By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Right now there are gifted haters on both sides of the KPFK dispute. Cooper calls the LAB "an unelected, unrepresentative lump group of eight people whose opinions are no more valid than the opinions of the first eight people you get out of the phone book." In turn, he and Schubb are held primarily responsible for KPFK's perceived ills and dismissed as agents of corporate capital. Cooper has received hundreds of e-mails insinuating that he survived the coup in Chile because he's a CIA agent who plotted the murder of his own boss, Salvador Allende. And during Schubb's tenure, his car sustained $3,500 worth of vandalism when protesters picketed the station. The vilification has been mirrored at Pacifica stations around the country in lockouts, death threats and letter campaigns on both sides. But a casual trawl of the Web sites shows that it's the activists who have the edge when it comes to crafting a hate campaign. While Schubb was running KPFK, the LAB and ousted programmers constantly disrupted the daily conduct of business at the station and held meetings in which Schubb and his staff were shouted down and harassed.
If there's one thing activists know how to do, it's organize. During the February fund drive, for the first time KPFK's sister stations banded together for a day of fund-raising to save the station's powerful but ailing transmitter -- and this without the efforts of Cooper, the station's most talented fund-raiser. But try to get Starr or the LAB to articulate a philosophy of radio and a vision of future programming at KPFK, and you get a lot of vague predictions of greater community involvement, increased sensitivity to people of color, and apprenticeship programs.
It seems the antagonism and mistrust between activists and intellectuals that has always bedeviled the left never dies. On almost any issue, Cooper, Schubb and their volunteer allies at the station -- among them Weissman, Wiener and Barbara Osborn, who hosts the weekly show Deadline L.A.-- can think and talk the LAB people into a cocked hat. They have a grasp of how radio is made and used. They're willing to entertain new ideas and debate those who disagree with them, on and off the air. They're witty, irreverent, and brimming with ideas and a sense of fun -- something that's always been in short supply on the Marxist left. Schubb recalls a meeting about cultural programming early on in his tenure in which he noted that KPFK had given birth to Fireside Theater, Harry Shearer and a whole new world of political satire. One protester sprang to her feet and yelled that there were horrible things going on in the world and the last thing that was needed was more jokes. The activists don't want for sincerity or commitment, but as a group they come off as anti-intellectual, dull, humorless and hidebound. The new Pacifica board held its meetings in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and for sheer lumbering, procedural tedium, the live broadcasts out-snored even KCRW's Santa Monica City Council meetings.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I WENT HIKING IN Anza-Borrego with a group of middle-aged leftist women like myself -- or so I fondly imagined. When we stopped to rest, I produced a copy of The New Republic, and was immediately hauled over the coals by a woman who professed herself shocked that I would lower myself to read such a right-wing rag. I told her I didn't see how I could expand my critical thinking if I only read stuff I already agreed with. Off she flounced in a huff, leaving me to imagine her reaction had I brought along the National Review.
To me her response was dispiritingly emblematic of the defensive maneuvers of a far left that has been spinning its wheels on vulgar-Marxist doctrine of the oppressors and the oppressed since the '60s. Cocooned in monastic disengagement, its adherents are hanging on for dear life to a set of rigid and often obsolete principles so as to avoid contamination by the evil corporate empire. Some have embraced a crude identity politics that ends up not only condescending to the very people they champion, but perpetuating a culture of the victim that includes their own privileged selves. And while the intellectual left engages with the establishment, not to say the right -- Robert McNamara and Pat Robertson have both been guests on Cooper's show, and both gave great radio -- this group is interested in talking only to itself as it relives, over and over, the unexamined life.
Marginalization has the virtue of keeping the marginalized honest, in a limited way. But it can also cramp the mind and narrow the spirit, creating a siege mentality that's defensive, sanctimonious, mistrustful of change and suspicious of political maturity. If there's one Pacifica radio show that exemplifies the best and worst of the American far left, it's Amy Goodman's popular Democracy Now, which is broadcast nationally out of WBAI in New York. Goodman is unflagging in her pursuit of corporate and political malfeasance at home and abroad. She is incorruptible, unimpressed and unintimidated by power or authority, which is why she's one of the few interviewers who've ever been able to fluster Bill Clinton. And she's excellent at providing a voice for the wretched of the Earth, from Ohio to Afghanistan. But one doesn't turn to her show for open debate about leftist thought. On almost any issue, she will trot out verbatim speeches of a small circle of like-minded friends -- Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Michael Parenti, Cornel West. During KPFK's fund drive, Goodman rebroadcast a tortuous speech by West in which he contrived to read into the bombing of the World Trade Center a parallel with the oppression of blacks in America. Admittedly, this is more dotty than harmful. More seriously, when Goodman rightly scolds the commercial media for their distortions, she's not above replacing those distortions with others of her own. As the conflict in the Middle East escalates, she routinely reports Palestinian casualties -- which the mainstream media have also been doing for some time -- while ostentatiously omitting those on the Israeli side.
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