Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: First let me note that this airs today on KPFA:

Sunday Salon: Larry Bensky Retrospective
Sunday, May 6th, 09:00am
A two-hour look at the career and times of recently retired KPFA host and former Pacifica national affairs correspondent Larry Bensky.

I am writing this report Saturday, to be posted Sunday morning, so if I get my timeline confused, that is the reason. Last Sunday morning, Larry Bensky did his farewell broadcast of Sunday Salon. I listened to bits and pieces. I told myself it was because I had to fix lunch, my children and grandchildren come over for a late lunch each Sunday, but I honestly walked away from the computer several times just because it was a sad goodbye. The special today, 9:00 a.m. is the Pacific time zone, was put together by Aaron Glantz, among others. I will be listening today and, hopefully, will not be leaving the room during it. Kris Welch and Bonnie Simmons were among the guests who participated in last Sunday's farewell. Near the end, Mr. Bensky suggested they all sing a song in the final moments. If they did, I missed it, finding another excuse to run to the freezer. Those better at goodbyes should check the archives because what I heard was a very strong broadcast. Sunday Salon is being retired. The title will not be used for whatever fills the two hour period each Sunday.

On Monday, KPFA broadcast the report from the local station board. That was my first time hearing that report and I enjoyed it. Tuesday, Rebecca, Flyboy, Mike, Elaine, my grandchildren Tracey, Eli and Jayson and myself participated in an immigration rights rally and, of course, Rebecca ended up delivering her baby last week as well. So a great deal of the report has floated out of my mind. In my notes, I see I wrote "strong report" at the end of that broadcast. One thing I do remember and can decipher from my notes was the issue of national programming or, more to the point, bringing programs from other Pacifica radio stations to KPFA. Law and Disorder was specifically mentioned and it is one of my favorites.

Those who can listen on computer may forget how many do not have that option. So I do not dispute the idea of providing programming from other areas. I did start wondering, however, what else could be brought and where it would go? Possibly, an hour could be carved out each day for Pacifica programming? That would give listeners an idea of what other stations broadcast. I am not sure where you would put it on the weekday schedule, but it would raise awareness for all Pacifica stations. That is assuming that all participated.

The issue of national programming in terms of a national newscast was also raised. Mr. Bensky and others have many times voiced their opinions that Pacifica needs that to raise their profile.
I do not doubt that it would do so, I just am not eager to hear it. WBAI offers a half-hour broadcast Monday through Friday and it is a blend of local news, national news and world news.
In terms of their local news, I will assume they are covering the most important developments. In terms of their national and world news, I never feel informed. The stories too often are the same thing I see as headlines on my log in screen and they are not probed so much as they are read off. That may result from being a half-hour broadcast and my comparing it to The KPFA Evening News which is an hour. It may also be due to a difference between Eastern and Western Coast sensibilities. As someone who was raised on the East Coast and will always live here, you might assume I would prefer that regional approach but I do not. Listening, I am always reminded of Roger Mudd and others from TV ticking off the news. KPFA does not offer "party news," nor does KPFT, but the news is presented in less of from-the-mouth-of-God manner.

The KPFA Evening News airs from nine p.m. to ten my time zone. Unless there is special programming on one of the Pacifica outlets, that is the last thing I listen to. After that, the computer goes off and I grab a book to head to bed with. I listen that late, at my age that is late, only because of the news value. I would estimate that I have listened to WBAI's evening news fifteen times so far this year and possibly I catch it on a bad day or nothing happens in New York City but if there is a rally or protest in the Bay Area, there is a good chance The KPFA Evening News will have something on it. WBAI's news too often seems only interested, a la Roger Mudd, in following what officials do and say.

I will try to put this as nicely as possible, and many e-mails from members who listened to the Monday report raised this, picturing what the D.C. Pacifica station might offer is even more frightening: "In the news today, Dick Cheney did something and we'll tell you about it right after we spin this record." For the record, I do enjoy the KPFK evening news when I can hear it but its streaming remains problematic.

Another issue coming up in e-mails is the WBAI and Pacifica sites redesigns which appear to have been done by the same person. For WBAI, it is an improvement in look. Judging by the e-mails, and I do agree, for Pacifica, not so much. Lloyd asked me to note that you really have to go for the "mono" option when listening to WBAI online if you do not want to be dropped from the stream repeatedly. Lloyd had given up on catching his favorite program, WakeUp Call, as a result of being repeatedly dropped from the stream. When the mono option was recently mentioned, he tried that and reports huge success. Caitlin wondered why the WBAI redesign did not include addressing their archives? I have no answer to Caitlin's question but I will toss that out there.

Friday night, I listened to the report to the listeners from KPFA management. Interim general manager Lemlem Rijio did not participate in this broadcast, she was ill. I am sad about that because it was the best report the management had given and want to be very clear that I am not saying that resulted from Ms. Rijio's absence. Had she taken part, I would guess it would have only strengthened it.

I would have missed the Friday report if Robert had not e-mailed me about it. It aired during the time my own Iraq study group meets. After reading Robert's note, I listened to it. High praise to KPFA, Sasha Lilley and Mr. Rijio for doing as they stated they would and vary the times the report is broadcast during. This time, it aired during the second hour of The Morning Show which allowed Andrea Lewis to participate. As most members know, I cannot say enough in praise of Ms. Lewis. The only one in the community who may be more impressed with Ms. Lewis is Betty. So her participation should not be discounted in what I found to be the most successful listener's report by management. A number of e-mails, including Zach's, cite Ms. Lewis specificially for the quality of this report.

