Clowns and conspiracy nuts: an open letter to Michael Krasny, KQED Forum host

Three more important perspectives by KPFA folks plus Women’s Magazine on the crisis follow …

by Dennis Bernstein

Greetings, Mr. Krasny. I heard your segment (listen below) about KPFA produced by Judy Campbell, Larry Bensky’s former producer, who was trained by Aileen Alfandary and Mark Mericle. Must have been a nice reunion for them, but it surely betrays that kind of neutrality and fairness you profess on a daily basis.

I know you have great deal of respect for Larry Bensky, but why have someone who has been out of the network for four years debating someone who is in the daily thick of it, who can’t talk details, names, facts etc. Apple and oranges.

There are many people, Carol Spooner, soft-spoken lawyer, who beat back the corporate raid on KPFA in 1999, for instance, if as Judy said you wanted to have a “broader overview” of what is going on. Judy says you listened to Larry on the Morning Show free-for-all “and liked what he had to say.”

Given your own fine intellect and understanding of so many complex issues, I have to assume you didn’t have a chance to do your own research and get a better and fairer understanding of the complexities of a station that was founded, not to produce professional journalists, but as a place where the community may share ideas and issues and learn radio skills. We are not NPR or KQED.

Right now, there are about 35 paid staff and well over 150 unpaid staff – or volunteers. Are you interested in what any of the unpaid staff are thinking about all this, in the context of community radio? Interested in how they have been treated by the paid staff in recent years?

Are you interested in how paid staff engineered the end of the Program Council – the only way that unpaid staff had a shot at proposing a program – and excluded the unpaid staff from union representation by changing unions covertly in the name of professionalism?

I love public radio, Mr. Krasny, and have tremendous respect for your work, but KPFA is not KQED.

Bigger picture

In your presence, Larry Bensky asserted, with an arrogant, auditory swagger, that unpaid staff – who struggle, with great financial hardship, to work at KPFA and comprise some 60 to70 percent of staff, mostly people of color – are a bunch of “clowns” and “conspiracy nuts.” I have to assume I’m in that category as well, given what he said and how he parsed it.

So let me raise a few questions, please? Were you aware that aggrieved Morning Show host Brian Edwards Tiekert (BET), one of two or three callers who got through on air, was deeply engaged in the local and national finances at KPFA and Pacifica for the last three years and worked closely with the prior management, which crashed the budget and “misplaced” a $375,000 check in the midst of a budget freefall.

Larry Bensky, who’s been out of the station for four years, wildly speculates the missing check is a red herring. A little research by you or your producer would have led you, I’m sure, to a different conclusion. If that prior manager, who worked hand and glove with BET and the current aggrieved staff, had been doing such a great job, why did she leave so abruptly, only days before she was apparently about to fire me and finish the cutting job on Flashpoints?

You would have learned also, Mr. Krasny, with a little old fashioned journalist digging, that there have already been a slew of cuts and layoffs at KPFA that none of the currently aggrieved on-air vocalists care to talk about. Some were in the union and some were not.

Hard Knock Radio was cut. The apprenticeship program was cut. Full Circle was cut. Flashpoints lost two thirds of its budget under the prior manager, who was working very, very closely with BET. I care about all cuts, and I’m sure you do too. More than eight people chopped, and the current on-air vocalists were silent about this as the dew on a morning leaf.

As I said, Flashpoints lost 60 percent of its budget in the last five years. In the first year of the same manager’s tenure, according to the actual budget, KPFA’s News Department, with BET as a member of it, had its budget increased by over $55,000, administrative up $30,000, while Flashpoints was cut by nearly $20,000. That was just in the first year.

Bottom line, Mr. Krasny: Prior management simply busted the budget by supporting its friends, with the clear intention of paying for it by getting rid of Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio. Did you know that? Did Larry know that and purposely ignore it, or was it the fact that he was out of the loop for the last four years?

The case of Nora Barrows Friedman

Flashpoints senior producer Nora Barrows Friedman, with eight years seniority, was ambushed by KPFA former management and had her hours slashed in half, without even a shop steward present, in total violation of the union contract. She went to a staff meeting for support, after writing an open letter to the public about what was happening at Flashpoints.

Among those responding to a petition against the slashing of the Flashpoints budget was the late Howard Zinn, a fan of Nora’s, and Noam Chomsky, also a fan of Nora’s and of the show. At the staff meeting, she was, according to Nora, given a verbal beating by several of the current on-air vocalists for, can you imagine, going public.

According to Nora, “I was subjected to a barrage of very hurtful and abusive behavior by … It was a traumatic and troubling experience for me. It was the definition of being subjected to a hostile work environment.”

