Pacifica and the Nation Magazine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Sep 6 09:35:47 MDT 2001


By Norman Solomon / Creators Syndicate

 In this era of conglomerate mergers and bottom-line obsessions, it's easy
to believe that the media industry requires yielding to expediency. Like
most people, media employees want job security. Few are inclined to risk
their livelihoods and careers for matters of principle.

For more than two years now, a real-life media drama involving the
noncommercial Pacifica radio network has put a national spotlight on
tensions between divergent options -- taking the path of least resistance
and taking an idealistic stand.

Under escalating pressure in early 1999, news reporters and public affairs
producers at Northern California's 50-year-old KPFA Radio -- the first
listener-supported station in the country -- refused to be censored or
intimidated by firings, threats and armed guards posted in the studios by
Pacifica management.

Pacifica executives figured that if they tightened the screws, KPFA's staff
would opt for personal self-interest rather than solidarity based on
idealism. And in the early summer of 1999 -- minutes after KPFA aired
excerpts from a press conference that indicated Pacifica was considering
sale of the nonprofit station -- management cut off a live news broadcast,
then locked out the staff and volunteers. Longtime KPFA journalists were
arrested in the station's newsroom.

It didn't work. Massive community support for KPFA, with several weeks of
protests including a march of more than 10,000 people past the station's
studios in Berkeley, forced Pacifica to allow the station to resume its
treasured broadcasting role.

Today, out of the five Pacifica-owned stations, KPFA is the only one where
a climate of fear doesn't reign. And not coincidentally, when this month
began, KPFA was the only one of those stations airing "Democracy Now!" --
the award-winning and pathbreaking daily public-affairs program that
Pacifica stopped broadcasting in mid-August, after many months of mounting
harassment aimed at host Amy Goodman.

As part of the continuing legacy of gutsy actions by KPFA supporters, the
station's listeners were able to hear "Democracy Now!" coverage from South
Africa of the recent World Conference Against Racism. Those broadcasts were
blocked at the other Pacifica stations -- in Los Angeles, Houston, New York
City and Washington, D.C. -- where reliance on threats now flourishes as a
standard instrument of management.

Founded as an alternative to mainstream media conformity a half-century
ago, Pacifica has descended into a censorious maelstrom during the past few
years. Ever since late December 2000, New York's WBAI Radio (where
"Democracy Now!" was long based) has been in the hands of an autocratic
regime, fixated on banishing reporters, producers and others with
progressive politics and the gumption to stand up for their beliefs.

After eight months of repressive actions at WBAI, an important national
magazine on the political left, The Nation, published a Sept. 3 editorial
that didn't come close to the denunciation of Pacifica management that
would seem to be in line with the magazine's pronouncements on journalistic
integrity elsewhere.

Along the way, in the editorial, The Nation made no mention of the fact
that its weekly national program "RadioNation" is co-produced by Pacifica's
Los Angeles outlet KPFK, where the station's management has been rigorous
about preventing criticism of Pacifica from getting onto its airwaves. A
forthright disclaimer, accompanying the editorial, would have let readers
know that The Nation might have something appreciable to gain by remaining
on the good side of often-retaliatory Pacifica management.

By not acknowledging that reality, the magazine withheld relevant
information in an unsigned editorial -- rendered as the voice of The
Nation. I asked editors about the magazine's working relationship with
Pacifica and why the editorial made no mention of that relationship. The
top editor responded by describing the magazine's ties with Pacifica's KPFK
but offered no explanation about the absence of a disclaimer in the editorial.

For years now, from coast to coast, some of the best journalists in
Pacifica's history have been subjected to a de facto blacklist. Pacifica
management and the administrators now running four of its stations have
been vengeful to an extreme in retaliating against those who voice strong

Ironically, The Nation has published many eloquent pieces over the years
decrying the pernicious blacklisting of the McCarthy Era. The magazine's
current editorial director may be the country's leading authority on the
subject. But The Nation's editorial did not challenge the ongoing pattern
of harassment, intimidation and firings by Pacifica managers.

In a corporate media tradition, while calculating how to deal with
personnel, the executives in charge of media outlets do not consider hunger
for social justice. Hopes and dreams do not show up on a spreadsheet. But
they can have tangible and profound effects on history in the making.

The past few years have seen a growing national movement to "save Pacifica"
( This movement represents grassroots media activism
-- researching, organizing and agitating to reclaim the largest progressive
radio network in the United States while prying it loose from the hands of
a mostly self-selected corporate-oriented national board.

Meanwhile, for now anyway, KPFA is notable as the only Pacifica station
free of the network's censorship mentality. Why do KPFA's broadcasters and
listeners get to enjoy such freedom every day? They struggled for it.

And the struggle continues.


Norman Solomon's weekly syndicated column -- archived at -- focuses on media and politics. His latest book
is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

Louis Proyect
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