Disinformation & abuse of airwaves during the 2010 KPFA board elections

by Felipe Messina, KPFA Listener-Member
October 22, 2010

KPFA Radio's 2010 Local Station Board Elections were subverted before the candidates were even nominated. Partisan programmers misused Pacifica's airwaves at both KPFA and WBAI, broadcasting biased and even bogus news reports to influence the election process. Also, partisan staff obstruction and resistance to the process in general (potentially in violation of Fair Campaign Provisions) all contributed to undermining KPFA's 2010 LSB Elections Cycle.

Leading up to the 2010 LSB Elections, Doug Henwood ("Behind The News," 6/24/2010) brought on Matthew Lasar to attack Pacifica's democratic governance structure. Doug Henwood's anti-LSB "tutorial" interview with Matthew Lasar may be viewed as part of the larger disinformation campaign.

Then, Sasha Lilley ("Against The Grain," 7/6/2010) brought on Iain Boal to do more of the same.

All of this went unchecked and apparently laid the groundwork for the overtly slanderous disinformation campaign later by the "SaveKPFA"/"Concerned Listeners" (SK/CL) staff clique in the last days of KPFA's LSB Election. The consequences for the Elections process should be obvious, if not, thorough FCP reports must clarify this point.

All of these incidences must be documented and reported to Candidates, Listener-Members, and other interested members of KPFA's broader community before the certification of the 2010 LSB Elections in the interest of fair election processes.

Sadly, neither the interim General Manager nor the Assistant interim General Manager ever went on the air to offer a disclaimer for any of the anti-LSB commentaries and/or attacks. In contrast, every single Candidate Cart was qualified by repetitive disclaimers before each Cart's airing.

It's not trivial to note, as we listen to Henwood narrowly attack Pacifica's democratic governance structure, in line with Sasha Lilley's attacks with Iain Boal on "Against The Grain," that Lilley was instrumental in autocratically bringing Henwood's "Behind The News" to KPFA. One isn't surprised, then, to find the two working together to undermine the LSB Elections in 2010.

With Iain Boal, Sasha Lilley pitched the notion of promoting a petition to shred Pacifica's Bylaws to dissolve democratically-elected Boards similar to the way Lilley moved to dissolve KPFA's Program Council circa 2007, as acting interim Program Director.

Meanwhile, Lilley's east coast counterpart, Doug Henwood, raised an idea, which made even anti-democratic-governance Lasar react a bit squeamishly. Henwood suggested to Lasar, during an interview on June 26, 2010, "What about the, uh, invoking a slate of candidates who promise to commit institutional suicide and change the governance structure?"

Behind the News, 6/24/2010 & 6/24/2010 -- Host: Doug Henwood. Guests: Matthew Lasar, Max Fraser, Keith Gessen, and Anonymous Hedge Fund Man. Aired on WBAI 6/24/2010, Thursday & on KPFA Saturday, 6/26/2010.
Also 6/24/10 podcast
(transcript at end of article)

Abusing the power of the microphone

The power of the microphone was definitely abused by staffers, whom allied themselves with the proxy-like slate, "SaveKPFA." This anti-democratic governance faction of staffers seems to be enabled to run roughshod over the station because they have their CWA Local 9415, of which Mark Mericle is a Contractual Vice President, to uncritically support the paid-staff faction's autocratic rule of KPFA.

Whether under the guise of "Save KPFA," "Concerned Listeners," or "KPFA Forward," a particular faction of staffers has colluded with their friends running for LSB seats since 2004 when LSBs began to maintain a stranglehold on KPFA's editorial direction and programming in general through stifling of critique, programming evaluation, and Board oversight of management

Observers have written extensively on Fair Campaign issues during past KPFA LSB Elections. It is imperative that all observers of KPFA's 2010 LSB Elections, especially the Local and National Elections Supervisors and station management, document Fair Campaign violations to insure the most progressive elections processes possible, establish a record to inform improved future Elections processes, and facilitate disciplinary actions and/or redress of grievances, as necessary, in the course of our LSB Elections Cycle. Candidates shouldn't need friends on the PNB to motivate inquiry and redress for Campaign grievances.

Other factors to consider regarding KPFA's 2010 LSB Elections Cycle:

• The CWA Local 9415 union colluded with "management" to subvert and/or influence the LSB Elections (Mark Mericle, KPFA News Co-Director, is a "SaveKPFA" endorser and a Contractual Vice President of CWA Local 9415; Philip Maldari is reported on-air as being "a union steward" by KPFA's Aileen Alfandary, 10/21/10, 12:05 pm).

