Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ruth's Public Radio Report

Ruth: The Pooper. Do you know the name? I did not. Kyle e-mailed something by The Pooper and I was honestly confused by it. I spoke to C.I. about the article by The Pooper this morning and was told, "It's your space. The only thing is we don't name him, we don't link to him." Then I remembered how C.I. had noted The Pooper last summer and compared him to Wolfman Jack without the personality.

Well The Pooper's lost his two jobs at Pacifica. So he slams Pacifica and Air America Radio. C.I. and Kat both explained the Air America slam. Pooper's job is now done, brilliantly, by Laura Flanders on RadioNation with Laura Flanders. This may hurt if The Pooper has the issues with women he appears to have and surely it does not help that Ms. Flanders is also a relation of a someone The Pooper has declared an enemy.

I will not pretend to know every detail of Pacifica. At the end of the 1990s and the early part of this century, there was an effort to take control from local stations. It was a strong effort and one that I am understating out of fear of mischaracterizing. But two camps lined up. On one side was The Pooper, another man we don't highlight and the board. In the other camp, the camp that emerged victorious, were the people who now produce the excellent Free Speech Radio News, Larry Bensky, Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzales, Verna Avery-Brown and other names we note and highlight.

The second camp's argument, which I agree with so if it I mischaracterize, I do so unintentionally, was that Pacifica should remain true the roots it was built upon. Their belief, which I agree with, was that privatization was coming to Pacifica. At the end of the 90s, The Pooper wrote an article for print that Mr. Bensky had a disagreement over. When Mr. Bensky wrote the publication, The Pooper responded in print that they were in agreement over what I will call "the big picture." The Pooper pulled comments he had written about the board that were critical and then tried to utilize those to dismiss Mr. Bensky's points. The Pooper's recently penned remarks from last month demonstrate, to me at least, that Mr. Bensky was right on in his comments.

The side of the voices we respect emerged victorious, Democracy Now! returned to the air, those opting for what was seen as privatization and authoritarian control lost out. Until recently, The Pooper had two programs airing on Pacifica's KPFK out of Los Angeles. On one, the host duties have been turned over to Laura Flanders and the program is now known as
and airs Saturdays and Sundays on Air America Radio as well as on other stations throughout the country. The other just went away. The Pooper, however, did not.

Among the many claims he makes about Pacifica is that they have lost listeners. He cites the ratings for a station carrying NPR programming in Los Angeles to make his argument. NPR is a nationally known name/brand. It receives large amounts of attention, though not always enough critical attention from the left. In addition, PBS stations promote the NPR stations on air. Pacifica owns five stations and its programming is carried on other stations.

If Pacifica has lost listeners, an argument The Pooper provides no hard facts on, that may very well go to the issue of media concentration and have nothing to do with quality. The Pooper feels it is a quality issue and slams people for the programming on Pacifica. He feels that there should be national programming that is syndicated. That is an argument I long ago opposed. Over the airwaves, each Pacifica station serves the community it reaches. The programming should reflect the tastes of the listeners.

As members know, I am a dedicated and loyal fan of Law and Disorder which airs on WBAI. It is one of my favorite programs. I would love it if everyone listened to the program and if every station carried it. But that is a decision that community radio should make for itself. The alternative is the canned programming that NPR provides. Months ago, a member asked my opinion on this topic and I still feel the same. As someone old enough to remember when NPR had life and spark in their programming, I strongly oppose top-down control of public broadcasting.

NPR today is a number of programs with different titles but the same voices. The same officials appear on the programming, the hosts speak in what is known as the NPR voice . . . The end result is bland programming heavy on bumper music and what someone must mistake for pithy observations while short on issues and anything resembling the public. When Daniel Schorr joined NPR that was a case of someone who had been fired from the mainstream media, CBS TV network, gaining an outlet on public radio. Back then it was still public radio and Nina Totenberg, among others, did real reporting. Today NPR is the refuge for big names. Today, some, like Cokie Roberts, continue their gasbag assaults on the public from the mainstream media as well as NPR. Ms. Roberts and Ted Koppel can move freely from coporate media to NPR because NPR does not reflect public broadcasting.

