Unmasking KPFA “Protectors” attempts to Shock Doctrine Pacifica Foundation’s assets into receivership and gain full control over the last remaining independent terrestrial radio network in the US.
I saw Akio Tanaka’s article on Indybay, entitled, “Is something rotten in the State of Pacifica elections?”(1) and felt the need to respond to the vast amount of outright mistruths, and omissions that have been plaguing discussion of the Bylaws referendum, among others.
I am a runner up from the last election for the KPFA Listener Station Board (LSB) and due to the resignation of a member, I am to be on the local board shortly. I ran on the Rescue Pacifica (2) slate whose members are a minority voice on the LSB and have been active in attempting to bring KPFA back to its radical roots and fight for radio democracy, transparent governance, and keeping the Pacifica Network alive and intact. Many of the members of this slate and its supporters come from a broad range of political and community involvement: long time anti-war, labor, anti-racist, anti-police brutality, progressive faith-based and community activists who are also anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal. Some Rescue Pacifica members and supporters are part of a five-station Pacifica network group called Pacifica Fight Back (3) which has similar political anti-imperialist and community-control/governance values and is comprised of LSB members from the five Pacifica stations.
Most RP members don’t subscribe to the two-party political system of the US and would like to see KPFA (especially, though not exclusively, the KPFA News Dept) return to providing in-depth analysis that is not heard in the mainstream corporate-controlled media and to go back to a more activist journalism model: in the field, at demonstrations and events, engaging listeners. Pacifica has more than just an educational mission. It is supposed to be independent. There is really very little of “speaking truth to power” or “journalist independence” going on in the present News department at KPFA. In fact, there has been much regurgitation of the mainstream news, or NPR.
While it is hard to know where to start, I will try to provide the readers and listeners of KPFA with information omitted by Tanaka as well as by other KPFA “Protectors”. The Protectors faction have been the voting majority on the LSB for quite some time, yet their practices in running the LSB has been anti-democratic, to say the least, and some of its officers have used the platform of the LSB to destabilize the finances and governance of the Pacifica Foundation by bogging it down with legal suits with unsubstantiated allegations. Members of the LSB have litigated to drive Pacifica into bankruptcy court and put all of its assets into receivership. My intention is not to cast a shadow on anyone’s character, but simply to state the facts.
I want to make it clear that my statements here are my own opinion and I alone assume responsibility for them, though I assume the many of my Rescue Pacifica slate members agree with most of what I am saying.
First, to address the points outlined in Tanaka’s article but with context and much more transparency than what he provided:
20 years ago, the Pacifica bylaws were revised so that members (listeners and staff) could democratically choose board members and authorize member-initiated reforms.
Recently, there were proposals to change these bylaws which, if they had passed, would have reduced member representation and listener veto power at the national level and would have permitted the perpetuation of a self-designating board. After the first referendum failed in 2020, the “New Day” slate (which many of the Protectors align with) decided to try again in June of 2021 and once again LOST. The staff (both paid and unpaid staff) voted 58% No and 44% Yes. Of the 24% of Listeners who voted, 56% voted to change the bylaws.
Tanaka’s claim that the New Day proposal won is a mistruth. The proponents of the proposed change agreed before the second referendum that they would abide by the same rules that existed in the first referendum: that there are two separate classes of voters: listeners and staff, and that as stated in the bylaws and California code, where there is a difference in how a change affects a class of voters, the votes will be tallied separately and the change must win both classes of members to take effect.
What did the New Day-Protectors do? Take Pacifica to court, making Pacifica spend more money on legal fees. What they wanted the court to decide is that the only votes that would count is the listener vote, not the staff vote, claiming that the changes would not affect the workers differently from the listener members. The changes would have subdivided the staff vote into paid staff and unpaid staff categories, virtually giving veto power to a few dozen paid staff and making future listener referendums require a 3/4th vote of approval, a threshold that their 56% listener vote did not achieve.
