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"We're no longer a radio network, we're a sad political glee club"
March 19, 2014 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Left-Wing Darling Pacifica Radio Is Sliding Into the Abyss "The recent internal strife at Pacifica underlines a depressing truth for liberals, for whom the radio network is — or at least was — an important voice in an increasingly homogenized broadcast media landscape." posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles (105 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have seen the inner workings of KPFK firsthand over the last five years and, while I refuse to tell tales out of school, not a word of this surprises me. It is the saddest place imaginable.
posted by mykescipark at 2:43 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


It was always going be a struggle when you don't pay anyone very much on a local level and have this massive central hierarchy that doesn't listen to its own output.
posted by parmanparman at 2:52 PM on March 19, 2014


I could have sworn Pacifica closed down years ago. Weren't they on the verge at one point?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:53 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is the saddest place imaginable.

Except for WBAI, which is basically a front for snake-oil medical fraud at this point! This whole story is so sad, and beyond help at this point, I fear.
posted by RogerB at 2:53 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


For L.A.'s other public radio stations, KCRW and KPCC, that number is 8,000 and 20,000, respectively.

Are those numbers reversed or have things changed drastically in the last six years?
posted by Slothrup at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


So they're hawking The Second Dallas, a film allegedly in search of the truth about Robert F. Kennedy being shot that is so bad that it is panned by a decent-sized Kennedy-truther website that says "no one familiar with this case could come away from [The Second Dallas] in any way enlightened by it?" And Pacifica wonders why they're in major trouble...
posted by fireoyster at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting article. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday. I stopped listening to Pacifica and my own local community radio station (KBOO) a few years ago because honestly independent radio went pretty off the rails. I don't think it's a 'depressing truth for liberals' so much as a depressing truth for the small wing of liberals that functions similarly to the Tea Party on the right - a pretty fringe group of folks who are usually more interesting in flooding the airwaves with rants about conspiracies, cancer caused by cell phones, fluoride, alt medicine, and the like. A lot of the stuff on KPFK and the like got pretty irrational, tbh. Even the things they hammered on that I agreed with, like being very outspoken against the Iraq War for example, they presented in such vitriolic ways that it made it hard to get on board.

The sort of insanity in their administration is not terribly surprising to me. Pacifica hasn't been about producing professional, good radio for some time. It's been about personal vendettas and soapboxes and stupid petty crap. NPR can be a little center for me, personally, and a little 'hardy har har' sometimes, if you know what I mean, a little too prius or something, but at least they are still reporting the actual news and doing a professional and engaging job of it.

Pretty much the last good thing about Pacifica and stations like it (KBOO) has been Democracy Now. I'm not surprised that 2/3 of the debt Pacifica owes is to Amy Goodman. I mean, Amy's fee may be a bit exorbitant, but honestly she's been keeping Pacifica afloat for the past decade. Then you've got people like the former news director calling her an 'evil bitch' and that's pretty much the exemplar of the petty bullshit that has killed lefty independent radio.

I think it's a bummer there isn't more of weighty media voice for the Left of NPR/NYTimes crowd, but Pacifica was definitely not doing a job of it, and I don't think it will be much missed when it finally bites the dust.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2014 [28 favorites]


An unintended, crystal clear example of Pacifica's downfall is contained in the first comment on the article. A Pacifica producer praises the article for mentioning Pacifica's historical importance, and then talks about birth defects from US munitions. Nothing about Pacifica's decline or the toxic influence of Gary Null, et al.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:56 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sad. I grew up listening to WBAI in the late sixties and seventies. My mom had it on constantly.
posted by octothorpe at 2:58 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow. I've been vaguely aware of Pacifica as "that liberal network that makes Democracy Now". I had no idea this stuff was going on. Thanks for the link.

a pretty fringe group of folks who are usually more interesting in flooding the airwaves with rants about conspiracies, cancer caused by cell phones, fluoride, alt medicine, and the like.

In other words, what seems like an increasing percentage of my Facebook friends. Is there something in the water now?

Oh, shit.
posted by brundlefly at 3:00 PM on March 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


"There was a woman [diagnosed with] cancer of the uterus," Mazzucco recently explained to KPFK producer Christine Blosdale on air. "She tried the Simoncini method. She healed by herself by simply doing douches, washing with sodium bicarbonate. The cancer's gone, and now she can have babies."


The groupthink and general subscription to pseudoscientific nonsence in left-wing / P&J circles is really tragic- it's been to the serious detriment of networks like Pacifica, as well as smaller, independent stations.

How much traction do their news segments lose by virtue of airing next to Gary Null, or women talking about John of God curing their cancer by sticking scissors up their nostrils, or 'carcinogenic' cell phone towers?
posted by anemone of the state at 3:04 PM on March 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


I've been very interested in Pacifica (and its troubles and never-ending fund-raisers) for the past few months, since I've been downloading Ian Masters' Background Briefing podcasts. Does anybody else listen to Masters? I've just about had enough of him, and, despite usually excellent guests, I increasingly find him exasperating... but I can't say why exactly or accurately characterize his politics to my satisfaction. I'm curious what others think of him.
posted by Auden at 3:06 PM on March 19, 2014


As someone who has only occasionally and briefly listened while flipping through the stations, I'm not surprised by this at all. KPFA here in Berkeley is some quackpot stuff, drifting along detached from reality.

