Edward Herman responds to the Nation Magazine attack on Pacifica

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 16 07:05:00 MDT 2002

Dear All,

This is Ed Herman's reponse to a recent Nation article by Susan Douglas.
The original article can be read here:


Lyn Gerry



Edward S. Herman

The Nation magazine has had a serious conflict of interest in reporting on
the Pacifica struggle. During the reign of the old Pacifica management, the
magazine had its own program on Pacifica's Los Angeles station KPFK, with
the program run by Contributing Editor Marc Cooper, a close ally of station
manager Mark Schubb and a defender of the now ousted regime. This conflict
of interest resulted in a series of Nation articles on the Pacifica
struggle that was badly compromised, and although there were exceptions
(several items by Alexander Cockburn, and an article by Robert McChesney),
the magazine was not supportive of the campaign that has now successfully
displaced the old order.

Given that Cooper and Schubb were casualties of the management turnover, it
is not surprising that The Nation would review this successful resistance
campaign in a negative light, and Susan Douglas has done that for the
magazine ("Is There A Future For Pacifica?," April 15). This can be read
from the title, which implies doubts about Pacifica's future, but even more
dramatically in the article's framing of the recent developments. In a
positive framing of the struggle, the success of the "save Pacifica"
campaign, and the replacement of the prior management with people clearly
dedicated to a more democratic organization and progressive values, would
have been the main focus and would be seen as a highly desirable outcome.

No such frame appears in Douglas's article. She portrays the struggle as an
unjustifed clash between two sides that had similar politics, refused to
bend, and carried out a policy of destruction rather than let the
opposition control: "Better to destroy it than to let those who are too
pragmatic or, on the other hand, too purist, control it."  In the middle,
not surprisingly, are the good guys, Marc Cooper, Saul Landau, and Mark
Schubb, "who hated the board...but disagreed with the dissidents over
tactics and over programming policy." So the firing of these three
stalwarts rates high in Douglas's critique of the new board and its early
performance. They are the heroes and tragic victims in the Douglas framing
of the story.

This perspective involves serious misrepresentations. The idea that the
policy of struggle against the management was unreasonable because the
policy differences were small is false; the implication that the resistance
did not strive for a long time and through many routes to induce the old
guard management to compromise is also wrong; and the attempt to make
Cooper, Landau and Schubb "haters" of the old management and
middle-of-the-road victims is laughable.

Her treatment of Cooper, Schubb and Landau in the middle, as men who
allegedly "hated the board," involves a serious rewriting of history. In
the wake of the ouster of the former management, Landau has called that
management "hapless and witless" and says that it "reeked of incompetence
at best." But back in February 2000 Landau circulated a letter calling on
dissidents to "stop bashing the management," at which time he didn't find
it "hapless and witless" or "incompetent," only suffering "lapses in
judgment" and making "mistakes." Most important, while calling on the
dissidents to lay off, Landau suggested nothing that the management had to
do of a constructive nature, and from that time on, throughout the life of
the old management, he was entirely silent on management deficiencies or
needed managerial changes. Cooper and Schubb were open defenders of the
status quo, harsh critics of the dissidents, and enforcers of the gag-rule
system. In effect, they were all part of the management team.

On policy differences, it is interesting that Douglas never discusses the
composition of the old regime's board, its gradual stuffing of the board
with corporate representatives, including one who specialized in the sale
of media properties, another with a specialty in union-busting; nor does
she discuss the close relations of the old management to the top officials
of NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or former chair Mary
Berry's close relations with the Democratic Party. Douglas also fails to
mention the fact that the sale of the recalcitrant stations to commercial
interests was a subject for discussion among the old board members.

But, according to Douglas, "these people [on both sides of the
struggle]--at least as I understand it--are united in their opposition to
the Bush administration's war on terrorism and on civil liberties, share a
powerful critique of U.S. imperialism, are avowed antiracists, deplore the
right's attacks on feminism and women's reproductive rights, and are bound
together by deep concerns over the threat to democracy and public discourse
posed by media conglomerates." That Douglas knows John Murdock's, Bertram
Lee's, Ken Ford's, and the rest of the old board's views on these subjects
I find doubtful, and their willingness to consider selling off the
dissident stations to commercial interests suggests a limited concern over
the menace of media conglomerates.