In other words, the votes of the majority of workers (who are unpaid staff) and are responsible for the content and programming across the Pacifica network, don’t count. Can a group that purports to believe in democracy (as Tanaka claims) really legitimately claim that only a “majority” vote of listeners should be considered valid and not the votes of the workers who do the work? As a union activist, I find it hard to believe that the KPFA staff union, CWA local 9415, would go along with that, but as of yet it has stayed silent on the matter. (It should be noted that the union only represents the paid staff at KPFA. The unpaid staff, those who carry out 70% of the programming are currently unrepresented and can face reprisal and loss of their programming slot with little-to-no grievance procedure or recourse. Already programs have been unilaterally canceled with no explanation or formal process such as KPFA’s only labor program, WorkWeek Radio, which aired ½ hour per week. Unpaid staff serve at the pleasure of the General Manager at KPFA, much like a top-down corporate media model.
The New Day and Protector attempts to disenfranchise unpaid staff voters is just an extension of the disregard shown for the workers at WBAI in New York City, when the same actors carried out a coup in October of 2019 and physically shut down the station, pulled out the computers, destroyed the broadcasting equipment, and fired all of the workers by replacing the WBAI airwaves with a repeater signal from California. This decision was carried out by an executive director John Vernille, without any authorization from, or notice to, the member-elected boards. When the NY Supreme Court finally ordered the reopening of WBAI, the law firm, Foster and Garvey, that was defending the illegal actions in court, ended up being paid $80,000 from KPFA listener donations.(4) This $80,000 expenditure was mischaracterized as a “loan” by the KPFA Business Manager.
It has been a common practice of the Protector-controlled KPFA local board to deny that a shut-down ever took place at WBAI, to not evaluate the KPFA general manager, and to permit the KPFA Business Manager to present financial reports at the last minute, sending them–if at all—the night before a board meeting; while chastising board members who ask for financial reports to be sent more in advance.)
The issue of so-called “election interference” is another red herring. In fact, there were 8 local board candidates from KPFK-Los Angeles who were under scrutiny for violating the election rules. They had used the Pacifica member list inappropriately,(5) seeking funds for their lawsuit to defend the already twice voted down by-laws changes. The National Election Supervisor (NES) applied a remedy-based approach. She asked the candidates who violated the rule to send out a retraction of their original mailing within 10 days. They did not do so. In the end, four were disqualified. The fact that the disqualified four were ultimately disqualified after the elections is because all efforts were made to give them time to remedy their violation, which they failed to do.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the Protectors were bombarding the listener members and staff with emails that warned of the impending doom of Pacifica Foundation, scaring many listeners and KPFA staff into adopting positions that falsely portrayed KPFA as the “responsible” station versus the other stations who were not “paying their fair share”. This scaremongering was presented without any context as to the enormous overhead costs that had been forced upon other stations such as WBAI: a monthly $27,000 rental bill and a monthly $50,000 antenna payment. The fact that WBAI was shut down in October of 2019 by these same actors, which reduced their listenership substantially, is also never mentioned. For all of their rhetoric about financial responsibility, the Protector-controlled KPFA LSB and its GM have failed to organize or convene a Community Advisory Board during these last 2 years, making it impossible for any of the Pacifica stations, including KPFA, to qualify for funds from the Corporation from Public Broadcasting. All the other stations’ LSBs have Finance committees and meet monthly. The Protector-controlled LSB has and does not.
It is telling that Tanaka singles out Media Alliance’s, Tracy Rosenberg in his article. Tracy has been a financial watchdog who has pointed out discrepancies in financial reporting via the Pacifica in Exile (6) website, and who a few years ago sounded the alarm when KPFA had failed to pay property taxes for the previous 8 years, which were due every February 15th. When Rosenberg pointed out that the KPFA building would end up going up for auction for unpaid taxes, members of the Protector LSB denied the problem. Then the Business Manager, Maria Negrete and past treasurer Sharon Adams finally admitted that they had been aware of the problem all along, but that it was not their fault, but was due to a Foundation name change which made it impossible for them to pay it. None of this had been previously reported to the LSB for years, nor was any attempt made to fix it. It took actions on a variety of fronts: Rescue Pacifica held a very public protest in front of KPFA demanding they pay the property taxes, news articles and interventions at the national board level to ensure that the overdue property tax bill for the KPFA building would be resolved to prevent its auction. Press Statements made to the Daily California (7) by LSB Secretary Carole Wolfley and Chair Christina Huggins, assigning blame to Pacifica’s alleged “disfunctional governance structure” and “lack of experience” while opportunistically plugging in the news of the by-laws referendum elections suggest an almost Machiavellian hope that an auction might actually have furthered the “Protector” cause.
Anyone who has read Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine” can see that this impending doom rhetoric coupled with actual financial destabilization (court cost after court cost), defunding attempts (soliciting redirection of donations) and financial negligence (property taxes) is designed for one thing: to gain control of the last remaining independent non-corporate terrestrial radio network in the country via a combination of death by a thousand cuts and a misinformation campaign to foment listener donor distrust in the Pacifica Foundation.
There is an elephant in the room: the KPFA LSB has had the presence of several Protector actors who have been deliberately attempting to place Pacifica’s assets into receivership via lawsuit. They even set up a shell entity called “Pacifica Safety Net” to be in the position of receiving assets in the event they are successful at pushing Pacifica into bankruptcy. This violates the board member duty of loyalty towards the Pacifica Foundation, the network to which KPFA belongs. To make matters worse, one such and very important actor and plaintiff in these four unsuccessful lawsuit attempts, Donald Goldmacher,(8) was selected as one of three KPFA national directors for 2022.
It is common knowledge that some of those behind the Protector (New Day) power grab are members of the Wellstone Democratic Club, a fact that Akio himself denounced back in 2009 (9) in a Daily Planet article. This is the same democratic party that passed the 1996 Telecommunications Act which allowed the concentration of ownership of media into conglomerates (10) and has decimated community radio.
In fact, they showed their hand in a diatribe by Sherry Gendelman and Zach Kaldeveer, which in typical Democratic party fashion, red-baited and green-baited those opposing the bylaws changes and used barely veiled accusations of Goebbels-like behavior against their opponents. One of RP-affiliated local board members, James McFadden, counteracted the diatribe with a Counterpunch article of his own,(11) for which the Protector-controlled KPFA local board chose to censure him.
Who would have thought that a Listener Station Board of KPFA of all places would reek of McCarthyism? In a May 2021 Bayview article,(12) Anthony Fest, a previous LSB member described attempts by both LSB Secretary Carole Wolfley and Donald Goldmacher to oust two LSB members (McFadden and Pepin) for belonging to the County Council of the Green Party, implying some sort of Green conspiracy and citing some non-existent and non-applicable “conflict of interest”.
It is very possible that I will also be censured for writing this article. I will consider it an honor to be part of the same club as James McFadden.
During this last KPFA local board election, there were many irregularities which Rescue Pacifica delineated in a letter: the debates started after the online voting had already started; the first debate was only put on a YouTube channel and only after a protest was the second debate even put on the KPFA airwaves. To call these actual debates is a stretch. The 1-minute candidate-produced carts were unilaterally cut down to 30 seconds without notice. The RP slate was at a great disadvantage, without access to internal email lists which apparently the Protectors had, i.e. staff email lists, as well as having their opponents send out campaign emails past the black-out period.
One might ask: with all of these problems, why did I choose to run as an LSB member? Because what goes on the airwaves matters.
Everyone talks about how the mainstream media played a role in the run up to the war in Iraq. Everyone butts their heads against a wall, decrying how mainstream media gave a platform to Trump and his neo-fascist policies. But who is around to watch what happens during Democratic administrations? Can we honestly say that KPFA’s year-long regurgitating of NPR’s Russia-gate broadcasts did not contribute to the overall acceptance by progressives of the current “The Russians are coming!” (to Ukraine) hype which has the potential for actual armed conflict?
Also, I would like to give a heads up about my upcoming position in the KPFA LSB. Though I will be civil, I won’t play nice. I won’t abide by gag rules that leave listeners in the dark (except for the legally mandated staff evaluation ones due to labor laws). This means that I will not participate in covering up malfeasance or bylaws violations under draconian, self-serving and autocratic rules. Even though Rescue Pacifica members are still a minority on the KPFA LSB, I’m sure we will continue to push for transparency, radio democracy and to honor the memories of those who stood for independent journalism and integrity throughout Pacifica’s history (13).
By Elizabeth Milos