It actually surprises me, and heartens me, to hear that at one point the station was of significance. At least they have a history to be proud of. For now, good riddance, and make space (spectrum and market) for a new liberal station.
posted by cman at 3:06 PM on March 19, 2014


Why is it the Left doesn't support its own voice? Who is to blame when Air America went belly up?
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:09 PM on March 19, 2014


Are those numbers reversed or have things changed drastically in the last six years?

KPCC has become an absolute juggernaut. Those numbers don't surprise me at all.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:11 PM on March 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


An "important voice" is a huge stretch, but it's still too bad to hear that the decline has continued. It must have been most of a decade ago I first heard about the craziness, and this sounds like if has just intensified.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:11 PM on March 19, 2014


Yeah, WPFW in D.C. has fantastic music programming for much of the day, the kind of fantastic that is sadly rare these days, but it is Pacifica in the mornings:

"Take, for example, a five-DVD set titled "The Great Lies of History," which includes five documentaries by Italian filmmaker Massimo Mazzucco: The Second Dallas; The New American Century; UFOs and the Military Elite; The True History of Marijuana; and Cancer: The Forbidden Cures. Cancer features Dr. Tullio Simoncini, an Italian doctor who claims to treat cancer, which he says originates with a fungus, with sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda."

Sadly not a joke, and to me an awful thing to do to the folks who have likely listened to this station for decades. Angry, deluded voices in the morning, deluding and angering others. No better than Fox--and in a way, worse.
posted by oneironaut at 3:14 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


KPFK is full of crackpot stuff, too. Like, chemtrails. It has Democracy Now!, which is fine for what it is. And Ian Masters, who is really great. But all the crackpots hate him because he calls them out as such.

No one does a circular firing squad better than the American left.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:21 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


KPFA was the most insular and provincial station, highly resistant to change or centralization. "The Berkeley station is like an ethnic radio station," Cooper says. "It speaks Berkeley to everybody with a ponytail and long hair."


Heh. It is unlistenable these days.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Why is it the Left doesn't support its own voice? Who is to blame when Air America went belly up?

It's less to do with whether the Left supports its own voice(s), and more to do with the massive corporate sponsorship/support of right-wing media. There aren't enough public radio listeners in the country who can counteract the money -- and therefore the dominance of the airwaves or the print media or the internet -- of a single Rupert Murdoch.

And make no mistake -- this hasn't been accidental. The FCC has actively privileged private, corporate interests since 1934. As Edward Nockels (the father of public/labor radio) said at the time: "whoever controls radio broadcasting in the future will eventually control the nation."
posted by scody at 3:22 PM on March 19, 2014 [22 favorites]


KPCC is run by American Public Media Group which is the parent of Minnesota Public Radio. Minnesota Public Radio is a 44-station (per wikipedia) juggernaut. They took the business model that had succeeded in Minnesota and showed it could work in California.
posted by Area Man at 3:24 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


How much traction do their news segments lose by virtue of airing next to Gary Null

I tried listening to WBAI in the mid 90's but it seemed like every time I tuned in Gary Null was claiming that AIDS in Africa was really just malnutrition. Definitely turned me off.
posted by Drab_Parts at 3:26 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Let me also say, Ian Masters' show, Background Briefing is worth checking out. He has some amazing guests.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:28 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


For people confused about this, radio stations have streaming music and podcasts you can pick up with a "radio receiver". It's sort of like a miniature computer hooked up to WiFi but its range is greater and the data transmission is actually free! They're less popular than they used to be because the communication is strictly one way: from the "station" to your "receiver". Many cars still come equipped with receivers.

Incidentally, building a receiver is a great project to do with your kids. You can find plans on the Internet, but don't try looking for them with a "radio receiver" - it's strictly sound only! There's an equivalent device for watching videos, but it's much more complicated. You'd do better looking for one on Ebay.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:30 PM on March 19, 2014 [29 favorites]


This kind of drama, money troubles, palace coups, has been happening every 2 - 3 years for all of the 30 years I've been listening. I'd be surprised if they really did go belly up. They're messy but they do some good stuff.
posted by Bee'sWing at 3:34 PM on March 19, 2014


What a sad story of good intentions ruined by internal politics. A story that will probably end with Pacifica's assets sold off to Christian radio stations.

Honestly, I now want to adapt this to a story about a fictionalized country, as an example of a failed revolution.
posted by happyroach at 3:39 PM on March 19, 2014


In spite of Pacifica's flaws, I would like to point out that there's still plenty of non-chemtrails content worth listening to on, say, KPFA:

Democracy Now!
Letters and Politics
Economic Update
Against the Grain
Behind the News
Saturday Morning Talkies
Flashpoints
etc.

There's also some really good music shows.

An unintended, crystal clear example of Pacifica's downfall is contained in the first comment on the article. A Pacifica producer praises the article for mentioning Pacifica's historical importance, and then talks about birth defects from US munitions. Nothing about Pacifica's decline or the toxic influence of Gary Null, et al.

How? The birth defects story is offered up as an example of why Pacifica (or left-wing media, generally) is valuable because it is something that NPR would never report.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 3:40 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh wow, this is fascinating.

So, excuse me while I pontificate a bit.
Is this the image of the Left that conservatives have? I mean this seriously. Are the loons that pulled down Pacifica the image/cardboard cutout that moderates and conservatives think of when someone says anything that is labeled "The Left"? Because that is absolutely fascinating.