Until recently, I believed in fighting to save NPR. I have noted before that Rebecca was right about NPR and let me note that one more time. Every Congressional funding cycle, those on the left are stirred up to fight for NPR. NPR does not fight for us. NPR does not even give the left a voice. They are happy to hide behind us and let us do battle because NPR has no fighting spirit left in it.

In the last few months, we have seen what passes for news on NPR and what does not. The Downing Street Memos did not pass for news. Opposition to the war in Iraq early on became a nonstory for NPR. The only program to feature the voice of veteran opposed to the war pre-Cindy Sheehan and the summer of protest was The Tavis Smiley Show. NPR no longer syndicates that program to their affiliates. I noted in September that a report on what were expected to be the massive protests in D.C. shared time in a segment with what was expected to be a small counter protest in support of the war and that man in charge of the counter protest received more air time than did Ms. Sheehan. With the country opposed to the war in large and vocal numbers, the peace movement could finally get air time on NPR but not as much air time as "I love George Bush!" I will assume everyone knows that hundreds of thousands turned out to speak against the war in Iraq and that a couple of hundred turned out for the counter protest. That was not a surprise. It was expected to go that way. But to NPR, "balance" meant giving more time to the counter protest. A couple of hundred people carried more weight with NPR than did hundreds of thousands.

When the regular assualts come down on NPR, we are told we have to fight. "What are we fighting for?" is the question I found myself asking after the last battle. I fought that battle. I was strongly supportive of NPR. Looking back, I wish I had taken Rebecca's stance of "They don't try to serve me so they are on their own" or C.I.'s stance of "Here's what's happening, make your own decision." I did not do that. I advocated for members to stand up for NPR.

Seeing what we "won" after that was shocking. Katrina vanden Heuvel is a smart woman and a strong voice for the left. But I do not see the fact that she can now be a guest on NPR as a "win."
She should be a guest. She should always be a guest. She is the editor of the nation's best selling political weekly, The Nation. Not just the best selling weekly on the left, the best selling politcal weekly period.

I did not notice any other "wins." I noticed that they went back to doing what they always do, business as usual. Fisherman stories remain a staple on NPR but any serious issue that paints the administration in a bad light are downplayed and live coverage of hearings, something NPR used to provide, remains absent. When Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was Pacifica that carried that. NPR was quite comfortable to do their canned programming. Is the public really served by Renee Montaigne and Steve Roberts patter? By the seemless editing of Fresh Air? I hear nothing on NPR that reflects the mandate under which they were created.

The Pooper appears to be one of the ones screaming "identity politics!" and bothered by stories that cover women, gays, lesbians, transgendered, people of color, people living in poverty . . . In short, he appears bothered by the fact that Pacifica will not get with the mainstream program and greet serious issues with silence. The Pooper appears to think it is more important to, as my grandson Jayson put it, "run with the big dogs" then try to serve the public.

I do not want regular national programming from Pacifica. The aftermath of Hurricane Wilma which is something a number of members in this community had to deal with. Wally covered the aftermath at his website The Daily Jot. Gina and Krista covered it in the round-robin. I heard no interest on NPR and the only program I am aware that explored it on Pacifica was KPFA. The Morning Show. I read Wally's posts, I knew things were not "back to normal" in Florida. But hearing Andrea Lewis interview a woman fighting for the rights and the victims of Hurricane Wilma added a new dimension to my understanding.

Were Pacifica to switch to national programming, would The Morning Show be included? Would it still be The Morning Show with new people involved making the calls on how to serve the public? Or would it be a watered down version that had no interest in issues that the national media was not already covering?

What I have heard over the years as NPR has become more "professional" does not lead me to believe that Pacifica would be as inclusive as it is today if it attempted to follow the model of NPR in creating national programming.

What of show like Margaret Prescod's Sojourner Truth? Would it be a national program? How would they determine that? I fear they would look at the various hosts and then try to decide whether there were "too many" women or people of color hosting the national line up. What Ms. Prescod offers is her own unique perspective which cannot be reduced to gender or race. But when a decision is made at the national level, I am not so certain that race and gender would not be the basis for the final decision. If someone like The Pooper was in charge of the decision making and granted the final say, I am quite sure he would reduce Ms. Presod's fine work to nothing more than Census data.

