Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Buddy Can You Spare a Dime?

Rather than bury it at the bottom, where guest commentaries usually go, I decided to give some prominence to the latest thoughts expressed by a man we know only as "The Pacifica Maven." This time, he addresses the ineptitude of a rudderless WBAI and how its nominal "management" (Reimers is still hibernating) cannot get priorities straight. These people don't seem to learn anything from past mistakes—in fact, they don't seem to regard them as such, so they perpetuate them. I cringed when I heard the first call for listeners to become a "BAI Buddy" and was not at all surprised when few, if any, could spare a dime. The attempt failed, so mismanagement—in its usual fog—now feels encouraged to try this dumb idea again. The lure is a suggestion that a successful buddy system will obviate the need for what they call the customary 2-day fund drive. What about the month-long scams, one might ask. Here's what our friend, The Pacifica Maven has to say about that:

The following was posted on the BlueBoard, and elsewhere, by Mitchel Cohen, upon the death of Alexander Cockburn, whom he had the priviledge to know. It may tell you something about WBAI's poor batting average when it comes to appointing people to managerial positions. Don't miss the comment from TPM, which follows and please let us hear what you think needs to be done to revive the station—the clock is ticking

Eight years ago I'd proposed to Bernard White, former Program Director at WBAI, that we invite Alexander Cockburn -- probably the greatest and most fascinating left columnist of our time -- to broadcast a regular column on WBAI.

Bernard said, "interesting idea", and proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it. I nevertheless followed up by contacting Alex, whom I knew from many adventures and considered a friend. (He considered me, as he wrote in a column a decade ago, one of his "favorite anarchists" -- a mis-label, true, but one I nevertheless refused to wash off.) Alex said he'd be delighted to broadcast on WBAI, and asked that I let him know definitively, as he was about to make commitments on other projects. I reported this to Bernard White, but .... nothing.

I'd left out the story of how, in the the mid-1980s, I had invited Alex Cockburn and Utrice Leid -- at that time an editor of the Brooklyn-based Sun -- to speak at Stony Brook University on Long Island, as part of the Red Balloon Collective's "Revolution in the Revolution" speakers' series. No one in the Collective had a car, and so I was to meet our illustrious speakers at the railroad station, which at that time resembled something out of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." I then expected to proceed on foot across the remains of a once-upon-a-time glorious forest (a decade earlier many students "expanded our consciousness" there. We were saddened when the university bulldozed the forest to construct the headquarters of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation on that site), the 2/3rds of a mile across the athletic fields, and finally through the maze of buildings to the lecture hall where they'd be speaking.

Of course, nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, let alone one so fraught with potential glitches. Our Collective tried to build into everything we did a sort of "planning for chaos", which almost always wreaked havoc. In this instance, both Alex and Utrice arrived on the same train, thankfully, but they didn't know each other and they disembarked at opposite ends.

And, did I mention that it was a blizzard?!

The fields were a gooey mess, and the university had recently built fences near the path (which was, at any rate, covered over by snow and mud). We decided to climb over the fences to avoid a longer (but saner) route. Thigh-deep in snow, Alex and I managed to hop right over, but Utrice got sort of stuck. We helped her over, at last.

Utrice braved it in fine spirit, and the three of us fell into an interesting discussion for the next 30 minutes on "identity politics" vs. "class politics" in the midst of all the mud and blizzard, the wet winds blasting in our face. We finally arrived an hour later than planned, exhausted and soaked, to a packed auditorium and very appreciative audience.

When Tony Bates became interim Program Director at WBAI three years ago, I again broached the subject of airing commentaries following (or as part of) the evening news. I met with Tony and gave him a list of 5 or 6 people who would make outstanding columnists for WBAI. Alexander Cockburn was at the top of the list.

Tony had some very good skills with regards to pitching on the air, but knowing anything about the Left, its radical history and its great intellectual tradition was not among them. And worse, he wouldn't listen to those of us who did know, and who volunteered to contact folks like Alex Cockburn or Glen Ford on behalf of the station.