I mean, I can completely understand why some people who would possibly be more politically left than the Democratic Party just don't want to be associated with anything like this. It's horrific if you look at it from a perspective of people who are incapable of some obvious self-reflection upon how their actions affect other peoples response to them. It's like the Tea Party for Marxists, or something.

Also the fact that there seems to be a major conflation of Leftist politics with New Age Spiritualism and Conspiracy Nutterism. I mean, the worst part of it is that almost every conspiracy out there is a confabulation of Far Right ideology. You can't have the Illuminati without the 5 Jew Bankers, and you can't have the 5 Jew Bankers without the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. You can try and twist and turn and run around it all you want, but it's still Far Right bullshit, not Leftist at all. It's almost like the joke about the political spectrum being a circle instead of a line. Just find and replace New Age with American Evangelical Christian and Left Wing Conspiracy Theorist with Racist Nutjob who believes the Jews killed Jesus and control all the banks. That's just freaking crazy. But I repeat myself.

This also makes every accusation of Metafilter being some horrible bastion of the dumb of American Leftist Politics sound like just name calling with no real weight behind it. I mean, am I missing all the threads about chemtrails and fluoridation causing autism or something? I'm just not seeing it. No True Scotsman, I guess, though.
posted by daq at 3:42 PM on March 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


Why is it the Left doesn't support its own voice? Who is to blame when Air America went belly up?

I think the medium just doesn't fit the message. Right wing can't do comedy, left wing can't do talk radio.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:43 PM on March 19, 2014 [14 favorites]


I always joke that the way I can tell I'm getting older is that I find myself listening to KPCC more than KCRW these days. AirTalk is a fantastic show, as is TakeTwo. Plus the events they host at the Crawford Family Forum are top notch. I never listen to KPFK, it's terrible.
posted by Arbac at 3:45 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: "A little too prius or something"
posted by schmod at 3:50 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean this seriously. Are the loons that pulled down Pacifica the image/cardboard cutout that moderates and conservatives think of when someone says anything that is labeled "The Left"?

Yup. Add long hair and sandals for effect.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:51 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's like the Tea Party for Marxists, or something.

Being an anti-science lunatic on the left doesn't make you a Marxist, given that materialism (that is, the acceptance of science and the material world) is actually the foundation of Marx's philosophy.
posted by scody at 3:52 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


Arbac: ha! These days I can't take any of KPCC's morning programming, and I find myself listening more to KCRW. I love Which Way LA?; I wish they'd expand it to an hour.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:54 PM on March 19, 2014


Which Way LA is indeed fantastic! I just can't deal with Morning Becomes Eclectic all the time so I've switched to KPCC for my morning commute.
posted by Arbac at 3:59 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Right wing can't do comedy, left wing can't do talk radio.

Pretty much. I honestly can't stand to listen to most liberal/progressive talk radio simply because it always manages to sound more nut-bag-insane-paranoid than most right wing talk radio. That's one hell of an accomplishment, but not one to be proud of.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:59 PM on March 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


Navelgazer: "Why is it the Left doesn't support its own voice? Who is to blame when Air America went belly up?

I think the medium just doesn't fit the message. Right wing can't do comedy, left wing can't do talk radio.
"

Well and young people don't listen to the radio much these days. Right-wing radio listeners are as old as Fox News viewers.
posted by octothorpe at 4:08 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's a terrific satirical mini-series in here somewhere.
posted by yoink at 4:12 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Every episode begins with someone wanting to broadcast some fairly reasonable leftist idea, proceeds through a horrible game of telephone, and ends with fluoride chemtrails warping the auras that would have prevented Bush from doing 9/11.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:17 PM on March 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Terrestrial radio is in its death throes across the board. The weakest parts are just crumbling away first.
posted by spitbull at 4:17 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am almost convinced that what qualifies as "the Left" in America is not at all liberal or progressive in any manner. Just because someone labels themselves as something or purports to support certain ideologies does not make them one (see the No True Scotsman arguments/jokes about Christians all over the place).

I think the root cause of it is marketing/advertising. Or rather, how the image of something is sold as the reality, versus the actual act or actions of something. You can grow your hair and smoke pot and wear your sandals, but that does not make you progressive. You can quote Marx and rail against Capitalists, but that doesn't actually affect policy (or get anyone elected).

I'm sure that this is a symptom of something inherent in human nature, and probably explains so much about politics in general that I don't understand (and maybe some political science people could break it down for us), but it seems like there is just a fundamental disconnect between what ideologies people purport to have versus the reality of their behavior and actions.

Also, of note, the "circular firing squad" might be notionally attached to left-wing groups, but when I was growing up in a very right-wing Baptist church, the circular firing squad was just a result of certain personalities being allowed to bully other people into compliance or conformity, and not something that resulted from any particular political alignment. If you mask the words being said by the factions involved and simply look at the actions, it is almost comical how much it is simple human social hierarchic behavior. This complex trade off between creating allies and marking enemies, offering support or denying support in trade for compliance or agreement (or just staying neutral). I think this is part of why shows like Game of Thrones or political dramas are so popular. There is something in our heads that loves to watch these social situations unfold and the backstabbing and betrayal that invariably rises and falls between individuals and sides.

We sometimes call it "trainwrecks", because it's going to be horrible but we can't look away. It's almost as if our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to these machinations, because we know that these behaviors can and will affect us in some way (well, sometimes. Again, instincts aren't great a rationalizations of actions, just responding to them in some manner).