• Meanwhile, UnPaid Staff has been stripped of its representation wherein, "[u]ntil 1997, the United Electrical, Machine and Radio Workers [union] represented both paid and unpaid workers at the Berkeley and New York Pacifica stations." And, worse, KPFA workers' own efforts toward collective bargaining vis-a-vis the UnPaid Staff Organization (UPSO) was undermined by union-busting 'management' and the hostile environment fostered by a particular faction of staffers associated with the CWA. It seems, the SK/CL faction at KPFA can do whatever they want chiefly because they are uncritically supported by CWA Local 9415, of which partisan KFPA paid staffer Mark Mericle is a Contractual Vice President.

• Inadequacies of the Fair Campaign Provisions and the election system in place. Although, it's an improvement over previous years, especially with the assistance of the Fair Elections Committee, the Elections system needs work.

• LSB Election Campaign Finance Issues. The slates with the most money buy the most propaganda and influence.

• Lack of equal access to information (requiring listener voters to have internet access, despite the digital divide)

• Lack of timely mailing of printed information, included with ballots, regarding LSB Candidates

• One-sided on-air attacks against Pacifica's democratic governance structure by established programmers having the inevitable effect of influencing listeners' perceptions and, thus, the LSB Elections, in violation of Fair Campaign Provisions. Guilty programmers include hosts and producers of "Behind The News," "Against The Grain," "Letters To Washington," "The Morning Show," the News Department, and those associated with the partisan paid staff faction which endorsed and allied itself with the grouping/slate "SaveKPFA" (formerly "Concerned Listeners," formerly "KPFA Forward").

• "SaveKPFA" Candidates slandering other Candidates during the On-Air debates, including blatant ad hominem attacks, unsubstantiated claims, and/or on-air leaking of confidential Executive Session PNB information.

Partisan propaganda disguised as news -- e.g., 10/21/10 (12:05 pm), as LSB Elections await certification, partisan Paid Staffer Aileen Alfandary continues anti-LSB, anti-PNB, one-sided SK/CL 'perception management' propaganda masquerading as News Headlines on "Living Room."

From "News Headlines"

Here is a transcript from KPFA's "News Headlines," on October 21, 2010, Aileen Alfandary and Philip Maldari reporting, and briefly quoting Arlene Engelhardt, Pacifica's Executive Director:

AILEEN ALFANDARY: "Deep cuts are looming at KPFA after the parent Pacifica National Finance Committee turned down budget proposals from the unionized staff, which is represented by the Communication Workers of America. The union put forward what it calls "A Sustainable Budget" with proposals for savings to prevent or minimize staff cuts. Philip Maldari, host of "The Sunday Show," is a union steward at KPFA.

PHILIP MALDARI: "The Finance Committee, in a vote, looked at each of the proposals by the union members and rejected all of them. And this means that, uh, the only thing they have on the table to resolve the shortfall in our budget is lay-offs. We think this is absolutely irresponsible."

AILEEN ALFANDARY: "The union's proposals included requiring Pacifica to rebate $28,000 yearly rent for the office space it currently occupies for free in a KPFA-owned building next door to the station's studios, spreading out the payback of $105,000 in dues KPFA owes to Pacifica over three years instead of paying it all in one year, and saving the entire network more than $110,000 by holding Pacifica National Board meetings over video-conference, instead of having in-person meetings four times a year. Individual union members also volunteered to switch to less expensive health care plans, which was the only union initiative the Pacifica management has agreed to. Altogether, the [paid-staff CWA] union said its proposal would have saved $250,000. At the Pacifica Finance Committee meeting, Executive Director, Arlene Engelhardt said the union's proposals to avert lay-offs were untenable."

ARLENE ENGELHARDT (Executive Director): "My budget reduces the salaries to, salaries and related expenses to $1,720,000. The big issue that the union and the staff are looking for is to cut way back on the number of cuts and I don't see this as possible."

AILEEN ALFANDARY: "In a subsequent written statement, Engelhardt said the union proposals were governance items and, as such, can only be included in the budget, if approved by the Pacifica National Board. KPFA's Local Station Board had endorsed the union's proposal, as had the local management at KPFA. The union reported that during negotiations over how to minimize lay-offs, Engelhardt declined to put any proposals of her own on the table."

There is so much Aileen Alfandary leaves out of the above report. For example, opposing points of view. Alfandary (SK/CL) only gives one side to the story and avoids any historical contextualisation of the KPFA/Pacifica dynamics. Alfandary avoids disclosing her SK/CL partisan allies' LSB majority during KPFA's October LSB meeting, which voted to endorse the so-called "LSB proposals," which were drafted by Brian Edwards-Tiekert (SK/CL) and voted for, and against, along the usual partisan LSB lines. In her reporting, Alfandary tries to obscure LSB polarization in the interest of her partisan LSB objectives.

