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Letters

HOW GROOVY THE GROVE?

Re: “Meet Me at Third and Fairfax” [cover package, March 22–28]. Excellent coverage on the opening of The Grove and how it threatens the Farmers Market and the surrounding neighborhood. I love the historical details you included. I love looking at pictures of old-time L.A. I hope that you can rally the citizens who think this monster will destroy something unique and great like the Farmers Market to fight against the blanding of life. Quixotic? Maybe. Inevitable? I don’t think so. Is it important enough to raise a voice? I think so. Again, great story, great work.

—David Gregg Los Angeles

 

Why all the negativity regarding The Grove? What is wrong with progress? And why is there no mention of gratitude for the Farmers Market having been spared? Few Angelenos grew up in L.A., so the Farmers Market means nothing to most of us. Especially since it’s an architectural eyesore. I don’t mean to be insulting, just wanted to point out that your views are surely those of the minority.

—Robin Mizrahi Los Angeles

 

Where was the L.A. Weekly four or five years ago, when construction of The Grove was still subject to various city approvals? Surely your staff was aware of it. Opposing this iniquity after the fact just shows how shallow you are.

—Morty Sullivan Los Angeles

MORE FAMILY DYSFUNCTION

The KPFK that Ella Taylor describes in “Family Feud” [March 22–28] looks nothing like the radio station where I’ve been working for the last month. Far from being 1960s-era Marxist-Leninist ultraleftists — and, even worse, ineffective — we are smart people of all ages and backgrounds who realize the value of the Pacifica Radio Network, the only progressive radio network in the United States. We are creative, energetic and politically savvy, and we’re trying to figure out how to develop political radio programming that challenges listeners rather than putting them to sleep.

While Ella Taylor wants to pretend that alternative radio can only choose from two models — the one in which white progressives interpret reality for the listeners, or the one in which programming is “Balkanized” or “ghettoized” by people of color — we know that our options are far broader than that. We’re setting out to create dynamic, diverse political and cultural programming, and a democratic organization to boot.

Readers of the L.A. Weekly should tune in to 90.7 FM — the island of free speech in a sea of commercial radio — and check it out for themselves. Or, better yet, come volunteer at the station and become part of an exciting experiment in community radio.

—Andrea Buffa KPFK interim staff member Los Angeles

 

I suspect that Ella Taylor, as a movie reviewer, normally sits in a dark, climate-controlled room losing herself in manufactured drivel. No wonder she’s “bored to death” with KPFK, the only voice of relevance, reason, and political and social analysis on the airwaves, and no wonder she can neither grasp nor elucidate the political situation at the station.

—Whitney Maxson Los Angeles

 

I wonder how Ella Taylor can say with a straight face that Amy Goodman “whines” like a “career victim” when the Weekly has had poor, put-upon Marc Cooper whining like a career victim since he resigned, thankfully, from KPFK.

—Deborah Speer Fresno

In one cautioning gasp, Ms. Taylor warns of a looming cloud of irrelevant, chaotic programming; in the next breath she scoffs that there has been little change at all. What is really her fear? Might it be that she fears success at a rejuvenated KPFK supported by those same “radicals” some of her friends have so bitterly and unadvisedly fought? Is she simply being a partisan soldier taking potshots at the enemy? Either way, I reject the notion that trusting community radio to the community is anachronistic and naive.

Ms. Taylor still pleads for centrally managed and unilaterally controlled programming, like that cherished by her friends at KPFK whose own personal privilege was thereby protected, so long as they helped to keep the lid on the troubles brewing beneath the surface. Silence may be golden for those who fear the noise, but it’s not for radio, especially Pacifica Radio.

—Dave Fertig Member, Interim Pacifica National Board of Directors and KPFK Local Advisory Board Los Angeles

 

Thank you for Ella Taylor’s insightful article on the coup at KPFK. As a used-to-be faithful listener of KPFK, I became confused, distressed and finally disbelieving â as the victors chanted their slogans and pleaded for money after firing and expelling people I have come to trust after hearing their honest and open confrontation of the issues of our times. Their absence leaves a vacuum. Marc Cooper made me angry at times. At times I strongly disagreed with his point of view, but I have never found any reason to question his integrity. He did his homework and brought to the airwaves an intelligent (tilted to the left, but balanced), stimulating daily program. If the current leaders of KPFK are really concerned about their audience, they will respond to our pleas and invite Marc Cooper to return to his regular daily program. Thank you, Ella Taylor and your editors, for your excellent article!

