To the Editor of the LA Weekly
August 16, 1999
I would like to respond to Marc Cooper’s recent LA Weekly article "The Pacifica Wars: A Debate," Aug. 12, 1999. As an eye-witness to the events of July 13th, I’m writing mainly to address what Cooper calls the "reality" of Dennis Bernstein’s actions on the evening of July 13. I can state unequivocally that his account of what happened is factually wrong in many places.
In reading Cooper’s article, I was first of all taken aback by his initial focus on the more extreme elements at the fringe of our struggle here. Most of us do not support the theory of a CIA related conspiracy, and most of us do not talk in these terms. Cooper’s focus on this unfortunate element shows at best a misunderstanding of what drives this struggle and at worst a deliberate attempt to mischaracterize the nature of a broad, mass movement in the Bay Area.
I am one of three producers of the daily, drive-time show "Flashpoints" which Bernstein has produced and hosted for eight years. I played a key role in producing the segment that led to Bernstein’s being put on administrative leave. I also videotaped the sequence of events that transpired in the newsroom that night and was with Bernstein throughout the evening. The video shows what really happened - which is not what Cooper describes. It seems that Cooper is making an attempt to insult Bernstein and demean him in his inaccurate description of the "histrionics" of a "reckless provocateur."
As a fellow journalist, it is disturbing to me that Cooper did not talk to Bernstein about what happened that night before writing his account. I know that he did talk to KPFA news co-director Mark Mericle who was present for part of the sequence of events he describes. However, according to Mericle, Cooper "either got it totally wrong or deliberately distorted" what he said.
In order to set the record straight, let me back up into the afternoon of the 13th, and address Cooper’s statement that Bernstein aired a program "that management alleged had broadcast internal disputes." Isn’t it significant whether this allegation was true or false? That afternoon I attended and taped a public press conference about the KPFA/Pacifica crisis held nearby. The press conference was attended by the mainstream, commercial press throughout the Bay Area who had been covering the story on a near daily basis. When I returned, I learned that Garland Ganter - who had been flown in from Houston to take charge of the station - had called a staff meeting during my absence at which the parameters of the gag rule were discussed. He stated at that meeting that programmers had permission to air any material that was being covered by the commercial media. This confirmed our approach to the crisis all along: that since the story was making headlines throughout the Bay Area, it needed to be reported as a news story on our airwaves. Also, this coverage was being demanded by our listener supporters.
For the last seventeen minutes of "Flashpoints" that night, we aired a segment of the public press conference, which was covered by the commercial media and included questions posed by mainstream journalists. One part of the press conference concerned the release of a new CD which included commentaries by progressive luminaries about the KPFA struggle. Thus, our coverage in that segment included two short commentaries from the new CD: one by Mumia Abu-Jamal and another by a local Buddhist writer and radio personality, Scoop Nisker. Segments of the press conference we aired also included the discovery of an email by a board member proposing the sale of KPFA, and the filing of a lawsuit against Pacifica. None of this material fits the description of "internal disputes."
Cooper makes numerous misstatements as his section on "reality" continues. Bernstein did not go "running through the station." Bernstein was told not only that he was on administrative leave, but also that he was to leave the building at once and could not get his personal possessions from his office. Having witnessed his reaction, I think his outrage was as much in response to this aggressive effort to throw him out on the spot as it was to being put on administrative leave.
Bernstein was invited into the news studio and the guards came after him, attempting to throw him out. As they and Garland Ganter lunged at him and tried to grab him, Bernstein accidentally bumped against a tape machine that was broadcasting a piece on the evening news. He did not "lodge himself under an equipment console in the news studio." He was standing while fending off the guards and later sat on the floor. Mark Mericle, who was in the on-air studio witnessing these events through the glass, began narrating what was transpiring before his eyes after the tape broadcast was interrupted. In the background, the listeners could hear Bernstein’s voice expressing his fear at being harmed by the guards. (Having witnessed this, I can tell you his fear was justified.) Another falsehood: Cooper says that Bernstein was "given a mike." He was never given a mike. After Mericle narrated the events briefly, Pacifica cut the news transmission.
Cooper’s statement that "to believe that Bernstein was anything more than a reckless provocateur is a delusion" reeks of arrogance and ignorance. In my opinion, it represents the reactionary, self-serving conclusion of one who was not present and does not understand the complexity of the events leading up to July 13 and the motivation for civil disobedience taken by Bernstein and others that evening. Fifty-two of us - which included myself and both news directors - were willing to get arrested rather than surrender to a takeover of our community radio station by police and armed guards. And yes, we could have walked out at any time. This was our opportunity, through the honorable method of peaceful protest, to make the point that we would not tolerate the destructive actions of Pacifica: the sudden firing of our exceptional station manager without explanation two weeks before the launch of our fiftieth anniversary campaign; the firing of two veteran programmers for speaking about the crisis on the air; the refusal to enter into mediation early on as requested by the staff; the censoring of "Democracy Now" and "Counterspin" from our sister stations when they covered these events; the hiring of expensive armed guards trained in managing hostile terminations and corporate downsizing; the use of even more funds for the most expensive, union-busting attorney money can buy and a PR firm that represents Disney; and the discussion behind the scenes of possibly selling KPFA.