On Preview:
yoink - forget satirical, this is primetime drama. Think West Wing meets Broadcast News, with a hint of Game of Thrones, just to get some beheadings in the mix.
posted by daq at 4:18 PM on March 19, 2014


As someone way to the left of the Democratic Party, I felt Pacifica was sounding ineffectual this week when I was listening in a Target parking lot. I hadn't listened to Pacifica in a bit. Some hardline Maoist was on the air talking about some important civil rights stuff about incarceration. But then he starts talking about how we needed to fight the "pigs" and sounded like a cartoon of a leftist guerilla out of "Network," as daq, above, discerns.
posted by steinsaltz at 4:20 PM on March 19, 2014


left wing can't do talk radio.

NPR? CBC? They're news/entertainment in spoken form, not the kind of "talk radio" that involves opinion-piece guy telling us what grinds his gears, and people calling in to comment.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:24 PM on March 19, 2014


At least KPFT will soldier on even if Pacifica goes away.
posted by planetesimal at 4:25 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Radio is a hot medium, television a cool one.
The Progressive Voice treats liberally (heh) in irony, while the Conservative Voice is almost completely irony-resistant.
Comic irony works wonderfully on TV, and almost not at all on radio.
Hence, Rush Limbaugh can rule the roost on AM radio but put him on the boob tube and he stinks up the place (no doubt literally), while Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert reign supreme on the small screen, while Air America's crappy ratings drove Janeane Garofalo to Scientology* and Al Franken to the US Senate.
*allegedly
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:27 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think it's also partly an issue about authority and hierarchy. Lefties tend to be inherently mistrustful of authority while folks on the right have no problem with it.

Democracy is amazing, it's just impossible to run a place like a radio station if everyone can have their own set of priorities and there's no one with the juice to resolve the disagreements.

Unfortunately, the article leaves out the whole fracas around Mary Francis Berry's attempt to centralize power and the role that episode had in leading to the crazily byzantine rule-making that is now dooming the foundation.
posted by jasper411 at 4:45 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I'm remembering correctly, but I think Air America as a business suffered being a startup with a network model instead of a syndication model? It had Rachel, and Thom Hartmann, and others - a lot of quality. But AA wasn't revolutionizing the medium or playing ball with others so it could increase listenership of its properties. Also, AA had it's share of internal beef.

We have NPR which spawns some great stuff but often floats into Nice Polite Republican territory. NPR stations also seem to need a heck of a lot of BBC and CBC programming to fill 24 hours with.

I am grateful for college radio and indies like WFMU and WPKN, etc.

I'm still bearing resentment for NPR's role in killing Lower Power Radio.
posted by drowsy at 4:45 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


This also makes every accusation of Metafilter being some horrible bastion of the dumb of American Leftist Politics sound like just name calling with no real weight behind it. I mean, am I missing all the threads about chemtrails and fluoridation causing autism or something? I'm just not seeing it. No True Scotsman, I guess, though.

Really, I'm staying out of this, but, if you want a measure of how lefty MeFi is, ask yourself whether an argument that weak in defense of some right-wing position would survive five minutes here without being shredded.

(This is not a criticism of MeFi's orientation. I'm not evaluating it one way or another. But anyone who thinks that MeFi's overarching political orientation is not decidedly lefty is...well...lacking in perspective...)
posted by Fists O'Fury at 4:49 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think it's also partly an issue about authority and hierarchy. Lefties tend to be inherently mistrustful of authority while folks on the right have no problem with it.

I think authoritarianism is its own axis.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:00 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think it's also partly an issue about authority and hierarchy. Lefties tend to be inherently mistrustful of authority while folks on the right have no problem with it.

Boy, someone managed to avoid meeting any libertarians in college.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:08 PM on March 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


It's always been difficult for me to take Pacifica content seriously, even Democracy Now. Democracy Now sort of tries to get it right, but always seems to end with Amy Goodman attempting to skewer some hapless 22 year old army public relations officer "YOUR RESPONSE!?!?!?!"
posted by werkzeuger at 5:18 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


> Democracy Now sort of tries to get it right, but always seems to end with Amy Goodman attempting to skewer some hapless 22 year old army public relations officer "YOUR RESPONSE!?!?!?!"

Wow, what a woefully facile interpretation of the hard work and actual sacrifices that Goodman and her crew put in to get expert guests and vantage points.
posted by planetesimal at 5:22 PM on March 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


How? The birth defects story is offered up as an example of why Pacifica (or left-wing media, generally) is valuable because it is something that NPR would never report.

Pacifica would be valuable if it presented a credible alternative. The fact that the birth defects story has gone generally unreported in US media doesn't make Pacifica itself any better. It's not enough that Pacifica is not-NPR: it also has actually to be a good network. It's not enough that Pacifica would mention the birth defects story: in the age of the internet, I've already read about that in Al-Jazeera, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, etc.

Like, I get the sense that Pacifica justifies itself to itself by focussing on all the things that it is not, or by focussing on the gap that it would ostensibly fill in US media. What it doesn't get around to doing is behaving as a credible, well-run network.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:27 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Boy, someone managed to avoid meeting any libertarians in college.