Despite the various blemishes on the 2010 LSB Elections process, a more systemic LSB problem exists, wherein staffers with programs, obviously interested in protecting their turf and obstructing meaningful program evaluations, as might happen with an active, effective Program Council, also serve on the LSB. Conflict of interest can come into play when LSB Members, who must work collaboratively to insure KPFA's overall operations and programming are striving to meet the needs of diverse communities and fulfilling Pacifica's Bylaws, yet due to conflict of interest, would rather protect their own time-slots.

October 22, 2010

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Transcript of Doug Henwood & guests

Behind the News, 6/24/2010 & 6/24/2010 -- Host: Doug Henwood. Guests: Matthew Lasar, Max Fraser, Keith Gessen, and Anonymous Hedge Fund Man.

Aired on WBAI, 6/24/10, Thursday

Aired on KPFA, 6/26/10, Saturday

Also 6/24/10 podcast

[opening theme music and intro]

Doug Henwood (DH): "Hello and welcome to 'Behind The News.' This is, uh, Doug Henwood, and we're looking, as we do most weeks at this time, at the worlds of economics and politics. That's, uh, several segments up.

First of all, my required tutorial on the Pacifica Elections process, which will come, uh, in about a minute. Uh, and we will be joined by Matthew Lasar who has written a couple of books on the history of Pacifica, uh, to talk about, uh, these Elections, what they mean, where they came from.

And then, uh, at about a quarter past the hour we'll be joined in the studio by Max Fraser, who wrote a piece in The Nation magazine, uh, another post-mortem on Andy Stern, uh, the, now former President of the Service Employees International Union. Uh, we can talk, we'll talk about Stern's, uh, reign, his departure, and what that all means.

And then a little after the half hour mark, we'll be joined in the studio by Keith Gessen, who's the editor of, one of the Editors of n+1 magazine. Uh, and, a ss-, an anonymous hedge fund man, uh, who is the interview subject of a collection of interviews, uh, that, uh, uh, Gesson put together, uh, for Harper Perennial, n+1 Books, Diary of A Very Bad Year: Confessions of An Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager. So, we'll hear from Keith and Anonymous Hedge Fund Manager on the crisis. OK, now to the Pacifica Elections.

By writ of the Pacifica National Board, all programmers are required to devote 15 minutes of their shows to a tutorial, as they call it, on the network's Election Process. I doubt many listeners are any more interested in hearing this, than I am in producing it. But such are the regulations.

So, in a few words, the run down on the Election process itself and then we'll talk with Matthew Lasar, the historian of Pacifica and author of two books on that fraught and complex topic about the history and performance of this governance structure.

First, the Elections: this network and its five constituent stations are ultimately governed by elected Boards. The Local Boards [sic] are elected by a combination of staff and listener supporters. And the National Board consists of Representatives chosen by those Local Boards [sic].

If you would like to run for one of the Listener seats you have to have donated $25 or more to the station or done three or more hours of volunteer work in a year, between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. Note that the June 30 deadline is just around the corner, next Wednesday, in fact. And if you'd like to run, the Nomination forms are due by midnight on the same June 30th, which I assume means just before the 30th turns into the first and not the 29th into the 30th. For more on how to run, visit PacificaElections2010.org. That's PacificaElections2010.org.

When the nominations close, campaigning begins. And you will be treated to many repetitions of the Candidates' statements over these airwaves, featuring a lot of people who, uh, don't seem to know all that much about how to raise money or run a radio station. Ballots will be mailed on August 16th and are due back on September 30th. For more info, you can contact the WBAI Election Supervisor, Nicole Justice Hylton, at les_wbai [at] pacifica.org or the KPFA Local Elections Supervisor, Oriana Saportas at les_kpfa [at] pacifica.org. And that website, again, where you can read about everything I just told you and much, much more is PacificaElections2010.org. OK, let's now turn to Matthew Lasar.

Doug Henwood (DH): Matthew teaches U.S. History and Broadcasting Telecommunications Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He's the author of two books: Pacifica Radio: The Rise of An Alternative Network and Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio's Civil War. He also writes about FCC, uh, issues for arstechnica.com. Alright, welcome Matthew.

Matthew Lasar (ML): Hi Doug, um. Thanks for that introduction, not, not that you're bitter or anything like that. [Doug Henwood chuckles.]

DH: He-he-he. Well, what can I say? [gasps] Uh, I have to, uh, I, I do what I'm told. So, tell us where, uh, this governance structure came from.

