Public Comment

Commentary; Long-Time KPFA Listener Responds to Peter Laufer

By Doug Buckwald
Tuesday July 31, 2007

As a long-time listener and volunteer at KPFA, I have been following the issue of Larry Bensky’s replacement with great interest. Even though there continues to be infighting over station management issues, the hosts on KPFA generally maintain a high level of respect for their audience, and do their level best to allow people to express their views on the air. I hoped, at a minimum, that the new host of the Sunday morning show, Peter Laufer, would embrace these ideals.  

After listening to several of Mr. Laufer’s shows, I felt a growing discomfort with his approach. I didn’t think his interviews were very enlightening, and I did not like his approach to callers. I thought he did a particularly poor job on the July 22 show that featured Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates as a guest. I was sure he would get criticism for that broadcast, and he did. An editorial in this paper took him to task for, among other things, showing excessive deference to Mayor Bates and cutting off callers who were trying to ask questions. I agreed wholeheartedly with the criticisms that were presented in that editorial. 

Then something happened to give me an even worse impression of Peter Laufer’s journalistic skills. I read his commentary in the Planet! (“KPFA Talk Show Host Talks Back,” July 27). It was so astonishing that I had a hard time believing he was really serious. I had to read the piece over again several times to be absolutely sure. What made it difficult to tell is that the commentary contains all the elements of a comedic parody of an egotistical talk show host: a pervasive condescending tone, disingenuous assertions, arrogant self-promotion, inexplicable logic, mean-spirited comments, and just plain nuttiness. It was difficult to believe that such a piece could have been written in earnest by an experienced journalist, but it eventually dawned on me that this must be the case. And if this is any indication of Mr. Laufer’s thought processes and analytical skills, we should all be on notice that we need to take his opinions and conclusions with a good dose of skepticism. 

The most revealing aspect of Mr. Laufer’s commentary is that he fails to admit even the possibility that he did anything inappropriate. In spite of the fact that he received some stinging criticism from several different quarters about the show, he seems to believe that his critics are 100 percent wrong about everything. That is not a good sign. 

Equally troubling, Mr. Laufer seems to believe he can resolve the whole matter by leveling a personal attack against the executive editor of the Daily Planet, Becky O’Malley. And it’s even a poor quality personal attack at that, because it is so ridiculous. Mr. Laufer writes, “I’m convinced that I speak for all of us when I say that it is you who are the problem here.” Mr. Laufer should have been embarrassed to write such a thing. He obviously doesn’t speak for all of us, and it would not have taken him more than a few minutes to find somebody else besides Becky O’Malley who would have been happy to point that out to him. The utter arrogance of Mr. Laufer’s perspective is breathtaking. And then there’s his statement about the content of the Planet: “Unlike your newspaper which has only one point of view, my radio show serves the entire community and all points of view.” Regular readers of the Planet know that this paper publishes viewpoints from across the political spectrum on local issues. Vigorous debates play out in its pages every week on a wide range of topics. Mr. Laufer really ought to be encouraged to read a bit more before he makes such generalizations. 

During the show with Bates, it was particularly striking that Mr. Laufer openly admitted he was unfamiliar with many of the issues being discussed—yet this did not cause him the slightest hesitation in supporting the mayor’s assertions on just about everything. He reiterated his unequivocal support of Bates in his commentary, even mentioning some friends of his who also support the Mayor. In this context, Mr. Laufer felt it appropriate to declare: “If they and the mayor are part of the problem, sign me up on their team.” Well, so much for maintaining an unbiased perspective for all your listeners, Peter.  

Reading Mr. Laufer’s mixed bag of accusatory and often baffling comments did not quite prepare me for the jarring juxtapositions in the final paragraph of his commentary. In a few short sentences, he manages to combine an expression of gratitude, a sneering critique of the work Becky O’Malley does, and a taunting invitation for her to appear on his show. How exactly does one respond to such an “invitation”? Should Ms. O’Malley arrange to bring a professional mediator along? A playground supervisor from a local elementary school? Thich Nhat Hanh? One thing we know is true: Mayor Bates certainly did not receive an invitation as disrespectful as this before his appearance on the show.  

Finally, what are we to make of Mr. Laufer’s bizarre extrapolation from the simple fact that Becky O’Malley sorts her socks? He opines, “That’s strange: Disorder is OK outdoors but not in? Sounds like symptoms of a closet conservative to me.” Um…what? Peter, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Many of us sort our socks, and we also perform a number of other household chores, too. This is certainly not aberrant behavior, and it does not indicate anything about one’s political outlook. But this highly-contrived invention of yours does indicate something to me: you seem quite willing to bend the facts to suit your own pre-conceived notions. I think many would agree with me when I say that habit, more than anything else, is the mark of a bad journalist. And that may be the underlying reason why you produced a commentary that is so very far removed from reality. 

That is, unless you ‘fess up and admit that the whole thing was just a practical joke. If so, I am ready to read your commentary yet again, and enjoy the refreshing, self-deprecating humor. Taken in that way, your piece really is laugh-out-loud funny. 


Doug Buckwald is a Berkeley activist.