The information attack came like a one-two-three punch. The Berkeley Daily Planet printed a front page story, titled, “KPFA Charges Pacifica With Raid on Station’s Funds.” That was Thursday, August 6th. The paper had hardly hit the street, and we hadn’t even seen it yet before we heard KPFA newscaster Philip Maldari talking about it on the Morning Show. Improperly using KPFA’s on-air microphone, Maldari called on listeners to attend the Saturday board meeting and hear for themselves how Pacifica grabbed $100,000 from KPFA. He urged listeners to speak out against the “raid.”
It was election time at KPFA, and this was apparently a campaign tactic by the “Concerned Listeners” (CL) group. That much was pretty obvious, but what was this hundred thousand dollar grab all about? Was there some truth in it?
There was a flurry of emails as people hurriedly sorted out the facts, and within a few hours we learned there’d been no “raid” on KPFA funds. Listener Rep. Tracy Rosenberg explained:
“There is no $100,000 take. The only thing that happened was that the $420,000 securing the foundation line of credit was renegotiated with the result that $320,000 is returned to KPFA, $100,000 continues to be collateral. Period. Nothing else happened.”
So the “raid” story was a fairly transparent lie. All year long the CL/management group which dominates KPFA had been attacking the new leadership of the network’s national office, targeting acting Executive Director Grace Aaron and acting CFO LaVarn Williams. This spring Aaron and Williams had saved WBAI, the NY Pacifica sister station, from a financial meltdown, but in doing so had disturbed the status quo. Thus they’d incurred the wrath of the CL, who want to regain control of the national office. That’s what this was all about.
The CL campaign strategy in the election was to conjure up an image of conflict between KPFA and the national office of the fivve-station Pacifica network. In this supposed clash, the CL’ers present themselves as defenders of the local station, of community radio, guardians of its financial resources.
One of the ironies was, that the grain of truth on which the raid story was based had to do with a loan that was taken out by the previous PNB chair, Sherry Gendelman, who happened to herself be a CL’er. It had little to do with people currently in the national office.
“Libelous,” someone called the “raid” story. It was libelous to tell a newspaper something like that.
“It’s not libelous,” Tracy emailed back, “It’s irresponsible, adverse to the best interests of the [Pacifica] foundation and rotten journalism, but it’s not libel.”
The newspaper came out on Thursday, and the Local Station Board (LSB) would meet Saturday, August 8th. A huge flock of CL supporters would most certainly respond to Philip Maldari’s on-air call to action and descend upon the meeting. There’d be standing room only, if even that. Would we be able to get on the speaking list for Public Comments? Only 30 minutes is allotted to public comments, and with a huge number of speakers, maybe not.
It was at the Unitarian Church on Cedar in Berkeley, and we rushed to get there early. As I entered, and found seats, people were still arriving. Eventually I counted about 33 in the audience. Five or possibly ten were CL supporters.
Normally the CL’ers have exactly one supporter in the audience—good old Jim Weber who never misses an LSB meeting. The rest of the audience is not there to support the CL; at most LSB meetings they number 10 or 15, rarely more than 20. There are 25 board members, with about 22 usually present; that was the number here today.
Eight people signed up to speak during public comments, two of them CL supporters. Not the fifty we’d feared. Public comments are scheduled near the beginning of the session. Each speaker was given two minutes; the woman immediately ahead of me characterized Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s behavior in what he’d told the newspaper as “Byzantine and Machiavellian.”
While she spoke, Board Member Warren Mar sat there carrying on a loud conversation with the person next to him, and, at the end of her talk, he threw a nasty insult at her.
All this time, Conn Hallinan, who was chairing, said nothing to Warren Mar. Both Warren and Conn are CL’ers. However, opposition board members side spoke up, objecting to Warren’s behavior. There was a brief discussion, and it was quickly resolved that public speakers would not be interrupted.
Then it was my turn. Since the CL’ers liked incredible stories, such as the one they’d told the newspaper, I offered an even better story—that the Pacifica national office was run by a coven of witches.
People started laughing. Then Warren Mar cut in, loudly objecting that my account was ridiculous. Of course the board had just ruled against his intrusions, so Chairman Conn Hallinan should’ve called Warren to order. But he didn’t. So I turned to Warren and said, “Do you mind?” He kindly allowed me to finish my account.
The speakers after me included Aileen Alfandary, a pro-CL newscaster who echoed the “raid” story. She was followed by Stan Woods, who refuted the story and defended iCFO LaVarn Williams. Steve Zeltzer criticized the financial situation of KPFA. Max Blanchet expressed praise for iCFO LaVarn Williams and iED Grace Aaron. They spoke without interruptions.
Next was the Treasurer’s Report, given by Brian Edwards-Tiekert, Staff Rep. At the end of the report, there were questions from several board members, including Joe Wanzala, Sasha Futran, Sureya Sayadi, Tracy Rosenberg, Chandra Hauptman and Gerald Sanders. The topic was finance, and these questions led back to the newspaper article. Brian was the source of that story, having told the reporter that the national office was making a “raid on KPFA’s accounts.”
The information in the newspaper article was exposed as untrue, and Listener Rep Sasha Futran bluntly told Brian, “You passed known lies to the media.”
“I did not send it to the media,” Brian objected. “I didn’t call the reporter. The reporter called me.” It was implied that someone else, an anonymous leaker, had contacted the reporter who called Brian.
Sasha insisted on holding Brian responsible and pursued him with questions till Chairman Conn Hallinan cut in, practically snarling at her, “Watch yourself!” But Sasha did not let up, and a moment later Conn cut in again, shouting into the microphone, “Sasha! You’re out of order!”
Somewhere in this exchange, Sasha pointed out that scaring listeners with invalid information could have the unwanted effect of undermining donor confidence before a fund drive.
The CL’ers avoided dealing with the fact that Brian had given false information to the newspaper, blaming it instead on an anonymous leaker who’d supposedly directed the reporter to Brian. Sherry Gendelman, queen mother of the CL’ers, said, “Whoever it was that leaked Brian’s observations to the Planet gave the other side a very convenient excuse to attack Brian.”
It was all the fault of that unknown person. That’s how the CL’ers were spinning it. So Listener Rep Gerald Sanders said to Brian: “Did you, or did you not, speak to a reporter?”
Brian responded as he often responds—by making a speech. But he could not deny being the source of the quotes which the Berkeley Daily Planet attributed to him. According to the article: ‘KPFA Local Station Board Staff Representative and Treasurer Brian Edwards-Tiekert called the situation a “raid on KPFA’s accounts.”’
And as to the identity of the leaker, opposition board members pointed out that there was an online petition, posted by Brian, alleging the removal of “$100,000 from a KPFA bank account.” The reporter saw the petition with Brian’s name on it and phoned him. There was no leaker—other than Brian’s online petition.
Brian Edwards-Tiekert then went on to ask the board to approve his proposed budget, coupled with a motion titled “Re: National Financial Accountability.” And they did, over the objections of opposition board members who’d received copies of the budget only minutes before. The CL’ers, who are the majority, voted together in lock step, as always, cult members responding to the voice of their leaders.
A few days later, in the August 13th issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet, there was a front page retraction. So, did that end it? No, of course not. Two weeks after that LSB meeting of August 8th, board chair Conn Hallinan continued the lie in an email to Doug Henwood, “Pacifica also tried to do an old fashioned smash and grab on KPFA’s funds.”
In Concerned Listener mythology, they, the CL’ers, are defending KPFA against the Pacifica national office. The real purpose behind this mythology is to get the CL’ers elected.
Daniel Borgström is a KPFA listener