Or anybody from the neo-Stalinist leftie entryist parties like Workers World Party/International ANSWER.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:30 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


The LA Weekly article is hilarious.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:32 PM on March 19, 2014


The thing is, Amy Goodman is an evil bitch. I was a volunteer at KPFK in the early '80s, and I vividly remember her ego- and power-tripping. I think she was an okay journo at one time, but then Warren Olney showed up on KCRW next door and the only move for her was to consolidate power in the tiny fiefdom of KPFK. The whole drama is incredibly sad: Pacifica gave us Firesign Theater, don'tcha know.
posted by ergomatic at 5:41 PM on March 19, 2014


Yeah (in regards to Pacifica's influence on broadcasting; on the other hand I expect media personalities to have outsize personalities, because that's the nature of the business), reading on through the article, once the current wackiness is disposed of, it's a fascinating story about the history of community radio.

It's quite obvious that the LA Weekly writer loves radio. It's a great article, especially for a former community radio station geek like me (CFUV is awesome!).

I loved reading this. So few people care about radio like the writer of the LA Weekly article does.

Thanks for posting!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:47 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm now at the Amy Goodman part. Holy shit.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:53 PM on March 19, 2014


Speaking of the history of community radio, one of the people mentioned in the article has written a couple books about that (if one wants to get deeper into this rabbit hole):

Uneasy Listening: Pacifica Radio's Civil War

Pacifica Radio 2E
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:54 PM on March 19, 2014


Just in to say, I don't think anyone in the Pacifica tent would have identified as a "liberal" at any point -- leftist, yes; marxian, progressive ... but "liberal" is what NPR used to be.

My 2 cents.

And I'm sad about the decline of Pacifica, too. Let's hope this awesome article stirs up some young pirates, or summat.
posted by allthinky at 5:55 PM on March 19, 2014


the worst part of it is that almost every conspiracy out there is a confabulation of Far Right ideology...

That's what Eric Hoffer pointed out 60+ years ago in his book The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements. People go so far off the deep end that they wind up on the other side.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:02 PM on March 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem is the general problem of the American left-- we lack a consolidated (hegemonic if you like) worldview and goals. The right's goals are simple-- more money for the wealthy. It breaks down into the factions-- natural resources extractors, the finance people, information technology, weapons systems. Arguably the weapons systems companies are heavily mixed up with information technology, i.e. LockMart has IT contracts in addition to selling fighter jets.

Some people will say that the right isn't exclusively about more money for the wealthy, since the libertarians are all about opening up competition in the markets so that the little guy small business owner can do well. That's what they say they want, and I believe that desire to be truthful, having regular dialogue with many libertarians. However, what they fail to understand is how power really works. When they ask for deregulation, what it means is that the wealthiest organizations will use their power to consolidate markets and impose new regulations that favor them, vice the common good. Since people are self-interested (by the tenets of libertarian philosophy) then why wouldn't they seek to eliminate all competition and dominate a marketplace? Because they believe in the almighty goodness of competition? Isn't that just asking people to have a morality beyond the profit motive, some kind of pathetic altruism of takers?

In contrast, Pacifica encompasses a wide variety of people without much to unify them, other than being outsiders. We have the alt.medicine woo sellers, the 9/11 truthers, the various ethnic nationalist groups, etc. Without a common goal, then of course this breaks down into general crappy behavior.
posted by wuwei at 6:07 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fantastic article. Thanks!
posted by salvia at 6:13 PM on March 19, 2014


That core ideology hasn't changed; America has.

The final sentence in the piece reads like a punch-line.

When the "New Left" supplanted the then traditional Left in the early to mid 70s, the core ideology did change. This clusterfuck is partly the result. The lack of emphasis on progressive economic policy, which was the hallmark of the "Old Left", not only closed the door on politically organizing the lower and middle classes around the benefits of a more equitable distribution of wealth throughout society, it opened the door for the rise of corporate dominance of our political and social climate.

The New Left abandoned America, not the other way around.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:13 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


When they aren't begging for pledges, or pitching new age cures (just paying the bills), I find the BAI hosts are very interesting. Only segment of the media left in NY that isn't strictly in the pay of the usual liberal money interest group.
posted by MattD at 6:40 PM on March 19, 2014


Popular interest in broadcast media across the board has been declining for 20 years. Slowly declining content standards (stalwarts like TTBOOK notwithstanding) have only added to that.

After 20 years of internet, we want to listen to audio and watch video *when we want* rather than trying to follow the always-shifting programming of mass media. We also can afford to look for more specialized content tailored to our interests and background. "One size fits all" programming isn't so satisfactory any more. Continued broadcast is more like a reflex action than a living enterprise.

On-air campaigners at WBAI state that their transmitter site lease costs $50,000 PER MONTH. Imagine that yearly $600,000 invested in quality productions rather than the Empire State's bank account.
posted by Twang at 6:44 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Radio is the perfect vehicle for right-wing ideology. The listeners are passive, and take what is being said as gospel truth. Right-wing radio is based on eliciting an emotional response; it's done to get the audience worked up and angry.

Left-wing politics are based on a little bit of ideology and a whole lot more facts. Straight news can be argued to be inherently "left wing" because by definition news brings new information that may very well change the status quo. And changing the status quo is what conservatives are terrified of. Or as Stephen Colbert has now famously quipped, "Reality has a liberal bias."

It's hard to talk for hours about well-researched, erudite, important news stories. Good reportage takes time and money. It's hard to do a truly left-wing radio show, because of the time and the money involved and because people will simply not stick around for hours and hours of facts and info--it's information overload, even for the wonkiest among us. Our lizard brains want some fire and action, at least every now and then.