—Steve Gilliland Lakewood

 

I want to express my deepest gratitude to Ella Taylor for her evenhanded, fair and well-reasoned piece on the latest turmoil at KPFK and Pacifica. Being a longtime listener and supporter of KPFK, I found it difficult over the past year to form an intelligent opinion with the shrill voices from either faction ringing in my ears. With Ella Taylor’s careful treatment, the shameful way in which Mark Schubb and Marc Cooper “were disappeared” from the station now becomes understandable, as well as many other dark corners of the current power struggle. And it becomes clear that my suspicions as to the new face of Pacifica are confirmed. I’m aware that you’re probably being deluged with letters espousing the opposite opinion, but I also understand better the reason for that, as well. It truly is a sad moment in a long, difficult history, and I hope you continue to devote space to it.

—Bob White Los Angeles

 

As a former program director of KPFK, I was particularly grateful to read Ella Taylor’s incisive diagnosis of the Pacifica mess. Her emphasis on the disastrous shift within the left from class analysis to identity politics is most welcome, and could be applied to other educational institutions and other publicly funded organizations, including the media. Moreover, her article has captured both the tragic and comedic qualities of a once-credible institution in our community, including the Humpty-Dumpty nature of its fall.

—Clare Spark Pacific Palisades

 

I dreaded one of my editors asking me to do a KPFK piece precisely for the reasons cited by Taylor in her KPFK piece. For any reporter it’s like poking a stick in a hornets’ nest and getting stung in a thousand places even before you sit down at the computer to write. Taylor should be congratulated for a fair, balanced, elegant and vivid piece of reporting. Full marks to her.

—Clancy Sigal Los Angeles

CORRECTION

In last week’s feature Playtime, Shrek was identified as a product of the Pixar animation studio. The movie was, in fact, made by DreamWorks.

WEB EXCLUSIVE LETTERS:

I just wanted to let you know how much I liked Ella Taylor's piece on KPFK. The left doesn't have very much going for it at the moment, but writing like this keeps up the morale and gives hope. I look forward to reading more.

James Scott Los Angeles

How can the left "speak truth to power" when they're willing to rationalize any warlord, repressor and murderer as long as he's an enemy of the U,S.; when any and every social problem is blamed on unseen oppressors while the people involved (be they homeless or poor) are presumed to lack even the dignity of self-responsibility; when facts and results matter little compared to the purity of one's ideology. As Ella Taylor rightly points out, the state of affairs at KPFK would be sad if it mattered much.

Doug Weihnacht San Francisco

Ella Taylor's depressingly on-target account of KPFK's continuing crisis sent me hurtling back to the early 1970s, when I worked there for several years as a teenaged volunteer. At that time, KCRW's current general manager Ruth Seymour (née Hirschmann) was program director at KPFK, and current KCRW development consultant Will Lewis was KPFK’s general manager. What impressed me most about the place was the incredibly diverse, creative and genuinely progressive (as opposed to marginalized loony left) programming roster. And yes, despite the chronically crappy equipment, those volunteer programmers somehow managed to deliver an on-air product that consistently sounded professional yet remained unerringly true to the Pacifica ideal.

What happened? Personally, I've always traced the beginning of the end to the station's absolutely insane decision in 1974 to withhold from FBI investigators a cassette-tape "communiqué" delivered unsolicited to the station by surviving members of the SLA (Sample: "Racists cannot believe that middle- and upper-middle-class whites and the daughter of a superfascist ruling class family would ever have reason to follow the lead of a beautiful black genius revolutionary warrior and give their lives for the people.") Rather than recognizing the tape for what it was potential evidence from a whacked-out clutch of criminal lunatics still at large KPFKinstead cast itself in the leading role of a kind of counterculture Washington Post in a fevered Watergate-inspired fantasy, valiantly protecting its confidential sources against the depradations of "pig" government as personified by the scandal-ridden and rapidly unraveling Nixon administration.

Many months and thousands of dollars in legal bills later (not to mention a stint in the slammer for Will Lewis), the station was forced to relinquish the tape after it lost its battle at the U.S. Supreme Court, a decision that also lost considerable ground for mainstream news organizations with legitimate confidentiality concerns. Lewis soon departed, and Hirschman left not long after for cross-town KCRW. Back in the wreckage of KPFK, despite the well-intentioned efforts of successive managers, the programming became increasingly erratic, irrelevant and ultimately self-destructive.

In its heyday, KPFK was a proud heir to a daring and noble broadcasting legacy, and a fertile training ground in its own right for many talented and creative people who went on to successful mainstream broadcasting careers. In my own case, I will always cherish the memories of a brave little station that once afforded this starry-eyed kid his first delirious kiss in a lifelong love affair with non-commercial FM radio.

