The following transcription of the live, on-air talk between new Interim General Manager Utrice Leid and Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash on the afternoon of December 26, 2000, is provided to us by Mr. Tom Gregg and is used here with his permission. Mr. Gregg did not get the entire conversation, and elipses (...) are used both for omissions and to indicate a speaker's voice trailing off.
Partial Transcription of Utrice Leid/Bessie Wash Interview on WBAI
UL: ...is charged with governing the activities at the 5 Pacifica stations, WBAI being one of them. Thank you, Bessie Wash, for being with us today.
BW: I wouldn't have it any other way.
UL: well, a number of people, we just ended a meeting, a staff meeting, at which much attention was focused on you and
BW: oh, really?
BW: positive, I hope
UL: well, not necessarily,
UL: it ain't necessarily so.
UL: Yes. And the question of the immediate circumstances of the
UL: of Valerie Van Issler, of Bernard White, and Sharan Harper. Suppose we start there.
UL: And the question is, what led to the firings, and why were they fired?
BW: Well I think that it's only fair to them, and to the foundation, not to talk about personnel issues. It was a personnel decision. There was cause, and they were terminated for cause, uh outside of that, it just, I don't think it does anybody any credible good to talk about anything, you know, within that. But with that being said, those were not easy decisions for me. Um, I labored on them and I just had to do what I had to do. Sometimes that's just the way it is, because um, bottom line is, I have to think about what is, in the long term, good for the station and um in my prefew (unclear?) as I look forward. Uh my real feeling is that those decisions had to be made and so therefore I made them.
UL: Why unilaterally? why not with the advice and consent of the staff, with the input of the community?
BW:; I don't think (laughs), I mean, you know, I know and I've heard, cause I've been here, how people want you to.. You don't make at, uh, at least these and other kinds of decisions you can't make in terms of a democracy. You don't go and ask for permission to fire somebody. Okay? What you have to do is to look at what it is, what their contribution is, or (pause) not, and then you have to make a decision, at least I did. And my real feeling is, um, on the one hand, when I look at what was long term for the station, I didn't see, um, the leadership, that the station needed to get there. And then when I looked at, uh, in the short term, uh for the station, I didn't think it was fair uhhhh to have a, a siutation where it couldn't be successful cause it was being undermined. And so, uh, and, and, like I said, you know, (laugh?) these are not things that one just (snaps fingers) flaps (unclear?) and does I mean you know, uh so it was not easy, but it was a decision that I thought had to be made and um and it was a decision that I, uh, made.
UL: the question about the changing of the locks in the middle of the night
BW: Mmmmmmmmmmmm... Four women and a baby..
UL: well, that's true..
UL: ...what is the thing that bothers you most? What is the thing that you have heard in terms of reaction, that in your view is, is, is the thing that that is most inaccurate about the way this thing is being seen, um, because you put the pieces together, we just came out of a meeting in which it was said, these things must have some common cause, some kind of common thread, these things don't just happen in a vacuum, the story we have been told, and of course I know I'm gonna ask you to come back several times...
UL: uh, to talk with listeners if you don't mind...
UL: Great. And to systematically lay out, to the extent that you can, because you said that some of these are personnel issues, but I don't wanna give you an easy way out,
BW: (laughing) you won't?
UL: So you won't have an easy way out. I want you to be able to come back, and talk, not just to the listeners...I've seen you available here at staff, and I wanted to know about that...(were you available to the staff to talk?)
BW: Utrice, I have been here for what, 3, 4 weeks, 3 or 4 weeks...The staff was given a phone number at which they could call me...I met with the staff... I have been at the station.
UL: No one called you?
BW: No one called. No. One. Called. Okay? I was here. I've been up in the station, I've been in town. I, have, been, here.... my daughter was afraid I wouldn't be home for Christmas... She cried [slight catch in voice], and made me promise, that I was comin' Christmas Eve....
UL: I'm, I'm really having some difficulty understanding this. You've been here for 3 weeks, you said...
