The Kooky ‘Protecting Pacifica’ Diatribe

In the “Protecting Pacifica” CounterPunch article (June 8, 2021) the authors attempt to make a case for gutting the current Pacifica bylaws by passing the New Day Pacifica bylaws amendments that will end Local Station Boards (LSBs) and place their New Day faction representatives into a controlling position on the Pacifica National Board (PNB). The basic argument is that democracy is messy and one-party control is always more efficient at getting the trains to run on time. They begin by quoting Sonali Kolhatkar saying: they are “in a battle for the heart and soul of Pacifica.” A better characterization of this latest attempt to wrench control of Pacifica (6 times in just the last two years by my count) would be “a California faction’s battle to cut out the heart and soul of Pacifica in order to turn it into a bland NPR-lite promoter of establishment programming.” I am not sure why the authors chose to lead with a quote from Sonali, whose establishment messaging suggests she may be half-out-the-door in a quest for a job in corporate-sponsored media. But perhaps it just indicates Sonali is their model of where they want to take Pacifica. However, this opening line is the least of the kookiness.

The hyperbole in the Gendelman-Kaldveer article goes over the top nearly from the get-go. After starting with a nod to Pacifica’s history of radical anti-establishment programming, the fear-mongering begins in the third paragraph with the claim “odds are it will be acquired by rightwing extremist groups or evangelical Christian stations.” What better way to strike fear in the hearts of progressives. The fascists are coming! The fascists are coming! Wait a minute. Doesn’t the rightwing already control most radio stations? Why would they care about one more frequency – on FM at that?

The authors go on to claim “Pacifica’s decline began when a series of well-meaning but failed reforms were instituted in the late 1990s and early 2000s.” Doesn’t that have a familiar ring to it? Shades of Samuel P. Huntington: “some of the problems of the governance in the United States today stem from an excess of democracy.” Kaldveer and Gendelman seem to long for the good old days of autocratic Executive Directors (EDs) and General Managers (GMs) that permeated the 1990s and attempted to take Pacifica corporate. Gendelman was part of that struggle – actually fighting against the Mary Francis Berry take over bid – but apparently not for democratic reasons. A friend of mine told me that, at that time, Gendelman told her that listeners would elect the board members ‘over her dead body.’ Has anyone checked her pulse? Perhaps this is an attempt to revive the dead — a first step to bring back those good old days of centralized control by elites and professionals – only with Gendelman and New Day elites in charge. This theme of “well-meaning but failed [democratic] reforms” seems to be a theme of neoliberal media nowadays — “too much democracy” as argued in these articles in Politico, The Atlantic, and the American Enterprise Institute.

The next gem of hyperbole is a bit farther down where they claim: “this handful of controlling interests – including conspiracy theorists, Green Party disruptors, and the Workers’ World Party – have resulted in programming that often sounds like something you might hear from Alex Jones or read in a QAnon chat room. Holocaust deniers, conspiracy shills … nuclear war proponents …” “Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes… The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” Oops. Sorry, that last quote was from Ghostbusters. Well let’s examine at the first three threats and try to understand who is threatened.

“Conspiracy theorists” – well that probably describes at least half of the writers for Counterpunch. Most of us probably believe the JFK assassination was a conspiracy – we just can’t agree on which one. And of course there was the Gulf of Tonkin, COINTELPRO, MKULTRA, lots of CIA assassinations and coups and ‘Operations’, bombing of Cambodia, Powell memo, tax havens, bank bailouts, corporate political donations. I guess New Day doesn’t want people talking about “conspiracies” on the radio. Perhaps they haven’t heard KPFA’s Mickey Huff claim that these are “Not a conspiracy theory but a business strategy.