Having said that, there are exceptions. Rachel Maddow does a very entertaining, left-leaning show, but she's got the money of a big network behind her. Amy Goodman is very good with the wonky stuff, but doesn't have the polish that most people are used to. Stephanie Miller has a "morning zoo" type of liberal talk radio show and it works pretty well. Cenk Unger, Tom Hartmann, Sam Seder: all these guys do a pretty good job balancing the wonky stuff and the zany stuff. I'm sure there are better examples but that's what's coming to mind now.
posted by zardoz at 6:51 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Radio is the perfect vehicle for right-wing ideology. The listeners are passive, and take what is being said as gospel truth. Right-wing radio is based on eliciting an emotional response; it's done to get the audience worked up and angry.

Left-wing politics are based on a little bit of ideology and a whole lot more facts.


Is this really a true? People, left or right, consume media that generally confirms rather than challenges their beliefs.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:58 PM on March 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think of it more as more conservative folk live further out in the country, so they drive for longer periods, including often having jobs as truck and other drivers, which means there are more of them listening to the radio than folks who live in cities, so it's a chicken and egg mismatch of audience to flavour of radio host.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:04 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem is the general problem of the American left-- we lack a consolidated (hegemonic if you like) worldview and goals.

Which I think comes in part from the historical lack of a meaningful, independent labor party as distinct from the Democrats, which views labor/working people as merely a "special interest group" (and one whose interests happen to be fundamentally at odds with the interests of the capitalist ruling class, though this of course must remain unspoken).
posted by scody at 7:15 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


WPFW has, along with WETA/WAMU, been at the core of my radio listening for almost as long as I've been a radio listener, and it's hard to convey in retrospect just how awful and wrenching it was when that pestilential malignant asshole, Mary Francis Berry, and her wretched board just decided to crash the whole historical organization for…what? As a listener for more than thirty years, I can tell you that even after they sent the shithead packing, the network never found its feet again, and that is well and truly tragic.

sigh.
posted by sonascope at 7:28 PM on March 19, 2014


Seconding Noisy Pink Bubbles - Letters and Politics is consistently one of the best current events interview programs on any station, and it will be heartbreaking if Pacifica's implosion puts an end to it.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:29 PM on March 19, 2014


I lived in Houston for a number of years, and got to have KPFT on my radio. I loved it. When I drive into Houston, a real pleasure when I pick up the KPFT signal.

KPFT is absolutely a mixed bag. So many different shows, and different types of shows. None of the snake-oil jive when I lived there and I sure hope it hasn't changed, friends who still live there still listen and they'd not listen to snake-oil salesmen.

For years they had -- and I think they still do have -- a prison show, an outreach to people living in cages here in Texas. They do what they can to help people, and keep up their hope.

One woman, pretty much A Regular Person, she'd been told that KPFT was shaky ground, I told her "Oh god no, they are the best -- give them a listen." And she did give them a listen, and on the show she tuned into there was a coven of lesbian witches. It may have turned her hair gray. It made me so happy, and it still does: It's one of the best things I've ever been party to, I'd do it every day if I could.

Remarkably good music shows, and all over the spectrum, too. I've been in the booth there, don't remember why or what I was doing at the station that day. I've given them things if they were useful; a friend of mine had these huge honkin' speakers and he moved to a smaller place, I gave them to KPFT for parties or events or whatever.

They call themselves a community radio station and that's sure how I see them, or saw them anyways, and I hope that they remain thus.

I hope that they can keep on keeping on even if the rest of the network goes down.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:34 PM on March 19, 2014


I think of it more as more conservative folk live further out in the country, so they drive for longer periods, including often having jobs as truck and other drivers, which means there are more of them listening to the radio than folks who live in cities, so it's a chicken and egg mismatch of audience to flavour of radio host.

A huge demographic shift happened in the past 8 years, tho - Sports Talk Radio. It's a monster. It's eagerly gobbling up politically neutral listeners who used to tune into political demagogues to pass the time in the car. In a big sports town like Boston, the most listened to sports talk channel is more popular than the big FM music stations, never mind the local news stations that also carry syndicated right wing programming.

The internet is becoming more and more important, and it's a fair fight there, at least for now.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:35 PM on March 19, 2014


And as far as Amy Goodman being an evil bitch -- if that's the case, I wish that there were hundreds of thousands more evil bitches working in US media. I sortof love her. I trust her. She's smart. She's got guts. She tells the truth, as best she sees it, from what I can see.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:37 PM on March 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Every democratically-structured organisation, in my experience, is eventually taken over by crazy people. Crazy people have more time and energy so they're always around, always participating, always voting. Crazy people are impassioned, so their pet causes are always on the agenda. Crazy people percolate to the top as the general membership falls away, and the organisation ends up as a loon with a letterhead.

I have seen this in conservative politics and liberal politics and left-wing politics. I have seen it in Jewish groups and Christian ones. It isn't necessarily the fault of the founders; it's the nature of the nutters. When you welcome cuckoos to your nest you end up with bees in your bonnet.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:41 PM on March 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


At the risk of being called a "concern troll", I find it curious that in a thread where commenters are presumably Lefties, or at least educated and sympathetic to progressive causes, it's okay to call Amy Goodman a gendered epithet. Although I doubt Goodman cares very much about what the Portlandia crowd here has to say, what do female MeFites think?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:10 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Every democratically-structured organisation, in my experience, is eventually taken over by crazy people. Crazy people have more time and energy so they're always around, always participating, always voting. Crazy people are impassioned, so their pet causes are always on the agenda. Crazy people percolate to the top as the general membership falls away, and the organisation ends up as a loon with a letterhead.