BW: .. I've been here.-- And no one called.
UL: why didn't you just come down to the station..
BW: I've been at the station.
UL: I mean, just, realizing that the calls weren't coming through.
BW:; I have been (laugh of incredulity, followed by an immediate resumption of seriousness of tone) Utrice, I've been at the station. I have come up in the station! Okay? I've come, I've sat in the lobby....Anything anybody's had to say to me or ask me, I have not backed off from, I have answered the question. It's a personnel decision, and you know, we may agree or we may disagree, and we may have to agree to *DIS*agree, BUT, it was a personnel decision that I made that I felt and I still feel is a betterment of the future of WBAI, and you know, bottom line is, when it comes right down to it, at least right now, that is my responsibility, and I looked out, I saw the leadership that was here, and my real feeling was, that that leadership was not going to take the station where it needed to go...it was not easy...
UL: This is a legitimate question, some people say: “What about the process?” Whether, in the actions taken, due process was observed.
BW: Well you know, I can only say that that I had several conversations. Ah, ah, there were things putting (?) in writing, there were things that needed to be done that weren't done.
UL: Were the individuals aware that they were in danger in any way of losing their jobs?
BW: I wanna be (inaudible) about this. I believe in my heart... that... Valerie, she had to know, she had it, it was in writing. Now, if you want to ask me about Bernard and Sharone [sic], I mean, I can only say, that if you do certain things, one has to wonder, you know, whether or not it is that you enjoy what you are doing? Um, Okay? I mean, that's the best as I can say it. Is that. But with Valerie, I can tell you, uh, there is a paper trail, with Bernard and Sharone [sic], it had to do with their appropriate [sic] actions, and I think that it, it's; like, you know, (inaudible) there are policy decisions for a reason, and those, the reason is to prevent anarchy. Okay? Without those, you have anarchy. So, you know, uh, who is excused from that? I have 96 full-time equivalent employees, 150 in terms of payroll itself... you know, so who is it that is supposed to be outside of those policies? Okay? And when you do, when do you say that *this* person doesn't have to? Awright? That's all I'm trying to say here, and everybody has a right, and I think. No, I know, that having access to the air is a privilege, it is not one that somebody should throw away, thrash [sic], or take advantage of, and they certainly shouldn't use it.. for their own agenda. And, um, yknow this is all unfortunate...It had to be done.
UL: Are these decisions irrevocable?...
BW: Umm, Valerie is no longer the General Manager at WBAI, that will not be reversed. You, as interim general manager, can make any other staffing decisions that you decide to make...
UL: With regard to the other two..
BW: Mm hm
UL: Are those decisions irrevocable?
BW: ...It is...up to the general manager, not me... It's up to you...
UL: I have had a problem with the phrase WBAI AND Pacifica, I keep insisting that WBAI IS Pacifica..
BW: WBAI is, hello, WBAI is not in itself a going concern, WBAI does not have its own federal ID. Alright? The Pacifica Foundation owns 5 licenses, one of which is WBAI. So WBAI *is* Pacifica [transcriber's note: in other words, Pacifica owns WBAI]... Five different stations in 5 different markets...and they serve it in a *very* *special* *way*! Alright? So *because of* Pacifica, we have these stations. Y'know, so when you walk in the door and you say “it's WBAI,” no, you're saying “it's the Pacifica's Foundation's WBAI” and because of the Pacifica Foundation, we can have a WBAI.... if we want to keep this *special* station, *somebody* has to be looking and saying, you know, do we have what it takes to ensure that we have what it takes to be here 5 years from now? And right now, the person who is making that decision is me. And it was not an easy decision. ...My overall feeling was.. that leadership wasn't here... I tried very hard to place, um (pause) Valerie, um in another place within the Foundation itself, because of her committment, because of her talent...and I will stand by that decision, it did not come from the Board, it came from me...
UL: ... you are new to this job, incidentally
BW: but not to the Foundation
UL: but not to the Foundation, because you were the General manager of WPFW in Washington DC For I think 5 years or so...
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