The plan was to bust the budget by expanding the budget of prior management’s close comrades and pay for it by getting rid of Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio.

Have your heard the name of Nora Barrows Friedman or those of the other eight KPFA workers who were chopped by prior management? If not, why not? Yes, the plan was to bust the budget by expanding the budget of prior management’s close comrades and pay for it by getting rid of Flashpoints and Hard Knock Radio.

The alternative plan

BET talks about an “alternative plan” being put forth by aggrieved staff. According to three people in recent negotiations, the plan definitely was to get rid of Hard Knock Radio and Flashpoints, among other things, and pipe in NPR’s Michael Eric Dyson Show from Baltimore.

Tracy Rosenberg, a member of the local KPFA and national Pacifica boards and director of Media Alliance, who was also in the negotiations, wrote in a widely distributed “Open Letter on KPFA’s Budget” that on Sept. 20, “I reported the unsuccessful outcome of 15 hours of budgetary meetings to my colleagues on the Pacifica National Board. I reported that a balanced budget had not been achieved. I am grateful to Ms. Englehardt that she listened to the concerns and initiated conversations about them …

“On Sept. 22, I listened to and participated in a brainstorming session. At that session, this is what I did. I listened to KPFA’s interim management present a plan to deal with the budget deficit. That plan was to remove Flashpoints from the 5 p.m. evening slot and replace it with a syndicated news program from an external source. To remove Hard Knock Radio from the 4 p.m. evening slot and replace it with a syndicated Baltimore NPR program hosted by Michael Dyson …. And then I was sworn to confidentiality, accompanied by a rather loud table thump to emphasize the point.”

Clowns and conspiracy nuts

Your guest, Mr. Krasny, Larry Bensky, broad brushed all but a few us who work at KPFA as “clowns” and “conspiracy nuts,” as opposed to the real journalists on the Morning Show and KPFA News. Your producer, Judy Campbell, Bensky’s former producer, stated to me in a phone interview that “this was very unfortunate” but that she “had no control over what the guests say” and that she was in a “rush to get the segment on while working on another segment.”

But you were also silent on this point and Bensky was allowed to continue his tirade without being confronted. Why? Did you think this was an appropriate comment? Does your silence signify agreement?

“Clowns” and “conspiracy nuts,” hmmm. On Flashpoints in the last week or so we had stories on the spreading cholera epidemic in Haiti with our special correspondent, Ansel Herz, who broke the story a month ago regarding its spread to Port au Prince; on the banning of Professor Richard Shapiro from India for his work on the Kashmir tribunal.

We had Nation reporter Allan Nairn, again risking his life in Jakarta by releasing secret documents regarding the targeting by U.S.-supported Indonesian death squads as President Obama was touching down there; a segment on targeting civilian activists and church workers; one on border women hunger striking in front of the White House against the expanding police state at the border; and one from our courageous special correspondent, John Gibler in Mexico, risking his life daily to report on the cartel wars from one of the most dangerous regions in the world.

Clowns and conspiracy theorists. I myself have won many awards for investigative reports, cover stories and essays that have appeared in The Nation, The Boston Globe, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, Kyoto Journal, Das Spiegel, Minneapolis Star Tribune, International Herald Tribune, Texas Observer, Pacific News Service/New America Media and many others.

Right after Nora Barrows Friedman was run out of the station, Polk Award-winning reporter Robert Knight, who did the Flashpoints headlines, was fired via a Fedex letter sent by the prior manager, who, as I said, worked closely with Brian Edwards Tiekert. Have you heard any on-air lament for this African American Polk Award winner? Knight was the only journalist to track down Manuel Noriega while he was still in hiding and interview him – an interview, by the way, that was immediately aired on NPR. I guess NPR likes clowns and conspiracy nuts.

Hard Knock Radio features progressive hip hop and radical alternative reporting by renowned, award winning radio producers Davey D and Anita Johnson. Have you ever listened to Hard Knock Radio?

Has Bensky listened to their impressive reporting and moving interviews? If I’m not mistaken, Bensky actually co-hosted several national broadcasts with Davey D.

Have you, Mr. Krasny, ever listened to Hard Knock Radio, or do you just happen to listen to the KPFA Morning Show when Bensky’s on it?

Finally, Mr. Krasny, it’s very troubling, to say the least, that you and your producer, Judy Campbell, “rushed” into a complicated, difficult situation regarding a crucial Bay Area “community institution” in the midst of a deep struggle to survive, knowing so little about it. I suggest maybe you do a little of your own research and have Carol Spooner on, say, with Matthew Lasar, author of “Pacifica Radio” and an unabashed fan of BET and the Morning Show and also a graduate of the KPFA News Department, as are Judy Campbell and BET, and do it right.

