TUNE THE RADIO DIAL ANYTIME this week somewhere between KUSC and KCRW, and you’re going to inevitably bump smack into a fund-raising pitch on Pacifica’s KPFK. Lucky you, it’s one more extended pledge drive for “radio powered by the people.”
So, people, you know the drill: Rush to your phones! Make your pledge! Keep us on the air because we’re the only ones courageous enough to tell the truth about 9/11! The FCC wants to shut us down! The CIA has tapped our phones! Or make a pledge and we’ll send you this book we won’t really get around to ever sending you! Or if that doesn’t work, give us some money and we’ll mail you this special cream that produces Nirvana while simultaneously fighting skin warts.
What you won’t be hearing, however, is one other, rather unseemly reason why KPFK needs your money. Namely, to pay off the cream-puff settlement it just lavished on recently resigned and disgraced general manager Eva Georgia. The L.A. Weekly had heard rumors that Georgia, who left her post recently after being exposed for riding in limos and bunking in luxury hotels during previous fund drives, had been given a cool hundred grand to quietly go away.
After a week of stalling — and after first offering up a smaller, inaccurate number — Pacifica lawyer Dan Siegel admitted to the Weekly that Georgia was, indeed, handed a severance payment the equivalent of nine months’ salary, or $63,268. Throw in Social Security taxes, other employer fees and the simultaneous extension of her benefits, and we’re right back near that $100K mark. Give or take a few bucks, the astounding rumors were true.
Astounding because for a radio station that makes its nut by ritualistically pleading poverty and politically correct austerity, a hundred-grand golden parachute is rather grotesque under any conditions. (In this digital age, there are still some KPFK programmers who try to raise money by pleading with the audience that the station needs to buy razor blades to edit tape — even though tape is no longer used.) The severance is even more astounding because her staff forced out former manager Georgia by near-unanimous repudiation, and, more importantly, because of the sizable financial and legal liability she leaves behind.
As we reported here a few weeks ago, two ominous lawsuits are still pending against the station, resulting from claims of sexual harassment and discrimination lodged directly against Georgia. KPFK insiders say the station’s chances of beating them are slim to none. News reporter Molly Paige, for example, was reportedly willing to drop her sex-harassment suit in exchange for Georgia’s departure and a public apology. But when her lawyers learned that Georgia had been packed off with a suitcase full of severance payola, they darn well changed their minds.
Pacifica lawyer Siegel told the Weekly that it was “fairly standard” practice for the people’s network to pay departing employees (apparently, even disgraced ones) a month’s severance for every year of employment — six months for Georgia’s six years. That’s before Siegel sent me a correction informing me she had actually been given nine months.
In fact, there’s nothing at all standard about that level of severance, either at Pacifica or anywhere else. Pacifica’s historical severance offers averaged about one week per year, and usually with a six-week cap. Which means that Georgia’s payout should have been more in the realm of 10 grand, not a hundred. Even the infinitely wealthier Tribune Co., owner of the L.A. Times, recently offered notably generous buyout packages equivalent to two weeks’ salary for every year worked. KPFK, all of a sudden, can afford to be three times more generous than the Times?
Why, then, the Fortune 500–type payoff to Eva Georgia? First, because her bosses at KPFK are her partners in a factional struggle to retain power over the network. Absolutely nobody within the governing group at Pacifica, led by board chair David Adelson, a UCLA researcher, has an iota of experience managing public radio stations, and their grip on the transmitters is motivated purely by ideological impulse (and psychological need). Eva Georgia was their friend and ally. They loved her.
And they also feared her. Georgia has a litigious past, freely suing her former employers, including a gay-and-lesbian center in Long Beach. Last year, she took a months-long, paid “stress” leave from KPFK — exactly what you do when you’re planning a future workers’-comp lawsuit. It was an open secret that Georgia, if pushed too hard from the helm of KPFK, would have quickly sued. Pacifica would have been left facing not only the two lawsuits she had provoked from among her staff, but also an additional one from her. The hundred-grand payoff she received can simply be classified as good old-fashioned hush money.
To put all this in perspective, during a very good 24-hour period of fund-raising, KPFK brings in — wouldn’t you know it? — about $100,000 (and often a lot less). Figure in the coming payouts to Paige and other plaintiffs, related legal costs, and the bundle of loot just handed over to the departed general manager, and you might as well call the current two-week on-air marathon the Eva Georgia Memorial Fund Drive, because that’s where your money’s really going. Your pledge isn’t going to end the war in Iraq, keep free speech alive or restore the Bill of Rights. Most of the million or so raised will eventually be consumed by the costs of Eva Georgia’s legacy. Now, as Amy Goodman commands you, “Rush to your phones!”