But I prefer Michael Parenti’s take on conspiracies: “Almost as an article of faith, some individuals believe that conspiracies are either kooky fantasies or unimportant aberrations. To be sure, wacko conspiracy theories do exist. There are people who believe that the United States has been invaded by a secret United Nations army equipped with black helicopters, or that the country is secretly controlled by Jews or gays or feminists or black nationalists or communists or extraterrestrial aliens. But it does not logically follow that all conspiracies are imaginary. … Conspiracy is a legitimate concept in law: the collusion of two or more people pursuing illegal means to effect some illegal or immoral end. People go to jail for committing conspiratorial acts. Conspiracies are a matter of public record, and some are of real political significance. The Watergate break-in was a conspiracy, as was the Watergate cover-up, which led to Nixon’s downfall. Iran-contra was a conspiracy of immense scope, much of it still uncovered. The savings and loan scandal was described by the Justice Department as “a thousand conspiracies of fraud, theft, and bribery,” the greatest financial crime in history. … Often the term “conspiracy” is applied dismissively whenever one suggests that people who occupy positions of political and economic power are consciously dedicated to advancing their elite interests. Even when they openly profess their designs, there are those who deny that intent is involved.”

But I digress. Their second boogieman was “Green Party disruptors.” What the heck are they talking about? Full disclosure – I am a Green. And I think I am also one of those disruptors based on how some members of New Day have attacked me and another Green as described in this article by Anthony Fest. This seems to be one of those cases of projection as described by musician Todd Snider: “cause they know if you’re doing the pointing, nobody’s looking at you.” It turns out the United for Independent Radio faction (UIR – kind of an oxymoron) at KPFA, which makes up the bulk of the New Day faction, is largely responsible for most of the “disruptions” at Pacifica over the last two years. Their disruptions began with their getting the Executive Director, Maxie Jackson, to quit and installing their guy, John Vernile, as interim Executive Director (iED – an appropriate acronym based on his actions). Within a month of Vernile’s appointment he shut down WBAI and began playing KPFA stock recordings, effectively ending local community programming in New York. This was followed by having a KPFA PNB staffer and UIR member cut off WBAI’s microphones at a PNB meeting that was called to overturn the iED’s action. Well that stalled things for a day, but the shutdown was overturned in a PNB vote the following day and the iED was subsequently fired. Unfortunately he was not fired before KPFA’s General Manager squandered $80,000 of listener donations on retainer fees for lawyers to fight the iED firing. I say squandered because the lawsuit was dropped shortly thereafter and the money was gone. This was all taking place while New Day’s previous incarnation “PacificaRestructuringProject”, was attempting to initiate a last year’s bylaws election which eventually lost 2-1 costing considerable funds. See the pattern here?

But UIR was not finished after those three losses. They immediately started the current bylaws election. Their motto might be: if you don’t succeed, try, try again and again and again. Or maybe it’s more like “the spaghetti might stick this time.” In any case that was not enough so they also filed a lawsuit, with Gendelman one of the plaintiffs along with three members of UIR/NewDay who are also KPFA LSB members. That lawsuit was thrown out, so they refiled, again denied, and eventually Gendelman dropped out. But the other three UIR members refiled again and it is still pending. UIR is like the energizer bunny – with some big buck donors buying the batteries.

But again I digress. As a Green, I think the Kaldveer and Gendelman article may be accusing me of being a disruptor. I have to say, when you are in the minority on a board, you pretty much have no power or voice. The ironic part is that two Greens, or former Greens, on the KPFA LSB do wield power. One is the secretary and gatekeeper for any questions for the GM, and the other is on the New Day PNB slate. All this should be helping you get the picture of how New Day wants to manage Pacifica – some Greens are more equal than other Greens (‘two legs good’ again). And based on UIR track records, the Greens that matter to UIR/NewDay are those that let management run amok.

Lastly, there is the dreaded “Worker’s World Party” (WWP). I had never heard of them until a KPFA LSB member mentioned them in the same sentence that attacked me. I had to look them up. I guess someone on one of the other LSBs might be a member or be associated with a member. Heaven forbid. The commies are coming! The commies are coming to take our radio stations! They’ll have to pry those frequencies from New Day’s ‘cold dead hands.’ The odd part is the only time I’ve heard WWP mentioned is by the UIR/NewDay faction. It reminds me of the Khorasan scare which didn’t hold up but did grab a few headlines. Or perhaps New Day has infiltrated WWP but can’t reveal WWP’s secret plans. Stay tuned.