I agree with Cooper’s statement that "the
organization is full of shit," and "it’s our organization." That’s why
we have a right - or perhaps an obligation - to demand change when the
organization slips away from us into something undemocratic and autocratic,
violating the very progressive principles that it has been set up to promote.
I don’t agree with Cooper’s statement that we can live with it. Disagreement
is fine, but lies and/or
misstatements of fact, accompanied by personal attacks, are not.
cc: Dennis Bernstein
The Nation: Katrina vanden Heuval, Hamilton Fish
Subject: FW: The Pacifica Wars: A Debate
(Aug 13-19, 1999)
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 13:51:01 -0700
From: "Ramares, Kellia " <KRamares@HEWM.COM>
In his recent article about the current Pacfica/KPFA crisis, Marc Cooper made a valid point when he said, "It's crossing a very important line when those who run Pacifica are satanized." However, Cooper conveniently failed to restrain himself from satanizing when, in that same article, he called Dennis Bernstein a reckless provocateur.
Where did Cooper get his account of the events of that night? He was not there. I was. I am a reporter for the KPFA Evening News. Unlike Cooper, who is paid by Pacifica for one of his shows and has an interest in protecting his turf, I am a volunteer. Here is what really happened:
Bernstein aired a segment of a public press conference attended by other members of the mainstream media. Garland Ganter, Lynn Chadwick's stand-in, then placed Bernstein on "indefinite administrative leave," alleging that Bernstein had violated the gag order that Chadwick had issued that morning. Ganter did this despite telling Bernstein, earlier that same day, that a Pacifica story covered by mainstream media would also be fair game for KPFA.
There was no time for union niceties; Ganter had called in three armed guards, self-proclaimed experts in "hostile terminations," to remove Bernstein from the premises. Dennis came into our news room to let us know what happened. The tape machine was jostled by the guards pushing Bernstein into it three times. Dennis never lodged or nested under anything. He did sit down on the control room floor, nonviolently resisting four men, Ganter and the three armed guards, all significantly taller and heavier than himself. Given this outnumbering, he had legitimate fear for his safety.
News anchor Mark Mericle switched from the jostled tape to the scene in the control room so that the listeners would know why the broadcast was not proceeding smoothly. Bernstein was not "given a mike." What listeners heard from Dennis was his spontaneous interaction with the guards, not any type of speech directed at the audience. Later that night he was not "lurking in the newsroom." He was there, along with Mericle, Alfandary, myself and several others, all reporting a story that should never have to be reported in America: that broadcasting a press conference can cost a reporter his job.
Subject: Marc Cooper voice for Pacifica
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 21:28:16 -0700
From: "Deborah L. Barragan" <email@example.com>
Marc Cooper's "The Pacifica Wars: A Debate"
in the LA Weekly is lost in false information and stretches of the imagination
approaching out and out lies.
A rebuttal to “The Pacifica Wars: A Debate” by Marc Cooper from and eyewitness.
Bernstein, KPFA staff were whistleblowers.
REALITY: Marc Cooper (who wasn’t there)
seems to have lost something in the translation (from who?) distorting
events the evening of July 13, 1999 in the KPFA newsroom. Bernstein, upon
being told by the hours-old manager from Texas, Garland Ganter, that he
was being placed on administrative leave and was to leave the premises
immediately (with only car keys), insisted on having this explained to
him and was responded to with Ganter’s “leave the building now”. News staff
came to also question what was meant by administrative leave and then beckoned
Bernstein into the studio to talk. Here, he was closely pursued by the
armed guards and Ganter. Being concerned about Bernstein’s physical well
being, I followed the whole entourage into the crowded control room. I
could hear a commotion just before I could get there. Ganter was
repeatedly demanding that Bernstein (now backed into the small space where the on-air tape had been running and bumped) “leave now”. Bernstein defended himself by demanding not to be hurt, first off mike and then on-air when someone switched the mike on. Ganter, instead of attempting to accomodate Bernstein’s questions, switched the live programming to tape (set in place that afternoon) by switching off the controls in that small room and switching them on elsewhere in the station. Not until after the guards stepped back (remaining in close proximity until the final arrests were made) did Bernstein sit on the floor, refusing to leave until his questions about Pacifica’s intentions were answered. Lawyers arrived and facilitated negotiations among Berkeley’s police chief and captain, management and Bernstein for the next 5+ hours, during which time police arrested and processed supporters, volunteers and staff downstairs and in front of the station.
The staff, volunteers and supporters upstairs
in the newsroom (myself included) agreed to take a stand for free speech
listener sponsored radio during this time by also refusing to leave the
community station and be arrested knowing it could mean losing jobs. Cooper
is in denial about the oppressive atmosphere created in the station by
presence of armed guards, the threat of the station being sold and the
positioning by Pacifica to
switch the program to tape. Cooper’s source of information is misleading. At no time did Bernstein run through the station in the manner suggested and at no time did Bernstein “lodge himself under an equipment console”. Coopers choice of words such as “lurking in the news studio” and “provocateur” are used to put a negative light on whistleblower Bernstein’s taking a stand and refusing to roll over and play dead.