Fifteen years earlier, Laura Flanders occasionally interviewed her uncle (yes, Alex Cockburn was Laura's proud uncle!) on her show. But WBAI -- out of sheer stupidity -- would never feature Alexander Cockburn or provide regular access for this most stunningly wide-ranging and incisive radical voice. Cockburn would regularly eviscerate Empire in his weekly "Beat the Devil" column in the Nation and delighted in slicing up the "sacred cows" on the Left as well, and his writings had influenced two generations of activists -- but management could not make room for his rapier wit and scathing commentary on WBAI's renowned and finely-tuned humor-filled schedule. (ahem!)

Now Alex is gone. He died two months ago, though the fruits of his life's work continue in the pages of CounterPunch, a new book about to go to press, and with the young brood of radical journalists he nurtured.

Gone, too, is the opportunity for him to make "improvements" in his asinine denunciations of so-called "conspiracy theorists" regarding global climate change, the Kennedy Assassination, and 9/11 Truth. Nevertheless, unlike most editorialists, he welcomed comment and debate. I'd been debating him for years on those issues, and felt I was making headway.

I attended a memorial service for Alexander Cockburn yesterday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Many Left luminaries spoke and shared stories and pictures of Alex, including (in person) Tariq Ali, Najla Said (daughter of Edward Said), Laura Flanders, JoAnn Wypijewski, Alex's famous brothers (Andrew and Patrick) and daughter Daisy, and Noam Chomsky. Ralph Nader appeared via video'd message. Among the crowd, I recognized four people from the Brooklyn Greens, even more from the Action Greens listserve I moderate, where we occasionally post and discuss Alex Cockburn's essays, and many from the Nation -- but no one -- not a single individual -- from WBAI's staff, local board or management.

Such is the pity! WBAI is the worse for wear because of its series -- since the death of Samori Marksman in 1999 -- of (at best) do-nothing and ignorant Program Directors and management. I can only hope that WBAI's new Program Director will break from that awful tradition and add, as regular columnists, today's sharpest radical critics and ecologists.

Alex Cockburn may no longer physically inhabit this mortal coil, but his writings live on. Even those columns of thirty years ago -- with proper artistic enunciation (and denunciation), as evidenced at his Memorial by the enjoyable and witty recitations of his finest essays -- would still, today, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and provide the kind of panache, political scorecard and literary sweep so needed in our media, including, especially, WBAI.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed and I'm holding my breath ... but, perhaps like Alex Cockburn, I'm already turning blue.

Mitchel Cohen
Outgoing Chair, WBAI Local Station Board 

1 comment:

  1. Response to Mitchel Cohen's letter of 23 September 2012:


    Thanks for this missive.

    I listen to Utrice regularly on PRN. She's one of my favorite producers. As to her stint as WBAI's GM, as you know the best ball players often make the worst managers.

    I was stunned and hurt by Alex's death. I've been an avid reader of his columns since his days at The Village Voice. I watched in dismay as he was driven out of his job by some of the same people that still plague us today.

    CounterPunch will never be the same.

    I would have loved to have been with you when you went to pick up these two wonderful journalists and commentators. I too was frustrated by Alex's rejection of global warming, and his acceptance of the ridiculous official stories of the JFK assassination and the destruction of the twin towers. But he was as good a writer as we had.

    I've given up on WBAI. It's just a jobs program for connected black mediocrities like Kathy Davis, Robert Knight, Esther Arma, the flatulent Playthell Benjamin,and the rest of its second rate shysters, liars, hypocrites, racists, and ignoramuses.

    I'm not surprised by the ineptitude you speak of regarding Bates, whose true calling is being a used car salesman, or Bernard White, who is little more than a thug and a gangster.

    Don't give yourself an ulcer or a heart attack trying to work with this flotsam.

    Good things are happening at PRN: I have hooked my computer up to my Bose wave radio and listen to PRN almost all the time. I listen to Democracy Now directly without having to soil my ears by going through WBAI and hearing the deranged Ife Dancy.

    PRN's programming is similar to what WBAI's was like in better times.

    Were you at the Film forum Wednesday? It was great! Waiting to get in, everyone was talking with one another, maintaining two or three conversations at the same time. Gemutlichkeit was overflowing.

    We always seem to be just missing one another. Maybe we'll connect at Bob Fass's 80th birthday party.

    Again, thanks for this great e-mail.
    Stay in touch.