Joel Bellman Los Angeles

I can't believe the coup to takeover KPFK actually worked. Interim station manager Steven Starr boycotted the station when things weren't going his way, and after he took over, had the nerve to fire Marc Cooper for non-support. Jon Beaupre left his Golden Mike Award winning Morning Show after his director was fired. Jon's replacement admits that her first day on the show was her first day in radio. Wow! I guess professionalism is now a "corporate evil."

Thank you for telling it like it is. The propaganda on the air is unbelievable. The new sound (and fury) makes the left sound every bit as incompetent and lacking in credibility as the right makes us out to be. Do they actually think we can't hear between the lines?

Jim Brillon Long Beach

Ella Taylor's simplistic drive-by on the KPFK story pits the "witty," "intellectual" and responsible-enough-to-work-within-the system in-crowd of white KPFK programmers against what she portrays as a set of witless face it, plain dumb blacks and radicals poised to undo KPFK's recent fascination with middle-of-the-road populism and apologetics for the Democratic Party. She portrays as endangered the likes of Marc Cooper, Barbara Osbourne and John Wiener, KPFK programmers Taylor upholds as examples of "the intellectual left [that] engages with the establishment," including the Republican right. In their defense, she attacks those who still hold mere decades after the Third Reich and after the end of formal apartheid in the U.S. the "vulgar" belief that there are both oppressors and oppressed. Like the racist victimizers she mimics, she whines against a so-called "cult of the victim."

Notions like justice are quite out of vogue among the chic set of right-leaning postmodern nihilists who pass as public intellectuals today. Apparently what's in fashion for Taylor, at least is to uphold programmers at KPFK who support Dubya's little wars, who "wittily" promote U.S. foreign policy initiatives from Serbia to China to Palestine, and who can't seem to get enough of interviewing their sources from the CIA.

One might not bother to argue with Taylor if we were talking about mainstream media outlets, but Pacifica and KPFK were founded by people of principle, pacifists and radicals, many of whom were imprisoned for their beliefs. They set out to found a radio network committed to exploring the causes of war and racism in order to end them, not to promote them, not to serve as yet another outlet for the official story. That's a job for Ted Koppel. If Weiner, Cooper, Osbourne and Ian Masters want to do that job, they should do it. Elsewhere.

Rafael Renteria Former program director, Houston Pacifica station KPFT Los Angeles

Ms. Taylor engages in the same kind of simplistic thinking commits she accuses the new people at KPFK of engaging in. She sets up the false dichotomy of the good journalists who are responsible, sophisticated and fun-loving against the strident, humorless unprofessional leftists. She then proceeds to prove her point by exaggerating the weaknesses of one side and overlooking the defects of the other. For example, she says that Amy Goodman only puts on Noam Chomsky, etc., and ignores that Goodman recently had on James Wolsley, former head of the CIA, and that she frequently has on representatives of the government and corporations. If I were to cite Barbara Osborn's recent programs about the dog show and Winnie the Pooh as representative of the good journalists' programming, I would be as guilty as Ms. Taylor of exaggerating the importance of some of the new programming on the air. There are many viewpoints about this situation, and I encourage the LA Weekly to report on them all, and I encourage its readers to tune in to 90.7 FM and decide on the station's relevance for themselves.

Kathy McGuire Huntington Beach

The recent story on KPFK by Ella Taylor was deeply disappointing. For someone who purports to value high journalistic ideals, her story was amazingly full of errors and omissions. Ella Taylor says she went into the story with a "neutral" perspective, but that is untenable given the manner of her research and what she chose to emphasize. The snide tone of the article is obvious from her faint praise of interim manager Steve Starr as being affable with the qualifier that he was once an agent, so he’s had years of practice "dishing out PR." She doesn’t mention after quoting former general manager Mark Schubb extensively that he was an actor and was well known in the station for his talents at spinning stories to his advantage. The hatred she and Marc Cooper have for Ron Wilkins is mystifying to me. I used to enjoy his program Continent to Continent and was listening the night he was unceremoniously removed in the middle of his program. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I never heard him make an anti-Semitic statement, and it was shocking to hear that Marc Cooper called him a racist and an anti-Semite on his program the next day. Not to mention Cooper’s chastising of Jim Lafferty and Starr on the air, which was incredibly unprofessional. Did Ella Taylor talk to Mr. Wilkins? Has she had enough interactions with him to know he is a black separatist? He served on the national board of Pacifica, which to me indicates that he wishes to have a dialogue with a broader community. What are her conclusions about him based on? We never hear in her article.