Anyway let’s complete the analysis of the rest of their quote – “sounds like something you might hear from Alex Jones or read in a QAnon chat room.” I guess the New Day faction sits around listening to QAnon nonsense and frets about it. The key part is “sounds like something you might hear” – which means that in actuality QAnon and Alex Jones are not regulars on Pacifica. In fact such nonsense doesn’t get the time of day. But even if they did, the LSBs have no say in programming, so I don’t know where the accusation of crazy programming comes from. Maybe if LSBs had a say in programming, then things would “sound different.” That I think is worth exploring. Unfortunately, the KPFA UIR faction acts as gatekeepers to prevent any discussion of programming in KPFA LSB meetings.

Then there is their section on “dark money.” This is the most loaded example of projection. If you are a Pacifica member, just count the number of fliers and emails from New Day. They have the big money donors with their Democratic Party Wellstone club deep pockets. We Greens can barely scrape together enough money to print a free Green Voter guide that analyzes elections. It is laughable to call Greens “fat cat funded groups” when we can’t even afford the election fee for most candidates in elections – assuming we have a volunteer to run. But perhaps Gendelman knows she has lost this debate when she finally invokes the phrase: “Utilizing Goebbels tactics” – at least according to Godwin’s Law she has lost the argument.

I won’t bother with their additional histrionics and projections other than to say that nowhere in the Kaldveer and Gendelman article, nor in any of New Day’s literature, do they actually talk about any solutions to Pacifica’s financial problems stemming from 911 (WBAI’s antenna rates at the Empire State Building skyrocketed after the only competition, the World Trade Tower, collapsed) with an onerous contract signed in the aftermath by the ED, not the PNB. Nowhere do they address that a changing media might require outreach to communities to find the right recipe of programming to increase donations. All they do say is “trust us.” They want us to trust the people who shut down WBAI without getting PNB approval, trust the people who have sued Pacifica over and over, and trust the people who write such hyperbole.

So in summary, the Kaldveer-Gendelman article uses standard propaganda techniques to appeal to fear and prejudice, to demonize their opponents — all using intentional vagueness, loaded language, name-calling, scapegoating, smears, appeal to authority (Spooner), and projection-transfer. And of course, the New Day crew offer the Black-and-White fallacy – that the only options are either their bylaws or doomsday. I suspect that if by some chance New Day manages to wrest control of Pacifica from its listener-members, then we will find them bringing back Vernile and invoking the TINA principle to shut down WBAI once again. And when you hear New Day talk about Democracy, I think what they really mean is what Arundhati Roy talks about: “Democracy no longer means what it was meant to. It has been taken back into the workshop. Each of its institutions has been hollowed out, and it has been returned to us as a vehicle for the free market, of the corporations. For the corporations, by the corporations.

Let me close by saying I have to think the Counterpunch editors are amused by this petty internal squabbling that flares up every few years or so at Pacifica. I’m somewhat new to all this and find it a bit discouraging. I know that Jeffrey St. Clair has written often about Pacifica, sometimes with hope and affection. It must be like having a cousin who you have high hopes for, but who just manages to find trouble – or trouble finds him – and you are left shaking your head. In my opinion, it is the latter. There are some good people working to make Pacifica a model for non-corporate, non-hierarchal democratic governance and who want radical programming — not the bland stuff you find on NPR (National Propaganda Radio). And then there is New Day — liberal elitists who don’t trust the public — don’t trust democracy – which is why they keep using words like “professionalize.” They don’t want any interference by local station boards or the community. The real reason to vote NO on the bylaws is that these New Day people, the money people behind this attempted capture of Pacifica, are top-down elitists who want to use the stations for their own purposes rather than as community controlled radio. And in these neoliberal times, we desperately need community radio.

Dr. James McFadden is a research physicist at the University of California, Berkeley. For the past dozen years he has studied economics, political history, psychology, racism and climate change. He now spends most of his time as a political organizer working with the Green Party and other organizations on issues of democracy and social justice. Email: