By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
REALITY: Pacifica has precisely the same policy -- though much more liberally enforced -- as any other broadcaster or publisher. Staffers are not allowed to use their access to airwaves to take internal, factional disputes to the audience. Do newspapers, the Weeklyincluded, let writers use the white space around the edge of the page to pen invitations to readers to come down to the offices and protest against the latest management memo?
MYTH: But KPFA's Dennis Bernstein was yanked from the air and arrested for trespassing because he broadcast something management didn't like.
REALITY: After Bernstein aired a program on July 13 that management alleged had broadcast internal disputes, he was asked to come to the manager's office so he could be placed on "administrative leave." Instead of using KPFA's ample union protections to protest what he thought an unjust attack, Bernstein went running through the station claiming he was in physical peril and lodged himself under an equipment console in the news studio. The Evening News was on the air, but it was being interrupted by a jostling of the tape machine under which Bernstein was nesting. The news anchor then switched his own news broadcast off the air, and Bernstein was given a mike. A startled Berkeley audience then heard Bernstein literally scream that he feared he was going to be hurt by station rent-a-cops.
KPFA's acting manager then did what any responsible person would do in his place: He shut down Bernstein's histrionics by shutting down the station signal. Alarmed listeners, responding to Bernstein's shrieks, quickly flooded to the station, and a staff member allowed about 50 of them inside to occupy the first floor. When they wouldn't leave, police were called to make trespassing arrests. Some four hours later, Bernstein -- unmolested -- was still lurking in the news studio. At any time he could have freely left. Instead, he waited until he had to be arrested. None of this is very pretty. Perhaps the acting manager could have solved this without police. But to believe that Bernstein was anything more than a reckless provocateur is a delusion. The rest is history.
HERE AT KPFK FOR THE PAST SEVERAL MONDAYS, A few dozen protestors have milled in front of the North Hollywood studios carrying signs and wearing gags. (Ironically, these same free-speech advocates let me know they were "outraged" that I had given airtime to a scholar who criticized Fidel Castro's 40-year, one-man rule of Cuba.) The dissenters are free to tell themselves the fairy tale that the "mainstreaming" of KPFK is underway.
Sure -- in the last five years a handful of progressive programs have been canceled. I would hope there would be a constant shuffle and renewal of programming. It's also true that twice as many hours have been put on the air with programming more challenging, alternative and radical than the shows taken off. And despite small protests, the response from the audience has made these past two years at KPFK among the best in its history. Where four years ago an average day of fund-raising netted $14,000, today that figure has climbed to $40,000. Cumulative listenership is up as much as 75 percent since 1994. And no, Virginia, the on-air success derives not from "pandering to politically moderate Westside yuppies." Our most popular fund-raisers continue to be the most radical voices: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and our recent -- and politically unpopular -- teach-in against the war in Kosovo.
Let those who wish to bring down this network think twice. Be advised: The audience is listening.
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