Spot on comment, and it makes me think what I always wonder when I see a show about serial killers or super villians: where do they find the time? Srsly, I would love to read a GTD manual from a truther.

Also, not a female MeFite, but no, calling Amy Goodman a bitch is not okay.
posted by 99_ at 8:23 PM on March 19, 2014


Any and all the crazy, sane, brilliant, stupid, ugly, beautiful, passionate or apathetic people who aren't politically powerful or wealthy enough to be counted among the ruling elite in a society belong to the Left, whether the "Political Left" (meaning, political party or activist organization affiliated folks as a bloc) wants to claim them or not. That's a reality that can create some pretty damn formidable organizational and political challenges. It's a miracle Leftist reformers have accomplished as much as they have throughout America's history, but it is fair to say, the most gains seem to have been achieved when control of radio and other broadcast airwaves didn't confer such an overwhelming advantage.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:24 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


By my count, only one post is actually calling her a bitch. And I, a male semi-lefty, don't think that's appropriate.

As for Pacifica, I only listened to it for a few months while I was living in California, but I was consitently amazed at the crazy crap that they put on the air.
posted by skewed at 8:27 PM on March 19, 2014


Any and all the crazy, sane, brilliant, stupid, ugly, beautiful, passionate or apathetic people who aren't politically powerful or wealthy enough to be counted among the ruling elite in a society belong to the Left

That's not at all true. The crazy, stupid, ugly, passionate neo-nazis in the US, for example, are neither "powerful" or "wealthy" enough to be counted among the ruling elite, and most certainly do not "belong to the Left." Both right and left have their crazy wingnuts.
posted by yoink at 8:33 PM on March 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


I am here to say that I loved listening to Democracy Now and Letters and Politics on KPFA up until the day I got in my car and turned on the radio and the host of some show was interviewing a 9/11 truther who went into great detail about how the then-Comptroller of the Pentagon was actually a rabbi and how on the day of the attack someone saw a group of Israelis celebrating the accomplishment of their mission.

Disgusting, but almost more pathetic than disgusting.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:35 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


... most liberal/progressive talk radio ... always manages to sound more nut-bag-insane-paranoid than most right wing talk radio.
Seems unlikely. Evidence?
posted by lathrop at 8:39 PM on March 19, 2014


Speaking of Democracy Now and truthers, DN did do a (in my mind, very defensible) roundtable with the truther Loose Change movie makers and two Popular Mechanics contributors that refuted the movie's claims. Let's just say the truthers... do not come off that well.

Always a good link to send to your the 9/11 conspiracy theory lovers in your life.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:43 PM on March 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't be surprised if certain progressive outlets were stuffed with conspiracy goons as some weekend state psyops project - really, is that so hard to believe in 2014?

The magnitude of suffering in the US combined with the actually-existing conspiracies surely must make Alex Jones look appealing when your only other voice of reason is something as limp as NPR or MSNBC.
posted by gorbweaver at 8:57 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


"At the risk of being called a "concern troll", I find it curious that in a thread where commenters are presumably Lefties, or at least educated and sympathetic to progressive causes, it's okay to call Amy Goodman a gendered epithet. Although I doubt Goodman cares very much about what the Portlandia crowd here has to say, what do female MeFites think?"

Not female, but this does go towards what I was saying above about people who claim to be lefties not really being all that lefty really sometimes. Calling her a bitch because she built up her own media empire from the burning timbers of the organization she started out in? Really? The house was on fire when she got there, she just had enough good sense to make the best of the situation and actually ACT on her beliefs and convictions. The people calling her a bitch are really just showing themselves to not have had the will or conviction to keep their organization sound enough to make things work, and instead either threw up their hands and joined whatever faction promised to try and take down anyone who they felt was trying to do more than just be an outlet for lunatics and weirdos.

I am all for weirdos and alternative ideas. Just don't think that just because you are weird or alternative, that you are correct.

And on preview, no, not everyone who is not part of the the elite belongs on the Left. That is a strange interpretation of modern political theory. Could you explain that some, saulgoodman? I am honestly wondering where that idea originates, and if there is any pedigree to it. Most of my understanding of the Left/Right political axis comes from either Renaissance era new democracy theorists (basically people who were trying to create something new and better than the monarchy they were living in), or from post WW2 era European reconstruction era political policy anthropologists (probably not the right word), where the Left/Right scale was calibrated by the shift from fighting Nazis to fighting Stalinists (which was really weird, because in that model, the Nazis and the Stalinists were both considered Despots, so they were both on the Right side of the scale. Go figure).

I'm sure there are other orientations for that scale to spin around, and what constituted the Center of the scale is almost never the same thing (mainstream culture many times fits much further to the right than most people think, and it has nothing to do with the Overton Window, so much as it has to do with conformity).
posted by daq at 9:03 PM on March 19, 2014


There has ALWAYS been strife at Pacifica Radio. :(
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:06 PM on March 19, 2014


KPFT is still mainly a local station, great music programs, BBC news and Democracy Now. I tend to skip the non-music programming since I'm not really the target audience but it seems varied and lefty but not truther crazy. Though late one night many years ago I did year a discussion about how the Jews were behind 9/11. I think it was a national program from Pacifica and I believe it was dropped shortly there after.

