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The Corporate Agenda is Alive and Well at KPFA
Ongoing struggles at KPFA...
Her name is Marnie Tattersall. She is a corporate executive at KGO-AM in San Francisco, the "Director of Finance/Business Manager" to be exact.
Tattersall has also managed, by a variety of procedural shenanigans, to put herself in charge of the search for a new General Manager at KPFA.
KPFA is the flagship radio station of the renowned Pacifica Network.
KGO is owned and operated by ABC/Disney, an affiliate of the Walt Disney Corporation. Disney is the 60th largest corporation in the United States, as ranked by Fortune Magazine. Disney is bigger than Viacom or Clear Channel, and second only to Time Warner in the entertainment industry.
1999 MOVEMENT TO TAKE BACK PACIFICA
Five years ago, in 1999, thousands of KPFA listeners and members joined in a mass movement to take KPFA back from the corporate forces that had seized control and attempted to remake the station and the network in their own image. The uprising was an event that had few parallels -- radio station listeners, in the streets, refusing to be a passive audience, demanding that the station serve the community. The catalyst for this uprising was the attempt to literally drag Dennis Bernstein of the famed Flashpoints radio program out of the station, on the air, because he had allegedly broken the "gag rule" imposed by the corporate bosses on what had once been known as "free speech radio."
As with many mass struggles, the conclusion was less than definitive. It eventually became dominated by dueling lawyers, fought out in courtrooms where freedom and justice were far less important than fine points of law. In the end, however, a settlement was reached, a particular set of corporate forces that had hijacked the network were sent packing, and listeners won the right to elect local station boards and a national board with real governing authority.
Now, just months after the first elected boards were seated in February, democracy and free speech are once again under attack at KPFA and Pacifica.
There are five Pacifica stations: WBAI in New York, KPFK in Los Angeles, KPFT in Houston, WPFW in Washington D.C., and KPFA. Every local station board has been divided, with intense struggles over agendas, minutes, meeting times, rules and committee assignments, as well as more fundamental management issues. This has, for the most part, prevented these boards from getting to the hard business of bringing these stations back to the original progressive Pacifica mission, from improving programming, and from putting the community back into community radio. The ongoing disruptions within the network have been so pervasive, and so similar in form, that more than a few observers have suggested that there may be an organized destabilization campaign in process, aimed at subverting the experiment in listener democracy.
THE ISSUES BEFORE KPFA AND PACIFICA
In a July leaflet to the KPFA community, several prominent KPFA figures and former staff members put forward a set of issues that they feel need to be addressed, in order to bring the station back to the original KPFA mission.
First, "there are still programmers who were banned and fired during the previous period who have not yet been welcomed back into the KPFA and Pacifica community." This has been amplified by another recent statement, from Maria Gilardin, chronicling many of these firings, including the 1995 removal of 165 public affairs programmers, in large part people of color, as well as the removal of Bill Mandel, a long-time and very popular programmer and commentator on the politics of the Soviet Union. Gilardin is a former KPFA Development Director and programmer. She was herself banned from all Pacifica stations after demanding to see the network's financial records. In the wake of the 1995 firings, she co-founded Take Back KPFA, a broad-based listener organization.
Second, according to the July leaflet, "There are still some managers and staff in positions of influence who operated for so long in the old context that many of their assumptions about politics and radio have been shaped by it." This is putting the problem very tactfully.
Another document making the rounds, this one signed by 37 progressive current KPFA programmers and staff members, puts it this way: "...some staff, long accustomed to the previous unaccountable ways of making decisions and wary of changes in the status quo, have flatly refused to accept the exercise of listener/board participation mandated by the new by-laws and other agreements which came out of the struggle... It may disappoint, but it should not surprise KPFA's supporters to learn that the station's staffers, people whose voices have become the voices of friends and who listeners may have even grown to think of as the very voices of progressive politics, can be as jealous of their perks and privileges as people in other political and social arenas."
Still others, including Gilardin and fellow Take Back KPFA co-founder Jeff Blankfort, have put it even more bluntly, pointing out that some of the current staff actively collaborated with the corporate forces in order to preserve their jobs and air time.
Third, there are numerous criticisms of some KPFA public affairs programming, especially of the news department, which often tends to read the news straight off the corporate wire. For example, during the recent invasion and occupation of Haiti by the US and French military, Flashpoints, broadcasting at 5 PM, was making ground-breaking news about the kidnaping of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, while the 6 PM news seemed to be taking its cues on the story from the US State Department.
The problems with the news department, and its relationship to the process of bringing more democracy and community involvement to the station, was put into sharp focus in a comment by Max Pringle, a prominent news department employee and one of the staff-elected representatives to the KPFA board. As described by the staff letter noted above, Pringle said at a board meeting that "KPFA was like an airplane. The listeners were like passengers who should expect to pay for their tickets and then remain in their seats leaving the crew to fly the aircraft. It is crazy, he said, to let the passengers into the cockpit. He called the listener board representatives and those listeners who had come to watch the board meeting and to participate in the public comment segment of the meeting 'self-appointed guardians with too much time on their hands.'"
Where do listeners take their issues about programming? There is an existing "Program Council" at the station, where issues about programming theoretically can be raised, but the meetings of this body are closed to all but a select few, they make no reports to the listeners, and, in any event, there are real questions about whether or not their decisions are taken seriously by station management. The new KPFA board has done little to open this process up to the larger KPFA community.
Finally, the July leaflet stated that the station is in the process of looking for a permanent station manager. Experience with previous station managers during the corporate era demonstrate how important a general manager is in setting the direction for the station. "Yet the larger KPFA community," the leaflet continues, "has not yet been invited to be part of this process, and needs to be."
The July leaflet was issued by, among others, Gilardin, Blankfort, Mandel, Lincoln Bergman (the KPFA News Director in 1969-71), Riva Enteen (the elected Chair of the KPFA board), and Henry Norr (a well-known reporter fired from the San Francisco Chronicle for attending an anti-war rally).
JIM BENNETT, "INTERIM GENERAL MANAGER"
The current "Interim General Manager," Jim Bennett, formerly the station engineer, is seen by many as a lax manager, favored by the old-line, entrenched staff who are anxious to preserve their positions and hostile to public review. Since the seating of the new, elected KPFA board, Bennett has openly attacked the majority faction of the board, itself an alliance of a big majority of the board members elected by the listeners. Bennett recently issued a "Report to the Listener," which was posted on the KPFA website, accusing the KPFA board of operating in "a repressive mode of trying to get certain agendas rammed through." Bennett also refuses to talk to Enteen, the elected Chair of the board, who got the second-highest vote total in the membership election. Such, apparently, is Bennett's vision of listener democracy.
Bennett's report goes on to say that "many listeners have called me about the announcements on KPFA that have been heard the last few months, requesting people to apply for the General Manager position. That is an ongoing, and I hope fair process, that I am not involved in. Many of you want to know if I am leaving KPFA, since I have been doing the job for about 4 1/2 years. [In fact, Gus Newport, the former Mayor of Berkeley, served as General Manager for nine months during those 4 1/2 years, until he quit during the recent board election, complaining that he had received no cooperation from the staff. -MN] ...I will not use my current position to campaign for the permanent job, so I can't comment on my own status." To the contrary, Bennett has made it well known around the station that he has thrown his hat in the ring to become the permanent General Manager.
Bennett, a white man, further states in his report that "I do believe if there are women or people of color out there who can do the job, they should be given every consideration." IF there are women or people of color out there who can do the job? That's quite a slip of the tongue.
Bennett's role in an earlier incident, bizarrely reminiscent of events during the 1999 KPFA struggle, provides more grist for the mill. In early June, a Flashpoints programmer, Miguel Molina, was reportedly assaulted by Vini Beacham, the "Interim Program Coordinator" appointed by Bennett, after Molina complained to Beacham about the reversal of a decision to broadcast an anti-war rally. According to witnesses, Beacham completely lost it, started yelling a string of profanities at the top of his voice, got right up next to Molina with his full 250-plus pound bulk, and thrust his arms out. Molina wisely avoided responding in kind. This incident took place in the very location outside the station where five years earlier thousands of KPFA supporters had rallied to protest Bernstein's forced exit from the station.
Although Molina formally complained to Bennett, there has been no apparent disciplinary action of any significance taken against Beacham. Bennett's supporters among the staff nevertheless claim that the matter has been "resolved." Molina claims that Bennett has never interviewed the witnesses that were with him during the alleged assault, and the Flashpoints staff has issued a public letter decrying Beacham's "violent behavior." The words "cover-up" readily come to mind. Beacham, for his part, has only added fuel to the fire by reportedly walking around the station with a target pinned to his back, and showing up at a recent KPFA board meeting with a rope, loudly demanding that those who are trying to "lynch" him finish the job.
Instead of moving towards involving the KPFA community in the process of selecting a permanent General Manager, as called for by the July leaflet, the Tattersall faction on the board has maneuvered to put the entire process in their own hands.
The following description of events in the search for a permanent General Manager is drawn in large part from an as-yet unpublished document written by members of the KPFA board intimately familiar with these events. I have dubbed this document the "Tattersall Chronicles."
At a July Personnel Committee meeting, chaired by Tattersall, the first item taken up was a discussion concerning a letter from the paid staff union which Bennett read at a Pacifica National Board meeting, a meeting which was being webcast to the public at large. This union letter made various unsubstantiated charges against some KPFA board members, and threatened a union grievance. According to the Tattersall chronicles, the "reading of this letter in a public forum was a serious breach of confidentiality. In any event, the reading could serve no purpose but to inflame tensions..."
The chronicles go on, "...while discussing this letter at the Personnel Committee meeting, Marnie and her supporters on the committee consistently defended Jim's conduct. They then proposed and pushed through a resolution absolving Jim of all blame for anything."
The document then describes what is called the "illegal expulsion of Chair Riva Enteen from the General Manager hiring process."
"The next item taken up for discussion at the Personnel Committee meeting, ironically, was a charge of breach of confidentiality made against Riva Enteen, the Chair of the GM Hire subcommittee. This involved Riva's mention of the name of an applicant for the General Manager position to a KPFA staff member.
"In fact, the applicant in question had already been quite public about her application -- a fact Riva knew when she mentioned the applicant's name. The applicant later stated for the record that she 'had no expectation whatsoever of confidentiality concerning my application,' and that 'I was very disappointed to hear that somehow my talking to folks put my friend Riva Enteen in jeopardy.' Legally and ethically, this means that the applicant had waived her confidentiality, and there was therefore no breach of confidentiality." [This has been independently confirmed by competent legal authorities. -MN]
"Riva acknowledged that it had nevertheless been an error of judgment to mention the applicant's name in front of a non-committee member, and apologized for this mistake. That should have been the end of the matter. But instead, Marnie and her supporters on the Personnel Committee voted to expel Riva from the Hire Subcommittee, in an attempt to keep her out of the hiring process. This contrasted sharply with the glowing approval for Jim's actual and intentional breach of confidentiality and protocol regarding the union letter."
Numerous sources report that the complaint about Enteen's mention of an applicant's name to a staff member was a mere fig leaf for the real agenda. The real agenda, according to these sources, is that Tattersall, the KGO-AM corporate officer, and her allies, see Enteen as an obstacle in their drive to get Bennett or a similar-type manager installed as the permanent General Manager. Indeed, Bennett himself has reportedly made it clear that he wanted Enteen removed from the hiring process.
The Tattersall chronicles continue: "It is the LSB [Local Station Board] that established the GM Hire Subcommittee. The LSB motion creating the subcommittee specified which board members would be on it. Riva was among those so appointed. Marnie was present, and in fact wrote the language that put Riva, among others, on the subcommittee. At the Personnel Committee meeting, Marnie was reminded that Riva had been appointed by the LSB, and therefore could not be removed by a mere committee of the LSB. Nevertheless, Marnie proceeded as if Riva's expulsion was an accomplished fact."
KPFA BOARD MEETING
A few days later, on Saturday, July 24, there was a full KPFA board meeting. Despite a lot of heat and blather, no action was taken to change the composition of the GM Hire subcommittee, thus confirming Enteen's position as Chair of that committee. The immediate effect was to leave Enteen in charge of the first set of candidate interviews, already scheduled for the next day, Sunday, July 25.
[INTERLUDE: LYNCH ROPES, TERRORISTS, SUICIDE BOMBERS. This board meeting was the same one to which Beacham, Molina's alleged tormentor, brought his rope, demanding that his "lynching" be completed. According to several sources, Beacham's rope, which he had thrown on the floor, later showed up during an "executive session" at this same meeting, but this time in the hands of Annie Hallat, a member of the KPFA board aligned with Tattersall's faction. Hallat was observed with the rope during a heated discussion about another board member, Mark Hernandez, also a Tattersall ally, who had allegedly accused yet another board member, who is of Middle-Eastern descent and not a member of Tattersall's faction, of somehow being associated with "terrorism." During this discussion, Hallat tossed the rope to Hernandez, who proceeded to play with it until Enteen, the Chair, ordered him to put it away, which he did, albeit slowly and apparently reluctantly. Hallat had previously directed the husband of yet another board member, not a member of Tattersall's faction, who had made some comments that she disapproved of, to "unstrap the explosives from your body and remove them from your mouth." Tattersall's allies certainly seem fast and loose with violent imagery.]
The Tattersall chronicles go on. "Shortly after the [Saturday LSB] meeting adjourned, staff LSB member William Walker, a regular voting ally of Marnie's, called out to those board members who were still present, 'If you voted for the Personnel Committee report, you know what to do.' LSB member Michael Lubin asked what this meant, whereupon William replied, 'You didn't vote for it.' William refused to explain what he meant." Others have described Walker's comment as a not-so-veiled threat to prevent Enteen from participating in the Sunday interviews.
TATTERSALL'S STRANGE LETTER
"Later Saturday evening [the evening of the July 24 board meeting]," our document continues, "Riva found a letter hand-delivered to her home, which is at an unlisted address. The letter, from Marnie, stated that the Personnel Committee had expelled her as a member (and Chair) of the GM Hire Subcommittee. It ordered her 'not to attend any of the pending interviews.' It cryptically added that, 'If you do, you are advised that your involvement will not be recognized by the process.' This letter was on KPFA stationary, in a KPFA envelope...
