horse races every two years. With the repeated news reports and announcements of the rebroadcast, and the assignment of Larry Bensky and Aimee Allison as hosts, this looks like the station’s (“interim” management/key staff) power clique’s way of co-opting and controlling that advocacy and demands for expanded, equitable reporting and coverage of alternative parties and social/political movements - maybe with some intentional taunting of critics ("see you're wrong, we do parties"). Also, I should note that Bensky is again appearing on air in defiance of a prohibition issued by the Pacifica National Election Supervisor as a penalty for Bensky’s campaign practices violation (use of station e-mail/server resources to endorse the Concerned Listeners candidate slate) in the recent Local Station Board (LSB) election.

Beyond this exceptional program there are fundamental problems and issues with the disproportionate presence and influence at KPFA of big D Democrats, local Democrat clubs and caucuses, DP supporters and apologists, including left establishment media “notables” such as Norman Solomon, Doug Henwood, Sasha Lilley, Larry Bensky, Phillip Maldari, David Bacon and other news/public affairs department managers and staff.

The question is not whether liberal Democrats or progressive activists who choose to work through the DP, notably some of the Concerned Listeners (CL) and other members of the Wellstone Democrat Renewal Club (WDRC), have a place in the KPFA community, obviously they do. In some Bay Area communities, notably San Francisco prior to the emergence of the Green Party and Matt Gonzalez, progressive politics had been pretty much Democrat Central Committee and Democrat club politics. Up to the 1999 KPFA/Pacifica crisis I was active in the UFW SF Support Committee and Potrero Hill Democratic Club - but walked my last precinct for Democrats after the club endorsed Clinton for a 2nd term and Gov Gray Davis, even as the alternative to the dreadful Dan Lungren, became intolerable from a progressive perspective.

So with his critical assessment of the WDRC in recent Indybay/media articles, Felipe Messina may be somewhat, although not entirely, overstating the case (see KPFA: New Outreach Effort--TV Broadcast on Comcast Channel 29 in S.F.--Whistleblowing... http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/01/03/18469772.php). I can’t comment from direct experience beyond KPFA manager Lilley and Station Board CL candidates with Wellstone club roots, but the general impression is that the WDRC is neither typical of nor beyond the reach of the mainstream national DP (and its corporate interests and support) at election time.

On the other hand in the context of Pacifica/KPFA, supporters exaggerate by insisting CLers are also “boots on the ground activists” (see comments on Indybay article noted and linked above). They may be respected activists in their community organizations and business unions, but at KPFA the CL candidates elected to the LSB for the first time in 2006 and 2007 have been practically unknown and missing in action. It’s fair to ask: Where were they in the 1990s and 1999-2002 when Pacifica and KPFA really needed them, when the listener and volunteer staff activists of Take Back KPFA, Coalition for democratic Pacifica (CdP), North Bay for KPFA and other grassroots groups organized, agitated, worked and acted against the old Pacifica regime hijackers? Were they on the lines when we picketed and forced old PNB hijackers to resign, when we picketed the Pacifica law firm, when we boycotted to cut off their funding - and so on? Where were the Concerned Listeners in the early 2000s when CdP and other activists developed and established the new Pacifica bylaws, democratic institutions, democratic elections and elected governing boards that they now presume to serve on and lead? In fact did they even attend any meetings, work on committees of or become familiar with the business and issues of the new elected LAB and LSB? Sure, two recently re-elected CL stalwarts were around: Sherry Gendelman had an important legal/political role and Sarv Randhawa was a CdP member, but they hardly if ever had their “boots on the ground” in the grass roots or served as champions of listener democracy (in fact Sherry publicly opposed elected boards); the hard “grunt work” of organization, political street action, boycott and elections was left to the rest, hundreds of us locally and nationally. Maybe somehow I missed the new CL class of 2006-2007 but never saw or heard of them in the Free Pacifica, listener democracy movements, or at a single LAB or LSB meeting until Conn Hallinan and a few other CLers showed up for one before the 2006 election.

Back to the main point introduced at the top of this commentary: from recent Pacifica history and LSB elections at KPFA and KPFK and from monitoring news and public affairs programs on KPFA over the years, we know there is a potential for and actual corruption of the Pacifica Mission of peace and social justice when: 1) coverage and analysis of government and electoral politics is reduced and focused almost exclusively on traditional two party politics and the candidates offered by the two corporate parties - both of which support and serve the American Empire, the so called War on Terror, continuing wars on and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Haiti; threats of expanding the war to Iran, on and on - especially in the lead up to the Congressional and Presidential elections every two and four years; 2) third parties and alternative political/social movements are excluded or diminished in coverage and access to news and program air time; and 3) corporate interests and/or Democratic party/club members and operatives organize and collaborate with station and network management to gain disproportionate access to, influence and control of Pacifica democratic governance and institutions, as well as public affairs programming.

In many ways both subtle and blatant, and for as long as I can recall as a regular KPFA listener before and after the 1st war on Iraq, we are continually, especially in election years (i. e. every other year) urged and reminded by programmers, guest commentators and news items of the practical necessity of supporting the Democratic party alternative as the “lesser of 2 evils,” the extra inch of slack that the underclass lives within, appointer of moderate Supreme Court justices, whatever. Radical, left progressive or third party candidates, politics and actions - such as Kucinich, Nader, Green/PFP party campaigns, 9/11 Truth and the Million Worker March of summer 2004 - are generally if not entirely marginalized, ridiculed or treated as distractions from this supposed practical necessity. On this point, the Q & A exchange between Bensky and Nader in the Green Party forum is particularly revealing, and as usual Nader’s reply is devastating to the notion that when the chips are down, third party candidates and voters must bow out and cross over to ensure a Democrat victory over the Republican candidate.

Yet we all know the Democratic national candidates of the conservative leaning Democrat Leadership Council who we are encouraged or led by default to embrace – Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Clinton - have consistently joined with their Republican counterparts in bringing us corporate welfare, international chaos, war and repression and in undermining our class interests, democracy and social justice, planetary peace and survival. They say we have to go with moderate Democrats or we’ll be in deeper shit, as if we haven’t had a full dose and loads of it under the last extended Democrat administration, including NAFTA, welfare deform, “reinventing government” (downsizing public services and assistance programs), anti-terrorism national security legislation and structures that paved the way for the Patriot Act regime, bombing and sanctions that wiped out a generation of Iraqis. Can we really expect much different from Hillary who always supported these wars and occupations, or from Obama who has supported bombing Iran? The issue is not a lack of political alternatives to the Democrats or the nightmares and extremes of the Bush/Republican/Neo-Con administration. For us as progressives and members of a radio media founded by pacifists to promote world peace through interracial, intercultural understanding and education, the primary problem and issue is simply this: when Pacifica provides extensive air time, news and political commentary support for pro-war corporate party candidates and office holders - while regularly excluding coverage of third parties, peace candidates and alternative political/social movements - the Pacifica mission is corrupted at the deepest, most fundamental level.

Yet we have seen and experienced, as a major force and factor in Pacifica over the last 2 decades at least, the infiltration by state, corporate and DP interests and influence, operatives and supporters: first, the old regime PNB/management hijackers; then continuing with senior “entrenched” staff, “interim” management and left establishment influence and control during the new bylaws regime and partial democratization period at KPFA and other stations. The latter power clique is being consolidated - against the perceived intrusions by listener and volunteer staff in democratic Station Board elections and governance - through collusion with DP progressive club and caucus-based groups, notably the Concerned Listeners at KPFA and Committee to Strengthen KPFK, including recruitment, support and election of LSB candidates committed to the interim management regime status quo (see related information and comments toward the top of this piece).

While serving as chair of the old Pacifica PNB, for example, Mary Francis Berry was the Clinton administration appointed head of the federal Civil Rights Commission. Executive Director Lynn Chadwick chided and discouraged programmers’ criticisms of President Clinton. Norman Solomon, who alternately supported Clinton and made money writing a book criticizing his Presidency as “false hope,” led the debate and attack on Ralph Nader and the Greens in favor of the Kerry campaign in 2004, while at the same time Larry Bensky denigrated and discouraged participation in the Million Worker March (organized and supported locally by labor and radical leaders Clarence Thomas and Ralph Schoenman). Of course, Bensky and Solomon, as well as Lilley mentor and ally Doug Henwood, also spearheaded the censorship and marginalization of the 9/11 Truth movement. Radical political and community based programs like Guns and Butter, Flashpoints and La Onda Bajita are the exceptions, surviving various attacks, marginalization, lack of resources and management support through grassroots support and revenue to the station. Meanwhile KPFA and Pacifica news and public affairs programs continue to dutifully and constantly cover the corporate party horse race primaries and campaigns.

One critical question for the new LSBs at KPFA and KPFK and their progressive Democrat members (besides the legitimacy of candidate selection through a corrupt election processes) is whether they are committed primarily to protecting and promoting the Pacifica peace and justice mission rather than the status quo centrist, moderate to liberal interests and programming supported by their DP affiliations and allies.