ML: This governance structure came from two very nasty management takeovers. Um, the one which was the most spectacular, which was the, um, um, shutdown of KPFA, your sister station KPFA in Berkeley, um, um, in 1999, which resulted in, um, the City of Berkeley basically being engulfed in riots for weeks. And finally when all the smoke cleared, after that and, um, the, um, someone, somewhere shut down WBAI and even discussion on the National Board about selling the stations. Um, this lurched the, uh, Pacifica Radio organizations towards, uh, towards a, um, um, a call for an increasingly democratic internal structure, which, um, was created and, um, then finalized around 2003 and Elections began around 2004. And, um, we've been running those Elections ever since. Um, I supp-, supported those Elections in 2003 and 2004, and endorsed candidates, and even campaigned for them. This year [of 2010], I have decided to stop supporting these Elections at all and I'm not gonna vote in them. And I'm certainly not gonna endorse anybody, um, to, um, uh, uh, to run in what I experience is an increasingly, um, bedlam-like, um, um, event. These, by my estimate, these Elections have now cost Pacifica Radio, just the elections themselves, my rough estimate based on documents, about a million dollars since 2004. And that actually doesn't cover Board expenses. We have a much larger Board... [Doug Henwood interrupts]

DH: That, that's just the expense of running the elections?

ML: Yeah, that's just the expense of running the elections. I've, my, my estimates from, and this is from audits, you know, and audits you can see on the finance page. And I, it's actually an incomplete estimate. I think it's close to a million dollars. It might be more. Um, um, since 2004. That's actually not, actually, expenses of the Board, um, themselves. If you take the Board, if you, if you experience the Pacifica Board, not just as a National Board, but as the five, also the five Local Station Boards. You know? You're talking about an organization of about a hundred and twenty people. And I would guess that another million dollars, um, or something close to that, um, should be attached to that. And this is very significant, of course, when you consider the fact that, according to the audit that was, um, recently released. Um, Pacifica Radio, um, between 2008 and 2009 lost four million dollars in revenue and that was a third of the revenue it, it got in, um, 2000, the equivalent of a third of the revenue it got in 2009 and, um, lost 27% of its subscriber revenue. So, we're talking about a very, very expensive process. Um, expensive in terms of running the Elections and then expensive in terms of maintaining, um, these Boards. And for what?! I mean, you have to ask, for what? Is Pacifica's internal life, uh, smoother and...[DH interjects] less...

DH: Well, that's what I was gonna ask you.

ML: ...complicated? I mean, I'm asking, I'm asking a rhetorical question...[DH interjects]...

DH: Wha-, What is the value for money, as the Brits say. Uh, that, uh...[ML interjects]...the process produced...

ML: ...what is the value for money? Yeah, well, there is no value for money in any of this, uh, it, it really. Um, Pacifica's Board, you know, Pacifica's internal governance life is chaotic, nasty, brutish, um, nothing but mudslinging, dishonesty, lawsuits, um, and wasted money. And just an enormous amount of time spent on these, um, Boards, um, which have, which have rather scary meanings, um, um, on more than one, more than one occasion... [Trails off, DH interjects]...um...

DH: So, it's that way on, uh, your coast as well as ours?

ML: Yeah, uh, I mean it's certainly, it's been that way for all, for, ff-, for most of the Boards. Um, um, and the consequence of this, of course is that it's, very, very difficult to find people who, um, will, um, run on these, who, who will actually, um, competent people to run the stations. Um, all of the stations are constantly, um, facing interim staff. Um, last year there was a whole, you know, purge of General Managers, um, for a variety of reasons, real and imagined, um... [DH interjects]...

DH: We've just lost ours here.

ML: Yeah. So, and, uh, you know, I, I have this page. I have a smaller blog called Radio Survivor, um, in which I have an article. It's called "Pacifica Board Elections: Count Me Out," in which I explain why I'm counting myself out of these things. I mean, as a consequence of the fact that you can't find anybody who, I mean, I would never ask anybody, you know, to me. There are these jobs that are now available. I would never in any good conscience ask any of my friends or anybody I know to actually, um, apply for a job, um, running a Pacifica Radio station at this point.

DH: The, the Board, the whole governance structure makes it kind of impossible to run the station, doesn't it?

ML: I, I, I think so. It doesn't make it impossible to run the station. No, I don't, but it makes it very, very difficult. Um, and it's certainly, the, the extent that there's been any improvements in programming. And here at KPFA I think we've got some pretty good programming. We've also got you, I should, um, note. Um, uh, you know, as a conseq-, but, but that's, really, despite governance. I mean, I think that most people, uh, in management at KPFA and in programming at KPFA experience those improvements despite governance not because of governance.