Her characterization of the two sides as "’60s activists who have become intellectuals" as opposed to "’60s activists, mostly hard-line Marxists or self-appointed guardians of minority identity" is meaningless because it is so simplistic and just plain wrong. I mean, where did Fidel Rodriguez of the Schubb-banned program Seditious Beats fall? He is in his 20s. I’m sure many of the programmers do not consider themselves member of either group, even if they may have allegiance to some people who are. Also, there were many "’60s activists who have become intellectuals" who were opposed to the previous management of KPFK.

The station has undergone extensive management and personnel changes, and Ella Taylor is surprised that there are empty time slots? I would be surprised if there weren’t. She also never discusses the dozens of programmers and volunteers that Mr. Schubb got rid of and that left empty time slots during his tenure (FolkScenes, to list one of many examples). There were canned programs during these times as well, until new programs could be brought in place, yet she is impatient now. She was critical that the LAB didn’t have specific suggestions about programming, yet she says that they are controlling the programming. What she didn’t listen to and I’ve heard this discussed by members of the LAB many times is that the first priority of the station manager, and LAB in particular, is to put in place a fair process for evaluating and deciding what programs get put on and stay on the air, not actually choosing the programs per se.

Pacifica is usually at its strongest when the society is in turmoil. Taylor mentions the big audience during Watergate, but it was also big during the Gulf War and the post September 11 world also is providing a boost because of the mediocrity of the mainstream media. She then trots out that tired urban legend of a KPFK activist willing his time slot to another programmer, perpetuating misinformation from John Dinges. Matthew Lasar thinks that this story is based on an ironic comment made by Harlan Ellison about inheriting the science-fiction radio show Hour 25 from Mike Hodel after the latter passed away. Maybe science-fiction programmers are activists to Ella Taylor, or she just doesn’t understand irony. She also compliments Mr. Schubb for getting rid of sectarian programming, which is blatantly false. How about IMRU the gay-and-lesbian program Feminist Magazine, or the disability-awareness show Access Unlimited? Do these not appeal to specific groups? I can only conclude that Ella Taylor favors programs about some groups but not others. Her use of the word "ghettoized" is illuminating here.

Pacifica certainly has a much smaller audience than NPR, but I think she boasts too much about NPR’s success. NPR has become more and more dependent on contributions from the government, corporations and private foundations. The money treadmill is intoxicating but potentially dangerous in economic downturns or in periods of sharp political focus. I would love to see studies on the audience growth of NPR since its inception. She also doesn’t mention that NPR was modeled after Pacifica. More people read Newseek and Time magazine than read The Nation. Does that mean The Nation isn’t significant or doesn’t make an important contribution? I agree that Pacifica needs to expand its audience, but I think it can do that without toning down its politics and community involvement. In fact, increasing community involvement is critical for its expansion.

Taylor paints an incorrect picture about the station’s audience and finances during Mr. Schubb’s tenure. The number of listeners fluctuated up and down over the last six years. The station has raised more money, but from fewer listeners than they had in the past. The increase in net income may not be so great when you factor in the increasing amounts spent on premiums, and a good reporter might have raised this issue. We just don’t have the numbers.

Then we have this bizarre and unverified quote "[Schubb] says he hired more people of color during his tenure than had ever been hired during the station's history, though he freely admits that it's hard to find talented black, Latino, Asian or other minority journalists when the pay at Pacifica is so lousy." So only white journalists work for lousy pay?

In the end maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by Ella Taylor’s article and its support by the L.A. Weekly. Marc Cooper is a contributor to the paper and, I’m sure, a friend to many on the staff. Ella Taylor calls herself an occasional contributor to Jon Wiener’s program, so I would say that she has some conflicts of interest. It’s obvious why she is a media critic and not an investigative reporter. She is pretty good at the former (I do enjoy most of her reviews), but really bad at the latter. I got the strange feeling that Ella Taylor really hasn’t listened to KPFK very much at all. For me, as a long time listener to KPFK (11 years), I knew things were bad when programmers stopped saying, "I don’t agree with everything that is said on the air but . . . " and community voices were eliminated with no explanation. The station was too dependent on Marc Cooper for programming, which limited the breadth of viewpoints. Anyway. Marc Cooper is still producing Radio Nation, so his voice remains on KPFK. I, for one, am very happy about the removal of the previous management. I am optimistic about KPFK’s future direction and have renewed my support.

Andres Collazo, Ph.D. Los Angeles


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