Notice also the hedged character of Douglas's list--how about an agreement
on Bill Clinton's support of "our kind of guy" Suharto; his "sanctions of
mass destruction" against Iraq; and his consistent support of Israel's
encroachments and repression in the occupied territories?  Mark Schubb was
present at a meeting in Washington, D.C., called to straighten out Amy
Goodman, at which, among other matters, her excessive preoccupation with
what "our kind of guy" was doing in East Timor was mentioned as one of her
deficiencies. There is no report that Schubb objected to this criticism.
Schubb also complained about Amy Goodman's focus on harsh news like police
brutality, which Schubb thought didn't go well with a comfortable eating of
breakfast. This was consistent with the "easy listening" approach adopted
by Pacifica under the tutelage of mainstream media consultants, seeking the
NPRization of the network.

Marc Cooper strenously criticizes Pinochet, but he supported both the
Kosovo war and the attack on Afghanistan. Cooper was angry with William
Blum for citing the "totally unverified and unscientific" body count by
Mark Herold of over 3,500 Afghan civilian casualties of U.S. bombing raids.
It is doubtful that Cooper made a serious study of Herold's methodology,
and he expresses no anger whatsoever that once again the Pentagon has made
no count of its own and in fact actively prevented verification on the
scene. Cooper cites a figure of 500 for civilian casualties in Serbia,
which is traceable to Kenneth Roth and Human Rights Watch; a figure at the
low end of such estimates and made by a body increasingly funded by NATO
governments and George Soros and with multiple U.S. official board
affiliations (Roth's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled
"Indict Saddam" [March 22, 2002] is an obvious and cynical bid for a closer
alliance with the Bush human rights administration.)

Amy Goodman opposed the Kosovo war, opposed the unilateral assault on
Afghanistan, and took Herold's findings very seriously. She does not rely
on Kenneth Roth and HRW, or the Pentagon, for verification. She is not
"united" with Marc Cooper in opposition to Bush's war on terrorism, nor
does she share with him "a powerful critique of U.S. imperialism"--she
believes imperialism was operative in the U.S. Balkans wars and in the
attack on Afghanistan, not just in the U.S. support of Pinochet.

These major differences, and the leaning of the management toward softer
news and less hostility to Clinton, suggest that the struggle was over
substantive issues of news, not, in the Cooper-friendly version that
Douglas propounds, an issue of "whether the stations should be platforms,
primarily, for progressive journalism, or...for progressive activism." News
about police brutality at breakfast, and giving close attention to Mark
Herold's data on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, is not "activism," it
is a different slant on what kind of news should be carried on a supposedly
progressive network.

Douglas's view that all factions were strongly favorable to civil liberties
runs into the problem that the old guard, and Cooper's close ally Mark
Schubb, engaged in a multi-year system of gagging and censorship of
dissent, with hundreds of regular employees and volunteers fired in the
process. It was a useful mechanism for getting rid of many good people who
objected strongly to both censorship and the course being pursued by the
old guard management. It is a bit surprising that Douglas never discusses
this long-standing censorship system, which not only flies in the face of
values she and The Nation prize, but which was also one of the real bones
of contention in the struggle--a repressive system that ended with the
changeover in management.

Susan Douglas also ignores the fact, disclosed in a recent Pacifica board
report, that "the former administration apparently committed hundreds of
thousands of listener dollars on an undercover intelligence operation
targeting Pacifica staffers and listeners. Secret dossiers were apparently
created on programmers, like Amy Goodman, on board members like Leslie
Cagan, and on listener activists. Undercover agents were reportedly
dispatched to spy on Local Advisory Board meetings and on community events.
Internet news groups and web sites were closely monitored and liaisons were
established with local police forces." Some commitment to civil liberties!