ML: So, you're not getting any of the things that you're supposed to get, um, from these Elections. Um, I supported it for a long time, but it was an experiment, and I think that experiment has failed. Um, the reality is, is that Pacifica Radio's financially tanking so fast, it really is urgent that the organization find some people who can actually run this place. Um, um, um, in, in, in the, in the very near future. And it, I think it's really urgent that that happens. And I just don't see how that's going to happen. The, uh, these Elections. And so, I'll be frank with you, Doug, you know? I hope that, I hope that, that, the minimum number of people you need to certify these Elections, um, don't surface. I hope that the voters don't vote!

DH: What about the, uh, invoking a slate of candidates who promise to commit institutional suicide and change the governance structure?

ML: Well, um, um, I don't think that, that, I, I, I'm rather skeptical that you're gonna find anybody who's gonna say that. I mean you have this small, I think, you know, political class, within Pacifica that really just sees these Elections as this way that they get to have a say in, in what goes on at the station.

The other problem with these Elections is, is that the expectations of most of the candidates. I think you alluded to this in your, um, in your discussion. The expectation of most of the candidates seems to be that they will have involvement in programming. They don't really seem to see themselves as Board Members. You know what I mean? They don't see themselves as kind of doing the dull, but necessary things that such folk are supposed to do, which is fundraising, capital campaigning, um, and, you know, and behind the scenes problem-solving. They really see themselves as people who are gonna sit on these Boards and they're gonna tell the stations, um, what kind of things to put over the airwaves.

DH: Well, and listening to these Candidate statements over the years, that most people cite their political resumes and not, uh, their, uh, institutional experience, their, their experience running things or raising money.

ML: Yeah. And I think that that, that has really deprived the organisation of people on these Boards, who are really hel-, capable of helping Pacifica get through this really complicated time. I mean, in fairness to the, um, to the revenue, um, problems that I just described earlier, it's not like other radio stations aren't having tremendous problem. All radio stations, commercial, non-commercial, everybody's losing revenue these days because we just have this enormous, and we're still having this enormous recession.

But Pacifica is in particularly bad shape. And, um, and I really think that, um, this governance structure, um, is, uniquely unqualified to help it get out of this crisis.

DH: We've only got a couple of minutes left, so, uh, I wanted to ask you, uh, what is a better way of governing, uh, uh, an institution like this? Uh, what was Lew Hill's vision first of all?

ML: Uh, you know? [DH interjects]

DH: Uh, I mean, uh, what, what's a better way of doing this?

ML: I mean, um, you know, people who are listening to me and grinding their teeth, um, at, you know, in horror at what I'm saying right now. Hello, out there, to you. Um, um, uh, are gonna be grinding their teeth even more when I say that I think that we need to go back to something like what we had around 1998, which is that five, the, the, Local Boards [sic] should be, basically, self-appointed Boards. Um, and they should, um, uh, uh, you know, mostly recruited by the station staff and management. And they should, um, then appoint two delegates each to a National Board, or three delegates each to a National Board, which should basically run the organisation. Um, I'm, um, I'm, I'm, I'm, out, I'm, count me out when, in terms, it comes to Elections, um, um, finding good candidates for Pacifica radio. I just think that we need to go back to a system like about what we had around 1998, 1997 with one thing. I do think that there needs to be some kind of a recall system. So, that if you do get somebody like the kind of out-to-lunch Board Members that we really had around 1998 who really started talking about selling the stations, um, that you can recall them. But beyond that, I really think that we need to go back to some kind of a system, we can find people who are more professional and skilled then the people that we are getting now.

DH: Uh, I just, one, in, in thirty seconds or so. What was Lew Hill's vision of how these things should be run?

ML: Well, Lewis Hill, um, thought that basically, I mean Lewis Hill did not think that the listeners should, um, um, should vote in Elections. He said so on numerous occasions. Um, his early Board was basically just pacifists like him. Um, who, um, who, who basically, um, ran the station. Um, the early KPFA was a staff-run, um, Foundation, in which basically, everybody did the work, um, was on the, was basically part of the organisation, appointed the Board, which then appointed the Executive Committee. We don't really have time to talk about the, um, permutations of that over 50 years.

DH: Of course, if anyone wants to find out more they should pick up Matthew's books. Uh, alright, thank you for joining us. I've been speaking to Matthew Lasar who is a historian, uh, at Pacifica and, uh, teaches, at, uh, UC Santa Cruz. And that website again, PacificaElections2010.org. OK, let's take a musical break and we'll be back with Max Fraser.

[End of transcript]
transcripted by Felipe Messina
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