If you have listened to the reports before, you are aware of the sameness of the calls, different people, different months, with usually the same issues. That may mean there is something KPFA seriously needs to address. It may also mean that when you always broadcast mid-day during the week, you get the same pool of listeners.

The first caller brought up world music and his problem was that one of the three world music programs did not play music to his liking. He avoided naming it, though I saw no reason for him not to, but one program plays "mixes" and he does not care for that. Music was the topic of another phone call, a man explained that, in rap music, there were huge steps being made by Latino rap and he felt the station should be featuring that.

Myself, I started thinking back to the first hour of The Morning Show when they had addressed the changes that will come about if royalty rates are not lowered. This would mean a lot less music. I believe KPFA would conceivably be forced to pay a half million dollars each year, I believe that was the figure a guest offered, if the changes were implemented. Somewhere on the KPFA website, you can find a take action page on that. I am having a difficult time locating it. [C.I. note: Click here. It's not easy to find from the main page.] So I will refer you to The Free Press.

No message left on the KPFA listener line, or sent through their contact forum, was addressed with an acknowledgement that it had come in via that. However, Ms. Lilley did note that she reads them and that she passes them on to programmers. Ms. Lewis verified that she sees them after Ms. Lilley passes them on.

A caller made the point that more coverage of the Middle East was needed. Had I called, I would have made the point that a program devoted to Iraq is needed.

Which brings us back to the issue of programs from other Pacifica stations being added to KPFA. Not only are there no empty holes on the schedule, the station has still not offered a needed program, even weekly, that covers Iraq. I read Mike's "Charles R. Larson wins the Dumb Ass award" with constant head nodding because Mr. Larson offers a fact-free analysis from his own little world where he just has to claim TV watchers hit the mute button when coverage of Iraq airs or that readers flip the page when they come across a story on Iraq. In Mr. Larson's world, assertions pass for facts, no matter how dubious. As Kat wrote, "The only thing I would add to it (and I know Mike was in a hurry when he wrote it) is that Larson shouldn't say Americans mute their TVs or don't read stories unless he knows that's what they do when Iraq comes on. He doesn't know it and there's no study to back up that (false) assertion." Big media or small media, their members should avoid criticizing the public's so-called apathy when their own outlets have failed so disgracefully.

That includes KPFA which has offered no regular program covering Iraq although the first Gulf War was the reason Flashpoints was created. That includes KPFA whose C. S. Soong allowed a guest to offer that two years were needed for a 'reasoned and reasonable' withdrawal in order for things to be accomplished and Mr. Soong never bothered to inquire, "What would be accomplished?"

Yes, that is the program C.I. was referring to where a mathematician was allowed to slam the peace movement, to blame them for the fact that Americans in a recent poll had no idea how many Iraqis had died in the illegal war. As C.I. noted, the peace movement does not own any of the big three though weapons manufacturer G.E. owns NBC. If people do not know the number of Iraqis who have died, it goes to the coverage or, more to the point, the lack of coverage. When a second guest speaks of the need for the US troops to remain in Iraq for two more years in order to accomplish what is needed, the host needs to ask, "What is needed? What will be accomplished?"

That question went unasked. It goes unasked a great deal by KPFA and other outlets. Though they have generally billed it as a three parter, I actually believe The Third Estate Sunday Review did more to get to the heart of the matter in four features last week: "What's it all about, Bully?," "Sacrifice?," "Iraq Quiz," and "Radio Blab." It is frighening that the Bully Boy has been allowed to lie a nation into war and that there is still not a demand for his impeachment from Congress. It is equally frightening that news outlets are happy to sit back silently when a guest offers that troops must remain for something to be "accomplished," but the host never asks the very obvious question: What is going to be accomplished?

Nothing of value. If KPFA had a program devoted to Iraq, listeners might get that conversation instead of Mr. Soong snoozing on air through what may pass for Against The Grain's 2007 show about Iraq. Misters Larson and Soong are very much a part of the problem as they do a very poor job of utilizing their space to explore. Mr. Larson prefers to blame the public and pretend that there is great Iraq coverage out there if only listeners would read their mainstream papers and watch their broadcast news. Mr. Larson should read Pat Arnow's "From Self-Censorship to Official Censorship" (Extra!) before making his next lecture. Mr. Soong should grasp that a host is required to do more than say "Uh-huh" and that when a guest claims two years is needed to accomplish something, the host's job is to ask what the undefined accomplishment would be?

At this point in time, most of us grasp that the war was based on lies. We are not allowed very often to hear why those lies were used to begin with and, even less, are we allowed to hear what exactly the U.S. could accomplish in Iraq.

The truth is that there is nothing the U.S. can accomplish that the public would support. A miracle might allow the Iraqi resistance to be silenced. Even were that the case, the reality is that the U.S. government has propped up an unpopular, puppet government. With U.S. support, and permanent bases, it might be allowed to sit at the top of unrest, never addressing it. The U.S. has done that many times before. It never ends in peace.

A ruler gets overthrown, a shah departs. It is bloody and deadly. Reality is that two more years or ten or twenty will allow a puppet government to be in place, though the puppet itself may change, while the people suffer. Bully Boy announced last week that a U.S. pullout would mean chaos and violence which begs the question of what he thinks is going on in Iraq currently?

It is likely that when U.S. troops leave Iraq, it will be bloody. That may not come to pass but it is likely. Each year the U.S. has continued this illegal war has meant a bloodier and bloodier Iraq. So when people suggest that the U.S. needs to remain for any length of time to "accomplish" something, real journalism demands that they be asked to define "accomplishments."

For anyone wondering, that was not addressed in either report last week.