There are shows that are not my taste. That has nothing to do with the quality of the programming, just the simple fact that no program can serve anyone. Nor should a program serve everyone, especially not on public radio. Pacifica predates NPR by many years so it came into creation before the LBJ administration created their mandate for public broadcasting. However, Pacifica, without such a mandate for decades, reflects the core principles. It provides time to views that may not get coverage in the mainstream. It informs.

First Voices Indigenous Radio is another favorite program of mine. I am an elderly, Jewish woman. I have no Native American blood that I am aware of. But I get excited as the time nears for that program to broadcast on WBAI. My grandson Elijah loves the theme music to that show and to The Morning Show and will stand up and shake his little body. I feel the same sense of enthusiasm to the program. It provides me with information I do not hear elsewhere, with issues I would not be aware of otherwise. Considering NPR's lack of interest in Native American issues, I cannot imagine that a national model for Pacifica would broadcast such a program. The argument would probably be that "those issues" can be covered in news reports. That really is not the case. The issues rasied on First Voices need to be discussed, not noted.

To any statement in this I could add "my opinion." That is what community radio is about, the opinions of the local communities. When Verna Avery Brown quit the national news service, she was quite clear as to why she was quitting. That she and her producer found their news judgements questioned was only one of the problems. After years of doing what she had done quite well, suddenly she was no longer qualified to make that determination. Did Ms. Avery-Brown's judgement take a nosedive or was it the case of certain stories making certain individuals uncomfortable? I believe it was the latter.

Back then The Pooper's position was at odds with the camp Ms. Avery Brown was in. That was the camp that pulled Democracy Now! off the airwaves. As I wrote some months ago, that is a national program. It is carried on over four hundred radio and television stations. All the Pacifica stations carry it. But the camp The Pooper represents was not interested in the appraoch that Ms. Goodman and company take to the news. There was concern over the Kosovo coverage, the East Timor coverage. Ms. Goodman and company fought for the right for Democracy Now! to be indpendent. Had they followed a national model, or let control of the show be determined by the then board members, it would not be the huge success that it is today.

I found the jabs The Pooper took offensive. Beyond that, we are odds as to what public broadcasting should offer. He favors a top-down model where communities will lost their say and be given national programming. I favor allowing the community to determine their choices. Thanks to podcasting and online streaming, Pacifica programs can be heard throughout the country, all over the world. Olive has e-mailed to say how much she enjoys various shows. As most members know, Olive lives in Australia. If Pacifica has lost some broadcast listeners, it has also gained many worldwide listeners.

"If." This report was renamed "Ruth's Public Radio Report." No one expressed concern over the name change; however, a few did wonder why I did not pick one program as I had before when it was known as "Ruth's Morning Edition Report." That is because I enjoy CounterSpin but calling it "Ruth's CounterSpin Report" would mean over looking other favorite programs. I considered calling it "Ruth's Pacifica Radio Report" but I wanted to leave it open in case one of my friends heard another sexist report on NPR. I am aware that NPR's "Too many women are being born!" panic reports were ignored by many. I am glad that we were able to address them here. Should I hear of another similar report, I wanted the title to allow me to include a critique of it. I also thought, "What is my point in renaming it?" One of it was to reflect the change in emphasis from fact checking to NPR to providing a resource to strong public radio. If I titled it "Ruth's Pacifica Report" readers from outside the community might see the title and think, "Great! I listen to Pacifica!" and read or they might see the title and think I was covering the Pacific Ocean or radio broadcasts from the west coast.

But the change in emphasis was necessary because I have found so many programs I enjoy and there are so many that members that enjoy as well. Who, outside of Pacifica, was making a point to get the word out on Pacifica? I am not speaking of providing a link on a list of permalinks or a blogroll. I am speaking of the issue of saying, "Here are some programs that are out there." NPR airs a program and it may make newspapers or various websites, but is there a place that regularly notes the programming on Pacifica?

