Public Comment

Commentary: Were KPFA Comments Red-Baiting, Or Is That a Red Herring?

By Marc Sapir
Tuesday April 24, 2007

Some publicity hound—maybe it was Al Capone—once quipped, “You can write anything you want about me as long as you spell my name right.” Having read about myself in the pages of the Planet lately I can’t say that I have much sympathy for that idea. Maybe it’s my age, but this grandfather of six doesn’t have quite the thick skin he had at 30 when jousting with the windmills of imperialism’s hubris. I actually don’t see why any critic about Berkeley would enjoy being flattered as a writer of “hit pieces,” a “red baiter” or an “agent baiter.” I’ll accept that my piece on KPFA was hard-hitting, but I had thought of that in figurative terms. Sure, I expected some wrathback. Still, those responses helped make my point.  

Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Sasha Lilley managed to avoid the key issues of my article on KPFA, despite their own incendiary brilliance. I stressed the history of the way that paid staff have fought tooth and nail to prevent community, in the form of elected station boards—first advisory and later governing—from influencing changes (be they positive or negative) at this supposedly community-controlled radio station. How they helped push out two general managers to the effect of placing their own loyalists at the top. The not-named focal individual in my article who has been most galling at using the fine points of Roberts Rules of Order to frustrate open dialogue and collective decision-making on the station board is the same Brian Edwards-Tiekert. Folks who have followed this saga may remember back over a year to my revealing in these pages the e-mail from Brian to his allies suggesting they discuss how to undermine or disband the station board.  

There are a goodly number of elected members of station boards who can relate the sordid details, the level of their frustration and the degree of disrespect Brian, a staff rep, has shown over the past few years. I don’t go to those meetings because I can’t handle the dissonance—not all Brian’s fault by any means. I had tried to avoid provoking Brian by name because—though a major actor in the drama—he’s not the issue I was addressing.  

But the memo by Sasha Lilley to Miguel Molina warning against advocacy is a central issue. It’s part of the larger project by paid staff, their appointed-from-their-own “interim” management, and a group of community allies, to move away from, rather than toward incorporating new programs from the vital growing grassroots movements resisting many aspects of capitalist crisis—in the military, prisons, undocumented communities, New Orleans etc. The “professional” staff has not challenged the assertion that they oppose bringing those types of advocacy programs (what I called “the barbarians”) onto the airwaves. Instead they changed the subject to tout ongoing coverage of peace demonstrations and occasional reportage on aspects of the movements to which I refer. It’s as if Brian’s mention that KPFA covered Lt. Ehren Watada’s court martial trial (for which they deserve thanks) is equivalent to helping organize an ongoing show of, by and for the very important GI movement in resistance. It’s not. I think that what they do do is a shadow of what they might do, if they weren’t resisting advocacy journalism and change. That is why the memo to Miguel Molina is telling. I agree that KPFA can’t be only about advocacy, but it must encourage and support it.  

Brian’s style betrays staff’s subterfuges. In response to my mention of Sasha as a union rep Brian slaps me down, asserting that she is not a union rep and is not even a member of the staff union. But who can dispute that as union rep Sasha Lilley helped organize staff to refuse to even meet with then Station Manager Campanella? That her ascendancy into management required her union resignation allows Brian to suggest that I just don’t know what I’m talking about? This is semantic license—what some used to call “parsing” the language when they were after Bill Clinton for lying about sex with Monica. Brian wrote that I claim Sasha “issued a new ‘edict’ ” against advocacy. Edict is his word, mine was “memo,” yet he puts edict in quotes to suggest my “angry” writing. Almost Rovian. Both Brian’s and Sasha’s articles claim I intimated that Sasha or other staff are FBI or COINTELPRO agents. Can anyone honestly draw such a conclusion from the following: “The that when people—both staff and those who are critics of KPFA management and staff behavior—behave provocatively….this advances the surreptitious attack on KPFA.”  

Suggesting I am an ignorant, misinformed, hostile enemy of KPFA is the innuendo these folks do best, and, not coincidentally, why I wrote that they could easily wreck the station’s base within the eclectic radical populist movement of the Bay Area. I’m not an enemy of KPFA. I’m an avid listener. I’ve been on the air numerous times. I give KPFA enough money, sometime help with phones at fundraisers, give out and wear the bumper sticker. I preached to the Coalition for a democratic Pacifica years ago that they not go head on against the paid staff but begin to work with them inside the station to avoid fostering defensiveness. Brian should know this because I told him. Sasha considers my April 6 Daily Planet commentary red baiting because I found her self-characterization as a socialist, Marxist, feminist ironic. But it was she who presented those credentials (and her father’s) while defending her hostility toward the former station manager she helped select. Twas a public witnessed discussion we had. Red baiting or red herring? My earlier piece stands on its merits.  


Marc Sapir currently works for the ambulatory care division of Alameda County Medical Center and directs the Retro Poll group at He founded the Berkeley High School Health Center (1989), negotiated free confidential HIV testing for Berkeley (1988) and has some experience as a radio programmer.