All due respect, Dennis J. Bernstein, executive producer of (what’s left) of Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio and Flashpoints.net

Resources

Carol Spooner’s “What’s happening at KPFA?

Tracy Rosenberg’s “Open Letter on KPFA’s Budget

KQED’s Forum for Wednesday, Nov. 10, 9:30 a.m., hosted by Michael Krasny with guests Arlene Engelhardt, executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, and Larry Bensky, former national affairs correspondent for Pacifica Radio and former host of KPFA’s Sunday Salon

In defense of Dennis Bernstein and Flashpoints

by Jeffrey Blankfort

KPFA is going through perhaps it most serious crisis, as a group of paid staff are attempting to take over the station. This is the equivalent of a rightwing coup, since many of these staff members were prime collaborators with former KPFA General Manager and Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott back in the mid-‘90s when she purged over 100 volunteer programmers – replacing five with Jerry Brown – and earned praise from the former head of Voice of America and Radio Marti, who was then head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for her efforts to “professionalize” the programming and programmers.

Their failure to defend their unpaid colleagues paved the way for the brief shutdown of the station in 1999 when Pacifica had Dennis Bernstein arrested and dragged from the building while he was on the air and Pacifica hired goons from Atlanta to keep programmers out.

Now Pacifica, under Arlene Englehart, is the one, in cowboy movie parlance, wearing the white hat trying to save Pacifica from the spendthrifts at KPFA. Dennis, the best journalist among the lot of them at KPFA, was not a collaborator then. And now they are once again escalating their efforts to get him off the air. The program that he hosts, Flashpoints, has long been one of the station’s best fundraisers.

Any way you can show your support for Dennis and the true champions of community radio at KPFA will be appreciated.

Jeffrey Blankfort, internationally renowned expert on Palestine, can be reached at jblankfort@earthlink.net.

Status quo proponents would jettison Pacifica and democratic governance at KPFA

Open letter to Michael Krasny of KQED’s Forum by Max Blanchet

The brouhaha at KPFA must be put in its proper context, namely that it is an integral part of the struggle pitting the self-styled professional staff against the folks who fought for a democratic system of governance at Pacifica. From the get-go, the former have fought that system and done everything to undermine it.

The current financial crisis is the result of the financial mismanagement at KPFA. To wit: KPFA management squandered nearly $1,000,000 in reserves in fiscal year 2009 because it did not make the necessary cuts demanded by the Pacifica National Board and the previous chief financial officer and executive director. Had cuts been initiated two years ago, today’s painful cuts might have been avoided.

In addition, under previous management, a check in the amount of $375,000 was misplaced for 13 months.

Some of us genuinely believe that these two incidents of mismanagement were not an accident: They were maneuvers to force the station and Pacifica into bankruptcy with two goals in mind, namely to break the Pacifica network, set KPFA “free” and do away with democratic governance.

I have served on the KPFA Local Station Board, have an MBA in finance from UC Berkeley and have followed closely the financial evolution of the institution.

Contrary to what Larry Bensky says, the current team of Arlene Englehardt and LaVarn Williams, Pacifica’s current executive director and chief financial officer, has done a tremendous job of trying to restore the financial health of the organization under very difficult conditions.

Max Blanchet, a former member of the KPFA Local Station Board, can be reached at maxjblanchet@att.net.

Brian Edwards Tiekert, Sasha Lilley plot to replace all-volunteer Women’s Magazine

by Kate Raphael

Many KPFA listeners and staff know that about a year and a half ago, station management decided to remove Women’s Magazine from the lineup. The plan at that time was to use our slot for a weekly best-of edition of Letters to Washington.

Our producers and listeners organized quickly and managed to embarrass management into realizing that they could not simply remove the only one-hour weekly program dedicated to women’s issues.

In the attached email to Sasha Lilley, Brian Edwards Tiekert, who brands himself as the voice of local programming, suggests replacing us with various syndicated shows – some admittedly not very good but “with women hosts.” I particularly like the line, “Then women’s magazine wouldn’t have a monopoly on women’s programming” – like that’s what we are trying to do.

 

KPFA’s Women’s Magazine: Crisis at KPFA

 

Kate Raphael and Preeti Shekar are joined by Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt, lawyer and former board member Carol Spooner and former staff member Maria Gilardin to discuss Pacifica’s history of conflict, the tensions between paid and unpaid staff and how to best serve our communities.

This is the first half of the program, the part dealing with KPFA. Listen to the whole program at http://kpfa.org/archive/id/65370.