"Marnie's letter is an outrageous and manifestly illegal act. Neither Marnie nor the Personnel Committee has the authority to override an LSB motion.
"In addition, it is unclear how Marnie got the KPFA stationary she misused for this letter. The question arises whether any member of the staff or management was complicit in her illegal act...
"The next day, Sunday, July 25, Riva showed up at the designated place and time to interview GM applicants. This was her responsibility and duty.
"Furthermore, because of the threatening atmosphere, several LSB members agreed that non-committee members should be asked to come as peaceful monitors to the interview site when it opened, to make sure Riva was not wrongfully kept out -- and to bring a video camera, just in case...
"When Marnie and all her allies on the GM Hire Subcommittee arrived at the interview site, they went into a separate room and caucused secretly, hidden away from Riva" and the other committee members.
"When they emerged from their secret caucus, Marnie and her four allies stated their outrage that Riva was present, and that people not on the subcommittee had been there to observe their conduct... The five of them announced that they were unilaterally walking out on the interviews scheduled for that day, and suspending all other interviews indefinitely..."
TATTERSALL BREACHES CONFIDENTIALITY...
"Ironically, on August 10th, Marnie herself committed a real, in fact extremely serious, breach of confidentiality -- copying an internal memo concerning the GM hire to one of the applicants. Neither Marnie nor her allies have offered any apology." [The applicant in question, according to sources, was Bennett. -MN]
It seems that no breach of confidentiality by Bennett, Tattersall or any of their allies is of any consequence, no matter how serious, whereas the slightest alleged breach by Enteen is worthy of the wrath of God.
"Thus, Marnie and her supporters," the Tattersall chronicles continue, "have brought the General Manager hiring process to an abrupt halt, extending Jim Bennett's tenure as Interim General Manager...
"These events not only reflect very badly on the station, and risk alienating qualified applicants -- they are altogether inconsistent with the fair and democratic spirit in which the critically important search for a new General Manager should be conducted."
...AND THEN TAKES CONTROL
Thus ends our anonymous authors' still unpublished report. But the tale does not end there.
On Saturday, August 28, the KPFA board held its regular monthly meeting. At this meeting, the board once again fled from public view into "executive session" to battle over the General Manager hiring process. There has as yet been no official report to the KPFA community of the results of this secret meeting, held by a board whose charge it is to shepherd "free speech radio" to the land of democracy.
But the word on the street is that Tattersall's allies, using the relentless pressure that they draw from their alliance with the junta that controls KPFA behind the scenes, pressured a bare majority of the board to finally throw Enteen off the General Manager Hiring subcommittee. This at a meeting where Enteen was home in bed with a migraine headache, unable to even speak in her own defense. Reportedly, her vote, had she been present, would have defeated the motion that cast her -- and the listeners who support her -- to the winds.
At the same meeting, so the story is being told, Tattersall's allies defeated a motion by one vote (that is Tattersall's vote) to throw her off the General Manager Hire subcommittee for her manifest breach of confidentiality, not to mention her disgusting scheming and illegal maneuvering.
It appears that Tattersall, the KGO lady, is now essentially in charge of picking the leader for the flagship station of "free speech radio."
DEMOCRACY IS A BAD IDEA?
The anti-democratic, anti-reform spirit represented by Tattersall and her allies is summed up in a recent email posted by Sasha Lilley, a staff representative on the General Manager Hire subcommittee, allied with Tattersall:
"I do think the bylaws are a disaster... Can you honesty say that having an elected board is going to save KPFA and Pacifica from another takeover attempt?... I have received word that the new elections this summer and fall will cost the network an additional 160k. This will bring the total election costs in this fiscal to a grand total of 347k... We, as a Network, cannot survive this kind of expense... The costs of this (volunteer) bureaucratic stratum, intent on increasingly consolidating power, is really troubling."
Ah, let us mourn for the good old days of benevolent corporate dictatorship.
The next meeting of the KPFA board is Saturday, September 11, att 11:00 AM, at Freight and Salvage, 1111 Addison Street near San Pablo Avenue, in Berkeley.
The tentative agenda for the 9/11 meeting includes a revote on the composition of the General Manager Hire subcommittee -- this time, hopefully, in open session.
Copyright (c) 2004 Marc Norton
Non-commercial distribution of this piece is permitted and encouraged.
Marc Norton has been listening to KPFA since 1967. He is proud to be Riva Enteen's partner. Norton can be reached through his website at http://www.marcnorton.us, and is in the process of putting up on that website various documents relevant to the struggle over KPFA and Pacifica.