Saturday, September 29, 2012

A story for our times...

WBAI is desperately in need of basic funds. So desperate is its management that it looks the other way when staffers and volunteers perform fraud in order to get listeners to cough up more money. One has to wonder why—that being the case—management either ignores or otherwise resists legitimate ideas for fund-raising.

Well, it turns out that WBAI is not alone when it comes to such inexplicable negligence of duty on the managerial level. Here's a horror story written by Kevin White of KPFT, Pacifica's Houston outlet. It has an all too familiar ring to it. I found this story on another Pacifica board, Pacifica Airwaves, and thought it appropriate to distribute in places to which true Pacifica supporters find their way. Click on the letter to enlarge it.

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 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Knight's nightmare?

Given his obsession with bringing President Obama down (sometimes by making things up, nearly always by exaggerating) I wondered how Robert Knight was going to react to the Democratic National Convention. It was being covered by Pacifica, so it was natural to conclude that the "chief national correspondent"/"network anchor" (and whatever else he calls himself) would feature prominently in the coverage. The question on my mind was: will we hear him gasp for breath as one pro-Obama speech after another pours forth from the podium?

Here's what I heard on the air last night. No mention of Knight or WBAI in the intro. His anti-Obama rant fell on deaf ears the night before, so might they have decided to exclude WBAI altogether this time around? They should have, but didn't; engineer (and he is so much more) Max Schmid eventually popped in what sounded like a pre-recorded, scripted screed by Knight, who—again—was neither present in mind nor body, so what we heard was an off-the-rack commentary on protests in the street and surveillance above.

Knight likened the Charlotte DNC to the one that took place in Chicago in 1968, a shameful event in America's political history that was dominated by Mayor Richard Daley and his police troopers. Knight's analogy was absurd, but fully in keeping with his practice of coloring news events with broad strokes of his own biases. It was a misleading, irrelevant prepared statement that I'm sure listeners dismissed as readily as did Knights own on-the-spot colleagues.

What rant will Knight run tonight, or Thursday, when the man he hates so much takes the spotlight and produces the inevitable deafening positive response? I am not saying that Mr. Obama is without fault—far from it—but neither is he Ares' gift to man.

If Mr. Hatzis harbors any doubt about Robert Knight's suitability to be on WBAI's air for five and a half hours a week (salaried, at that), he should pay close attention to how he wastes the station's time and money to spew out his predictable myopic personal agenda. There is no place for personal vengeance in news coverage. This is not what a Pacifica station should be funding and airing—it is a sure-fire audience repellant.

As for my general impression of last night's Pacifica convention coverage, I did not find it as curiously refreshing as it had been the night before, but neither was it a disaster. I realize that not every speech can be aired from beginning to end if there is to be commentary, but I think some of the speakers (including Tammy Duckworth, Deval Patrick, and Lily Ledbetter) ought not to have been interrupted with chatter.

P.S. Someone should tell moderator Margaret Prescott that it was Mussolini, not Hitler, who made the trains "run on time."

DNC Knight III - Sept. 5, 2012

Knight was not even mention on last night's Pacifica DNC coverage. which was a wise but nevertheless odd decision. Of course, it was Wednesday night, so his by now worn out earthwatc[h/i] show was scheduled for midnight, but would that not have been a golden opportunity for this self-proclaimed "senior Pacifica correspondent," "network anchor," and "brilliant" mind to deliver an analysis of the evening's event?

The truth is that Knight is all smoke and mirrors, a fraud who wants us to think that he thinks even deeper, but actually is more interested in pursuing a vengeful personal agenda at the expense (financially and otherwise) of WBAI's reputation and listener-supporters.

Putting aside the fact that Knight is incapable of expressing an objective opinion, one has to wonder why he again chose the easy way out and filled his time slot with a 90-minute rerun of the coverage from which he had been excluded. We can speculate on the reason for that. It may have been a reaction to the biased prerecorded rant he submitted on the second night of Pacifica's DNC coverage, but that's just a guess on my part. In fact, it would not surprise me if Knight's typically opportunistic and largely extraneous venting is the reason why WBAI was only given a single peripheral mention by the Pacifica crew. What does that tell us?

We will never know for certain why Knight chose to click on a "play" arrow rather than air his views of the speeches and general tone of the third DNC evening, but it is probably something that anyone concerned with WBAI's image ought to be thankful for. Running Bill Clinton's 48-minute speech would have made some sense, but it probably brought Knight too much discomfort.

Another waste of money and air time by the pompous faker.

In closing, was I pleased with what I heard last night? Mostly, but not entirely. I will still give Mr. Obama my vote, albeit with serious reservation, but I will never view with anything but disgust the outrageous, rigged procedure that popped two irrelevant items into the platform in order to placate GOP lemmings and garner votes from two segments of the population. I believe that "God", a figment of man's imagination, is a fantasy that has no place in politics, and that no government has any business approving or disapproving of another's capitol.