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New Storm Over Pacifica:

Pacifica Chairman Berry Urges Janet Reno to Pressure Berkeley Cops

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

The new crisis at KPFA, the Pacifica flagship station in the Bay Area broke out on Sunday, June 13 when 22-year KPFA veteran Robbie Osman explained to listeners that Pacifica exec director Lynn Chadwick was a liar. Osman explained that Chadwick was planning to attend the Pacifica national board meeting in Washington on the last weekend in June to inform the board members, none of whom have an experience in community radio, that the situation at KPFA had returned to “equilibrium.” Osman told his Northern California audience that this was nonsense and that quite the opposite was true, and that they were moving further away from equilibrium.

Chadwick waited until the following Friday afternoon to act, at which time she sent a letter to Osman saying that he had “forfeited” his right to be on the KPFA/Pacifica airwaves and was fired.

The following Sunday, June 20, at the time of Robbie’s scheduled regular broadcast, while hundreds of KPFA supporters rallied on Martin Luther King Jr Way, in front of the KPFA building, the staff took the station off the air, and for two hours – for the first time in 25 years – the frequency was silent.

The following morning, after fourteen protesters had camped on the street – including CounterPunch special correspondent Jeffrey Blankfort – in front of the building and the adjacent HQ of Pacifica’s Lynn Chadwick, were arrested for blocking the entrance to the Pacifica office. The Berkeley police, unlike the 1960s – were reluctant to make the arrests, requiring Chadwick to do it herself. Chadwick had to go to each protester and ask them personally if she could pass. When they told her exactly where she could go, other than through the door of Pacifica, the cops then gently removed the first nine. Two hours later, five more women, including one in a motorized wheelchair, blocked the door again, while Pacifica’s staffers inside prepared paperwork for the weekend meeting.

This demo by a group of Berkeley, elders, all long-time supporters of the station, pushed Chadwick and Pacifica over the edge. Chadwick then had the employees remove all their files from the office, transferring them over the heads of the protesters, abandoning the Pacifica office. The police then required Chadwick once again to do the citizen’s arrests. This mightily displeased Chadwick who seemingly reported to chairman Mary Frances Berry back in Washington that the Berkeley cops were way too friendly to the KPFA protesters. The plot now thickens. The KPFA news reported that the Berkeley police chief Dash Butler had confirmed that Joe Brann, a Justice Dept official with the COPPS program (money for local forces round the country for community policing) had phoned him expressing the Justice Dept’s concern about the indulgent treatment KPFA protesters were getting at the hands of Berkeley’s finest.

Butler then emphasized that his call should not be construed as arm twisting. According to KPFA news, Butler said the initial request for Justice Dept intervention might have come from Chairman Berry, though he couldn’t say for sure. He apparently intimated that Attorney General Reno had learned of the KPFA situation in Berkeley from a personal friend. To us at CounterPunch this sounds like a typical Clinton liberal – Mary Frances Berry calling up her pal Reno to stiffen up the strong arm of the state.

The security team hired by Pacifica management has now been doubled, at an estimated cost of $20,000 a month, paid for by listener/subscribers. This weekend a delegation from the station and from the community is off to Washington to represent KPFA interests at the Pacifica national board meeting. Earlier this week a group of local citizens including the Arch-Druid David Brower, San Francisco’s poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti, called for Chadwick’s termination.

Meanwhile a second front may have been opened Thursday, June 24. KPFA talk show host Dennis Bernstein on the airwaves of Pacifica’s sister station in New York, WBAI, in the early hours of the morning played tapes he had recorded during the arrests and protests that followed. Later, that morning, on the WBAI’s morning show host Bernard White followed with the full story on events in Berkeley. This bi-coastal alliance is not welcome in Pacifica’s high command. Finally, a suit by Pacifica regional board members, challenging the legality of Berry and the national board’s power grab at the end of February is poised to be filed by Oakland attorney Dan Siegel. So the fight for the future of alternative radio continues at full tilt.