fund drive before it even starts
Dear Pacifica Supporter —
I don’t know whether to cry or throw up, given how desperately WBAI needs the money that this fund drive is supposed to bring in.
Here’s the story in a nutshell:
Gary Null will not be raising money for WBAI’s upcoming fund drive, which is scheduled to start tomorrow (Tuesday, May 2).
Since Gary traditionally raises up to 50% (sometimes as much as 75%) of WBAI’s entire fund drive revenue – and has been doing so for the last 41 years – his refusal to participate in the upcoming fund drive is no small matter. Without Gary, the drive will fail, catastrophically, by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Which will push WBAI even closer to being shut down, dismantled, and sold – as many members of Pacifica’s national board are now considering
Why is Gary refusing to raise money for WBAI? Here is a quote (from memory, though with fair accuracy) from Gary’s email, sent last night to WBAI Station Manager Berthold Reimers:
“….my hope is that the station will pay the outstanding bills to deliver the many premiums that are owed to listeners from past fund drives. I will be happy to raise new funds for the station, but only if the past due premium bills are paid in full by 7pm on Monday [May1]. Please understand that I cannot in good conscience ask listeners to pay for new premiums that they may never receive, especially when so many have not even received their premiums from earlier drives ... Let us work together to start a new direction in fund-raising and regaining the confidence of the listeners.”
Is Gary being unreasonable by asking WBAI to honor its prior commitments to its listeners before he will consent to raise more money for the station? You be the judge – read on.
For years, WBAI’s general manager, Berthold Reimers, has been cheating listeners who order premiums during the fund drives. Those who do get their premiums invariably get them months (sometimes years) too late. And many never get their premiums at all. Instead, Reimers disguises the figures, or simply lies about them outright—as he has lied to me, to members of the Local Station Board, and to Gary Null.
For Gary, this has been personally stressful, because listeners have been flooding his office with angry email and phone calls. His audience blames him for non-delivery of premiums, because the premiums were offered during his program, even though Gary had no control over Berthold’s deliberate policy of not paying for and fulfilling premiums.
I said “deliberate policy.” Do I really believe that? Yes, I do. Reimers seems to have made a cynical calculation (an accurate one, I am ashamed to report) that even though listeners might email or phone the station to complain about not receiving their premiums, most will eventually give up in despair—because nobody answers their emails, much less picks up the station phone. There is simply no way for frustrated listeners to hold Reimers accountable. So Reimers can take the money saved by cheating the listeners, and spend it for more important things. (Like paying his salary, for instance, which is never skipped, and never late.)
It is true that WBAI has always operated on a tight budget. But did it really not have enough money to deliver premiums that its donors had already paid for? Let’s insert some real figures into that question.
At various times, the number of premiums that Reimers did not fulfill was as high as 5,000. This represented approximately $750,000 that was, in effect, swindled from our listeners. Eventually, after pressure from LSB members, and from Gary himself -- who sometimes paid for those premiums out of his own pocket, even though they had already been paid for by the listeners -- some but not all of those backlogged premiums were eventually fulfilled.
I don’t know the total number of unfulfilled premiums that remain, since Reimers now disguises the figures that were once public. But I can tell you about one instance—a current instance—of unfulfilled premiums for which I do have figures. It is the instance that finally pushed Gary over the line, and persuaded him to stop fund-raising for WBAI unless prior listener commitments were honored.
I refer to the last fund drive, during which Gary offered premiums that raised $163,000 for the station. How much of that $163,000 was supposed to be reserved for purchase and delivery of the premiums to the listeners who ordered them? Only $13,516 – less than a tenth of the amount raised. But Berthold chose not to acquire the premiums, and instead spent the money elsewhere. But he continued to lie about it, promising to deliver the premiums he no longer had the money to acquire. So of course the premiums were never sent, and angry listeners continue to email and phone Gary to berate him for non-delivery of their premiums.
Nevertheless, however stressful and disruptive of Gary and his office those angry emails and phone calls may be, Gary can deal with them. What he cannot deal with is abetting a scheme that cheats his listeners. Fraudulent behavior of that nature dishonors both the station and the listeners, whose financial support keeps the station alive (and pays Reimers’s salary). Which is why Gary will continue to refuse participation in the fund drive until the station honors its prior commitments to its audience.
As a side note, I will add that members of the Local Station Board and the Pacifica National Board, as well as Pacifica’s interim Executive Director (many of whom I consider good people and number among my friends) are aware, and have long been aware, of Berthold’s unethical and illegal* behavior for some time. I know this because I have personally written and spoken to them about it more times than I care to remember. But they have not replaced Berthold, nor even stopped him. So I must assume that they, unlike Gary, are comfortable with ripping off their listeners.
Which makes me wonder whether any other word but “hypocrisy” can describe a network that enables and abets the same kinds of corruption and dishonesty it so proudly excoriates on its own airwaves.
What saddens me is that the station's staff and programmers will be working their hearts out during the fund drive to raise enough money to keep the station on the air—only to be undercut and betrayed by their own station manager. Berthold Reimers's refusal to play fair with our listeners has caused Gary Null to withdraw from the upcoming fund drive. This will deprive the station of hundreds of thousands of dollars—and perhaps, soon, even of its existence.
That is, unless Pacifica's interim Executive Director steps in quickly to prevent the approaching disaster.
*Reimer’s behavior is not only unethical; it is illegal. He is in violation of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that make the station liable for multi-million-dollar fines and penalties. He is also in violation of federal laws against criminal fraud that could send him to prison, along with any management and/or staff personnel who knew of his behavior but neither stopped it nor reported it to the authorities. —Steve Brown
Jim Dingeman's response:
"Okay, I have heard from both sides their opinion on all this for years. I just want o figure out what the actual situation is. I hear what Steve says and then I hear what Berthold says in response. What the hell is going on?
Mr. Brown's illuminating reply:
Since you ask: As a sample of what is going on, I can tell you right now that there are 680 premiums that have ALREADY BEEN PAID FOR that have been sitting in the middle of Gary Null’s offices for weeks waiting for Berthold to pick them up and send them to donors. Why doesn’t Berthold even do that little thing that costs him nothing? Who the f**k knows what goes through Berthold’s head at any one time. Meanwhile, there are 680 listeners who paid maybe a couple of hundred dollars each for premiums that are sitting on Gary Null’s floor because Berthold is too lazy or stupid or arrogant or clueless to get them and ship them out. Which means that there are 680 more listeners who will wind up hating WBAI and will likely never listen – or pledge – again. What a great way to build a station. No wonder we have no audience and no money.
As for Berthold’s “rebuttal,” it is gobbledegook. I cannot make heads or tails of it. — Steve