Pacifica and the Barbarians Who Pay the Bills

Far be it from me to add to a tsunami of abuse, but I think its more than time to inject a little reality check into Iain Boal’s overheated Pacifica rhetoric. Apologies in advance from this “envenomed nutball”, since that is the label you must wear if you disagree with Boal’s melodramatic and self-serving lament.

No gag reflex is present here. Christopher Condon’s motion was plain and simple. It just said disclose where the programming money comes from.  Is that some kind of wild anarchist request? Has Mr. Boal never heard of “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” a well-regarded volume by people not usually considered “envenomed nutballs” who have some pretty sobering things to say about the risks of dependence on foundation funding for politically radical nonprofit organizations?

The recent Fox News political hack job on Van Jones should have convinced the left of the stupidity of trying to rout out 9-11 skeptics in a progressive version of red-baiting. Boal’s Eugene McCarthy impersonation wears somewhat thin in talking about a network that cut its teeth standing up to the ugliness of the American red scare. “McCarthyism – the term is used generally to describe reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries.” And that’s what we have here.  Boal’s obvious unwillingness to engage in debate on political differences with his adversaries.  It’s easier just to rout them out with half-baked rhetoric.

Pacifica came by its governance system honestly.  After an underdog lawsuit  that went all the way to California’s Attorney General to uphold the basic notion that those who pay for it own it.  The powers that be are merely the caretakers of a public trust. The Pacifica win of the late 1990’s was a victory for the seemingly quaint notion that the media operates in the public interest.  All those people who pledged their $25 or $50 for information, arts and culture they valued, had rights. They were shareholders. And a bunch of people who thought they knew better couldn’t just sell the thing right out from under with them without even asking first. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our public institutions ran that way?  No war with without the public’s consent?

Now that’s a Pacifican notion. I suppose you could call it “a surreal camel-albatross hybrid worthy of any medieval bestiary”.   There’s just one little problem. While you’re saving all those bucks and moving with lightening speed, you might find something’s missing, like one of the last mass radio transmitters in the nation not in corporate or government hands. That’s what happened to Pacifica when a misdirected e-mail came to light in July of 1999.

Boal comments about the founder of Pacifica, Lew Hill, a World War II draft resister. Let’s let Hill speak in his own words from a 1952 Report to the Listener:

“There was such a letter in the mail this morning, from a San Francisco physician. To indicate the importance of this for the substance of our weekly Report, I might add that next week at this time I plan to comment on the questions the letter raises. …The gentleman writing states that he feels KPFA’s whole program is a fine well-rounded one culturally speaking, and he wishes he could believe a large audience would stop and listen to it. But he doesn’t. And for this reason he advances specific suggestions for changes in our medium, from FM to AM, in our hours of broadcasting, in the types of our programs, in our signal power, and in our publicity procedures. He concludes by saying that he believes we at KPFA are very stubborn and set in our conviction that we are doing the job in the best way, and that he does not expect we will adopt his suggestions, but wishes us well anyway and hopes to cooperate to any extent possible in what the project is doing. Needless to say this communication is very challenging and sweeping, and also a very warming one. Next week perhaps you will join me again for a discussion of it”.

Boal speaks of a “firewall”, a term commonly used in corporately-owned mainstream media outlets to insist that, for example, the fact that General Electric owns NBC does not affect that television network’s coverage of energy issues. In this case, the “firewall” is to protec Pacifica’s operations from its own members and supporters. Quite a bit different from Hill’s 1952 declaration that he was warmed at the receipt of a letter advancing very specific suggestions for changes in the medium, hours of broadcasting, types of programs and the publicity procedures and looking forward to a challenging and sweeping discussion of it on-air.

Maybe a little challenging and sweeping discussion is a better recipe for community media than haughty contempt for the barbarians who pay the bills.

TRACY ROSENBERG is Executive Director of the Media Alliance, 1904 Franklin Street # 500 Oakland CA 94612

Iain Boal replies:

• I am happy to stand by my ascription,  “envenomed nutballs”.

• I don’t remotely claim to represent the preponderance of listeners and supporters – that’s an impertinence that I leave to the Rosenbergs of the media world. Admittedly I did surmise that listeners had something else in mind than election bills of $700,000 (a way low figure actually) when we went into the streets in 1999.

• Where do I deny that liberal foundations and the non-profit industrial complex are dodgy and capable of siphoning off revolutionary fluids? It’s mildly ironic – re Rosenberg’s  irrelevant ad hominem about my presumed ignorance of The Revolution Will Not be Funded – that I was the first person in the country to adopt the book for a university course (the week it came out from South End Press.)

• Where do I say I am opposed to transparency in funding?

• It is a grotesque misreading to suggest that the “barbarians” I’m calling out are the listeners who pay the bills. Rosenberg here reveals contempt for the intelligence of the “little guy” she purports to represent, and further insults Pacifica’s supporting audience by reducing us to corporate “shareholders”.

• It would be convenient, wouldn’t it, if it were true that my pieces were “op-eds”, and that the metastasizing of subcommittees or chem trail antidote DVD premiums or the disfranchizing of thousands of members are somehow a personal “opinion” to which I am “entitled” (thank you, Ms Rosenberg, for your tolerance.)

That said, and despite not being able to spell my name, at least Ms Rosenberg has the guts to demand that you publicly disseminate a portrait of me that those who actually know me would have to acknowledge drives to the essence of my character: a half-demented, debate-averse, self-serving, dictator-friendly, Eugene McCarthy impersonator.

I do wonder whether there is even one among these self-dealing nullities who can make sense, let alone mount a spirited defense of a governing board numbering a minimum of 122 and a maximum of 123? There are actually some lines in Rosenberg’s response that do ring out with straightforward, honest, eloquence, but they belong to…Lew Hill.