Election Section

Commentary: Facts in the KPFA Dispute Are Hard to Grasp By MARC SAPIR

Friday October 07, 2005

I returned from a wonderful trip to the Peruvian Amazon and the Camino Inca to hear of a commentary in the Daily Planet (Sept. 13) seriously disparaging my assessment of the KPFA situation. It was signed by the four union reps of the core paid staff at KPFA. They write with great authority, accusing me of “abandoning reason” and being “singularly misinformed about the facts.” But I infer that in aiming to make me look biased and uninformed they are targeting the views of hundreds if not thousands of actual listeners that are being also disparaged. If I read it well, the article by Ballard, Lilly, Mericle, and Maldari seems to imply that I am either a lone wolf crying in the night, a spokesperson for a small group of misguided disaffected listeners, and/or a shill for KPFA Station Manager Roy Campanella. Thoughtful reflection should lead to a different conclusion.  

Though it ought not matter, I want to say that I have significant differences in political viewpoint and managerial style with Campanella. I am not his personal representative. Moreover, as I have written, I do not know if, or to what extent, Roy transgressed upon women’s rights at the station. But a vote of 15-5 by the Station Board satisfied me that whatever his behavior it probably was not as egregious as some people are claiming. This is all recapitulation. Certainly my conclusion about the sexual harassment charge could yet turn out to be erroneous. But I shall provide information that led me to not trust the conclusions of those who attack Roy and have now attacked me as well. For example, their article claims repeatedly and carte blanche that various people and groups (the Station Board, the Pacifica Board, investigators who looked into the charges) are ignorant of or failed to grasp the facts of the situation. Yet, there are no quotes from those directly affected. Can they actually convince a Berkeley readership that simply asserting that only Campanella’s personal version of the facts stands against their version? Perhaps they can, but I think their version requires deeper scrutiny.  

They write of the Local Station Board as if controlled by a group of fringe listener reps elected by only 400 people. This is a clever over-reaching of the facts, particularly since each listener rep had to be elected by a different 400 listeners. However, the paid staff union representatives also know that I myself have been critical of the election mechanism. When I ran in the first election I publicly wrote that I would not take a seat if elected unless I received at least 2,000 votes. I have continued to argue that the procedures should be reformed. Indeed, after a discussion with Sasha Lilly this summer I proposed to work with her to put together a non-partisan group of listeners and staff to try and come up with a proposal to reformulate the election mechanism so that listener representation would be less fragmented (more unified in support of station reforms and governance).  

Sasha declined the invitation, having “union work” to attend to, and she offered no one in her stead. Yet her group continues to harp on the election procedure issue as if it were a central problem for staff. The fact that the Board is fragmented and factionalized, bad as that may be, is not an argument against their decision on Campanella. The surprising level of unity (15 votes out of 20 among people many of whom often disagree with each other on governance and how to improve the station) revealed that some of the listener reps who usually side with paid-staff representatives felt undue pressure to dump Campanella prematurely by a paid staff core that is trying to flex its muscle in governance. Even stronger evidence of core staff state of mind and intent came to light this week in the form of an intercepted e-mail from a core staff representative on the Station Board, Brian Edwards-Tiekert. He recently wrote to others in their leadership group requesting a strategy meeting. In his memo which is posted at www.indybay.org/news/2005/09/1771704.php Brian suggests some discussion to decide whether to try to disband the Station Board altogether or only to try and purge listener representatives perceived of as enemies hostile to the paid staff core. A cavalier attitude toward possibly dumping (not reforming) democratic processes that were gained only after an extremely bitter battle that nearly destroyed the Pacifica Network and KPFA is, in my view, the central problem today. I remind Berkeley citizens of what happened when we members put our faith in our Berkeley Co-op managers in the 1980s and they simply sold out the Co-op from under the membership. We had no say. That kind of disempowerment of the listeners appears to be the intent of many in the core staff. 

My own personal support for Campanella has been largely based upon the need for some managerial stability at the station. The resignation of Gus Newport a year ago, coming on top of five years of total instability, made it imperative that we—the listeners, the community, and the staff—not allow power plays to further destabilize the station. I will even go so far as to say that not all of the power plays have come from the core paid staff. Gus resigned in part because he felt he was not being allowed to take charge by some whose political intents he approved of. But today it is not some left wingers—inside or outside the station—who are attacking stability or trying to take over under the guise of union-worker political unity. It is rather a core of people who think very much in undemocratic elitist terms. Edwards-Tiekert’s e-mail, like an earlier intercept from Weyland Southon suggesting that Dennis Bernstein and his Flashpoints group will be “toast” as soon as core staff gets rid of Campanella, require no further comment. They are revelatory in and of themselves.  

Maldari, Mericle, Lilly et al have argued that the appearance of young people, women, and people of color in their ranks disproves the assertion of an undemocratic “takeover plot” (plot being their word not mine). But that is ridiculous. Many of the 60 or so staff people who support the core group are people who were trained by and have worked under or with core staff for some years. Fear of the unruly inexpert rabble of outside activists (the article aimed at me is but a recent example) has been cultivated by those who do not want their prerogatives limited in a difficult work environment. This is natural. We all want to maximize our autonomy. But young people, women, and minority staff are not less subject to misleadership, are not less malleable than older folks. We all learn from experience and we all make plenty of mistakes in judgment—more in our younger years, I might venture.  

I am not surprised that my writing became a lighting rod for the paid staff group’s counterattack. I had pointed out that Maldari, to my face, accused me of defending a “sexual predator” (not a sexual harasser). This direct quote reveals again the tendency to distort and vilify. However, the irony is that I remain an unabashed advocate for mediation and negotiation between listener groups, the Station Board, the Management and the Staff to work out processes and plans for the station. When others have argued over the years that resistant staff people such as Maldari and Mericle should just be fired, I have usually counseled that putchism and confrontation of that type is not the way to work out the contradictions within a movement that needs to continue its growth into a major political forum and force for change. I still believe this, even as the 4 union reps aim to strip my credibility. But their group has, so far, shown no inclination toward mediating with the Local Station Board or the Manager over their issues, preferring to continue to raise the specter of further disempowering KPFA’s 30,000 listener sponsors. Let us recognize that the station belongs to the progressive community, but that it also needs its professional staff. And that the staff has to learn how to allow that community to have more influence, rather than resisting the process, if KPFA is to survive in a fascist environment. 


Marc Sapir is the executive director of Retro Poll.