Douglas also slides over other serious issues. Early in her piece she says
that "If you, poor writer, suggested that those in Pacifica who were
pushing for programming that would attract a wider audience might have a
point, you were a crypto-fascist tool of corporate capitalism..." This of
course leaves uncriticized the management claim that that was all they were
trying to do, and it smears those who have another view as mere
name-callers. The other view might be: yes, let's try to attract a wider
audience, but without sacrificing our commitment to giving a strong voice
to dissidents who, by definition, will constrain market reach. Amy
Goodman's program attracted a wide audience without compromising substance,
but the old management was not happy with Amy--a suggestive point that
Douglas never addresses. Goodman was admonished by the old management for
being too hard on Clinton, and as noted her preoccupation with East Timor
was also objectionable.

Really progressive news can sell, but you have to want it in the first
place; and the audiences apparently do want it, as fund- raising since the
management turnover has been very successful-- record-breaking at
Pacifica's Los Angeles, Houston, and Berkeley stations.

Douglas chides the critics of the old management who claimed that they
"were 'hijackers' determined to steer Pacifica away from its true mission."
But she never seriously discusses that "mission," or whether the former
management was steering it away (or was merely trying to "attract a wider
audience"), or the issue of "hijacking"--that is who controls the system,
how, and with what justification. The mission was to allow local
participation, diversity, and space for dissent. A market share orientation
would threaten this, and could also be used as a cover for a hidden
political agenda. Douglas fails to discuss this seriously, as a theoretical
conflict, and as one being realized by virtue of the linkages and actions
of the old management, as the participants in the "save Pacifica" campaign
believed. She ignores the recent history of the Pacifica stations in
Washington and Houston, which were fully reoriented by the old management.
Besides engaging in numerous acts of gagging and censorship, in both there
was a major purge of leftists and a depoliticization of station
programming-- the Houston station notorious for having become a country
music station.

Douglas also fails to discuss the issue of legitimate control. The board
majority completely insulated itself from any local representation by a
1999 change in by-laws that eliminated representation of local advisory
boards--it became entirely self- perpetuating, moved its offices from the
Bay Area to Washington D.C., and further stacked its membership with
businessmen. It cultivated links to NPR and the CPB, and arguably had
"hijacked" control to push its own agenda, irrespective of "mission" or the
desires of employees or traditional audiences. This effort met with a
concerted response and long and expensive fight. Susan Douglas doesn't
mention that the takeover of KPFA in 1999 brought 10,000 people into the
streets in Berkeley, and the strength of the resistance, now successful,
rested on the fact that many thousands were willing to spend a great deal
of effort and money to "save" their stations from a clear mainstreaming

This was a democratic struggle, carried out by a very large number of
people against unfavorable odds. The dissidents tried over quite a few
years to get the old management to democratize by agreement, and only
carried out a series of legal actions, and a boycott campaign, after
continuous frustration in efforts at a negotiated settlement. Susan Douglas
ignores these failed efforts to settle peaceably, but she also suggests
that this was an unworthy fight because the issues were not
serious--"better to destroy it than to let those who are too
pragmatic...control it." But the issues WERE serious, and it wasn't
"pragmatism" that was at issue--it was media democracy versus mainstreaming
and destroying a Pacifica with a local and dissident mission that was at
stake. It is sad that Susan Douglas and The Nation have not been able to
grasp this fact.

Douglas notes that Pacifica has a multi-million dollar debt, but she fails
to allocate the responsibility for this to the extravagance and unwarranted
control preservation efforts of the old management (indirectly helped
along, regrettably, by Cooper, Landau, and The Nation). She fails to point
out that in the wake of the change in adminstration, network-wide financial
controls and reporting are being put in place, financial control is being
returned to the local stations, and there is every indication that the
network is experiencing more competent as well as more open management
everywhere. She points out that the new Pacifica management will have
problems in maintaining audience and carrying out its own mission without
regular and solid news programming and self-discipline and intelligence in
programming and personnel policies. This is true, but she fails to note
that the self- organized Free Speech News Radio News, made up of a number
of stringers who left PNN in objection to Pacifica's news censorship, now
run on a number of Pacifica stations and is far superior in original
reportage, particularly on international affairs, to the now defunct but
very expensive PNN.

Democracy has its costs and problems, but we need to welcome its return to
Pacifica and pitch in and do our best to make it work well. We need it
desperately to provide an alternative voice that will contest the offerings
of the mainstream media.

Louis Proyect
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