Push has finally come to shove at Pacifica. Managers of the listener-sponsored
radio network are trying to force the host of their most influential
program out of her job. According to a memo released to the public
by a member of the Pacifica Board of Directors, the network has
threatened to fire Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman if she
refuses to comply with a new set of rules that would make it all
but impossible for her to do her work.
Among the new requirements: Goodman must submit a weekly program
list, informing management of guests and content in advance. Democracy
Now! must stop using volunteers (what Goodman calls the "lifeblood
of Pacifica"), and all workers must be formally hired. And the hugely
popular Goodman may accept no public-speaking engagement without
prior approval from Pacifica. To quote from the leaked memo: "It
is also important to know whom you are speaking to."
The people Democracy Now! speaks to on a daily basis are
up in arms. As soon as activists obtained the leaked Pacifica memo
(in fact, a letter from Goodman to the board, seeking redress for
what she describes as months of "harassment, gender harassment and
censorship"), an e-mail campaign launched full-speed into cyberspace.
The media watch group FAIR and San Francisco-based Media Alliance
issued an alert, encouraging concerned listeners to write to the
members of Pacifica's national board. Within a week, listeners held
coordinated demonstrations outside every Pacifica station: WBAI
in New York, WPFW in Washington, KPFT in Houston, KPFA in Berkeley
and KPFK in Los Angeles.
Pacifica board member Leslie Cagan, a longtime community organizer,
says she received 850 e-mails in just three days. Cagan sees the
moves against Goodman and Democracy Now! as just the latest
in a series of bad decisions by Pacifica management, justified as
an effort to broaden Pacifica's listener base by executive director
Bessie Wash and Mary Frances Berry, the former chairwoman of the
Pacifica board and Clinton administration human rights commissioner.
At board meetings, Cagan says, "I consider it a badge of honor the
number of times I've been ruled out of order for asking, 'Why?'
The guiding principle of the current leadership, Cagan says, seems
to be "control for the sake of control." As for the unrest among
affiliates, which has built up over years of conflict (see "Pacifica
Imperiled," September 5, 1999), Cagan says that notwithstanding
the rhetoric about building audiences, the attitude of Pacifica's
national management is "we don't care what affiliates think."
"I don't think the public has a say," says John Murdock, a corporate
lawyer who also sits on the Pacifica board. He considers this an
"employment issue" between Goodman and her supervisors. (Pacifica
said similar things when they fired KPFA's station manager in March
1999, a move that led to a staff lockout.)
As for the organizing by listeners, Murdock says, "I don't have
a lot of respect for that." He alleges the mobilization is an effort
by Goodman to gain leverage and "frankly I have a problem with it."
He would. Murdock's D.C. law firm, Epstein Becker and Green, consults
on the company side in labor disputes: It even advertises on its
Web site that one of its specialties is helping in "maintaining
a union-free workplace."
While the impact of the new rules has yet to be felt, Murdock contends
there is at present no plan to remove Goodman. "But if Amy can't
make it work," he says, "and the show suffers a loss of support
or interest, we may need to do something."
By any mainstream media standard, Democracy Now! is a celebrated
news breaker. Its live, up-to-the-minute style is what even the
corporate news shows strive for. It's the radical content that sets
it apart. The show has won national awards, including the prestigious
Polk Award, for its intrepid coverage--from Nigeria to East Timor.
This fall Goodman's exclusive interview with Peruvian prisoner Lori
Berenson was picked up by competing networks. "Democracy Now!
is the most popular, successful, influential and bar-none best program
Pacifica has," writes editor Mike Albert on the Z Magazine
Web site. "The intent of Pacifica's actions can only be to accelerate
the ongoing process of replacing Pacifica's progressive audience
with a more upscale and mainstream one."
Democracy Now! is one of only two nationally syndicated
Pacifica programs. The other is the Pacifica Network News, which
itself is seeking a new host. (Veteran anchor Verna Avery Brown
was let go in a dispute last year.) The job announcement from Steve
Yasko, Pacifica's national program director (and Goodman's supervisor)
who formerly worked in the marketing division at National Public
Radio, reads in part: "If you cause driveway effect, we'll make
you a star!" Credentials for the position include: "Natural curiosity
a must, public radio experience a plus, but commercial radio personalities
are encouraged to apply."
If this is any indication of what's wanted at Pacifica, Goodman
is clearly not it. Thankfully oblivious to commercial broadcasting
jargon like "driveway effect," what Goodman excels at is breaking
the silences created by establishment media. The show's tag line
says it all: "Democracy Now! The Exception to the Rulers."
Listeners who like it that way better get their network back.