If, again "if," Pacifica's listenership is down that may be due to the fact that it is not noted as often as NPR when people discuss public radio. My granddaughter Tracey just read Backlash by Susan Faludi. She saw a copy of it on my bookcase and finished it one day. She loves the book. Now if you are a longterm member, you are aware that C.I.'s noted that book quite often here. Beth wrote in a recent ombudsperson column that it was the most cited book here in 2005 and predicted it would be the most cited book here in 2006. Tracey is the one who got the word out to me about this site. She is a member who reads this site all the time. C.I. mentions the book once and Tracey may or may not have noticed. C.I. mentions it repeatedly and it makes Tracey curious.

That is how it is. A friend tells you that you should see a certain film and you think, "Maybe." A friend or a group of friends talk about it constantly and you start to think, "I may be missing out." Though an amateur web surfer at best, I do not see many links to Pacifica. I do not see any coverage of it outside of this community. I am very glad that The Third Estate Sunday Review is noting it as well as the fact that special programming has been noted by all the sites in this community. But if Pacifica has lost some listeners that may be due to the fact that there has not been as strong an effort to get the word out on it as exists, from outside this community, to get the word out on NPR.

When I listen to Pacifica do I ever have suggestions? Sure. As any listener does. They are not the jabs and slams that The Pooper offers. One thing I always wonder is if Pacifica did an additional fundraising drive, how would that go? Not one for the stations they currently have, but a war chest drive to raise money to purchase another station? I thought about that again last Saturday when C.I. noted a story on how an area in Texas was just getting their first NPR.

I have no idea how that idea would go over. But in my dream Pacifica, there are not fewer voices calling the shots and calling them from on high, the way The Pooper fantasizes, instead there are many more voices as Pacifica stations are added throughout the nation.

I think about that when I listen and I think about members who have e-mailed that their local NPR will not air Democracy Now! Billie, Eddie, Dallas and three other members have stopped contibuting to their local NPR due to that decision. They have no use for twice daily airings of Fresh Air and Morning Edition or for the lack of community coverage in their area since other than one show, they receive nothing but national programs. As Eddie pointed out a few weeks ago, "Community coverage appears to be an announcer giving the traffic report in the middle of Morning Edition."

The Pooper has his own problems. He favors top-down solutions, he is against the war but against the opposition to the war movements, and, of course, he has lost two programs including one to the relative of a long term foe. That may or may not be among the reasons he is now lashing out at Pacifica and others.

But there are too many programs at risk in his "solution." Too many programs that provide strong voices and worthy points of views. I have named a few in this report, but here are a few more: Connect the Dots, KPFA Evening News, Guns & Butter (which had a strong program Wednesday on genitically modified foods), Out-FM, Sunday Salon with Larry Bensky, Radio Chronicles, Christmas Coup Comedy Players(CCCP), KPFT's After Hours, WBAI's Nonfiction, and KPFT's Open Journal and The Monitor.

Upcoming programming notes:

1) KPFA's Sunday Salon with Larry Bensky (9:00 am Pacific time, noon Eastern time):
This week on Sunday Salon... In our first hour... The Congressional Inquiry into Hurricane Katrina: What happened and could it happen in the Bay Area?
In our second hour... Michael Morales is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next Tuesday -- now that the Attorney General has gotten 2 doctors to be present. A look at the case, medical ethics, and race & the death penalty.

2) KPFA's Radio Chronicles (Sunday, 6:30 pm Pacific time)
See all Drama and Literature Programming
The Life of Nina Simone - Young, Gifted and Black

Possibly The Pooper might want to utilize the "See all Drama and Literature Programming" link above since he feels the arts coverage at Pacifica is lacking? On Friday's The Morning Show, besides interviewing Matthew Rotschild of The Progressive on the topic of Vice President Dick Cheney's shooting his friend, Andrea Lewis also interviewed Carolyn Burke author of
Lee Miller : A Life which led to a discussion on Miller's work as a photojournalist during WWII, Man Ray and quite a bit more.