There was a bit of a hub-bub with the Prison Show a couple years back when a former right-wing shock jock and convicted sex-offender* joined the program. The management didn't care for it, the sex-offender part more than right-wing. The host protested saying he was a former sex-offender also, and then he quit. It's still on, not sure who's running it.

Overall they seem to have avoided the craziness going on with Pacifica. I hope they survive, except for NPR it's only decent radio in Houston.

*convicted of exposing himself to a young girl. I assume 'sex-offender' is the correct legal term. He also was the news guy for the morning rock shock jock in the 80's when I was in high school. He took an odd path.
posted by beowulf573 at 9:24 PM on March 19, 2014


That's not at all true. The crazy, stupid, ugly, passionate neo-nazis in the US, for example, are neither "powerful" or "wealthy" enough to be counted among the ruling elite, and most certainly do not "belong to the Left."

I'm sorry Yoink, but I think you're wrong on this one, though I may just not have stated my position clearly in straining to add rhetorical flourish.

Most Right Wing beliefs are authoritarian and tend to privilege inherited wealth and social status. They want to build and maintain powerful elite governed systems. That makes the beliefs--the political attitudes themselves--Right Wing, and holding them aligns one politically with the Right. That's correct, so far.

But many of the individual people holding these regressive, Right Wing beliefs are themselves generationally economically disadvantaged and socially disenfranchised in many respects, making them in fact the Left Wing of society, as that's classically been defined.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:28 PM on March 19, 2014


The fact that these particular individuals don't act as a political bloc in support of their own real economic and political interests would have been attributed to False Consciousness in the classical analysis.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:34 PM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman, I think "Left" traditionally refers to a political outlook, not a socio-economic status.

Granted, at times those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder have been drawn to Left politics (one may even argue that it's the politics they are naturally predisposed to or should be attracted to -- in fact this is what is being argued by one that is saying a non-Leftist poor person has "false consciousness"). But this is quite different than saying that someone who is "generationally economically disadvantaged and socially disenfranchised" is necessarily a Leftist.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:37 PM on March 19, 2014


Read a little further back in documents and literary works from history and you'll easily find source texts like Twain that support my characterization of the classical view. I can provide specific cites, but it's not worth beating that dead horse again.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:40 PM on March 19, 2014


(But I'll yield the point to try to avoid further contributing to the derail.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:04 PM on March 19, 2014


~left wing can't do talk radio.
~NPR? CBC?


You can't possibly be serious. If you consider NPR "left-wing" then all I can say is the right's decades-long propaganda assault has been successful. It's a sign of just how far right the country has moved when a steadfastly middle-of-the-road operation like NPR is considered "left-wing".
I've never listened to CBC, so I can't comment on it.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on March 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Calling her a bitch because she built up her own media empire from the burning timbers of the organization she started out in? Really?

Well, no, not really at all. The one use of the word was from someone describing personal experience of "her ego- and power-tripping", and the comment was in response to something about a news director using the phrase "evil bitch" so used the same phrase.

I know we love to jump on people for using the wrong word, and yes it is a wrong word. But context.
posted by ook at 6:09 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


ugh you were talking about the news director, not the comments here, weren't you. Never mind, sorry, my mistake.
posted by ook at 6:12 AM on March 20, 2014


"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision."
- Bertrand Russell
posted by Smedleyman at 7:22 AM on March 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is this the image of the Left that conservatives have? I mean this seriously. Are the loons that pulled down Pacifica the image/cardboard cutout that moderates and conservatives think of when someone says anything that is labeled "The Left"?

Yes. I would bet KPFK made more Republican voters than Democratic.

KPFK was always weird and awful, the little that I heard, and I tried for a while. It doesn’t help that KPCC and KCRW are really good, far better than average, NPR stations, or at least they were in the 90’s. Larry Mantle should be a national treasure.

I still miss the old KPCC, with the classic american music night time format.
posted by bongo_x at 10:54 AM on March 20, 2014


Another War Breaks Out In the Pacifica Radio Network - Jesse Walker
Pacifica was founded by libertarians, sort of. The people who created Pacifica were men and women of the left, but this was a more individualist and anti-statist left than listeners familiar with the network's current incarnation might expect. Pacifica founder Lewis Hill and his closest collaborators were pacifists whose formative political experience was refusing to fight in World War II. Their opposition to violence led many of them to oppose the organized violence of the state and to identify as anarchists.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:00 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pacifica Radio KPFA - Kenneth Rexroth. 1961.
(MeFi's own Bureau of Public Secrets)
[...] Years ago a friend of mine, publicity man for Columbia University Press, and for a while out here with Stanford University Press, once said, “I honestly believe that KPFA is the most remarkable single cultural institution in the United States, and that includes any single university, museum, or any other such body.” Possibly that was overenthusiasm, but KPFA is certainly remarkable.

It is a noncommercial educational FM station, owned and operated by Pacifica Foundation, a democratically run, more or less cooperative, board of local leaders of every variety, united largely by their sense of community responsibility. It has no other income than the subscriptions and donations of its listeners.

From 7:00 in the morning until midnight, KPFA’s transmitters pour out a steady stream of the finest classical music, readings and discussions of literature, commentaries, panels, lectures, on every variety of questions of public concern and current events, lectures and discussions of all the sciences — both general popularization and the up-to-date presentation of new developments, resumés of the news and opinion of the press of the world, full length plays and opera, children’s programs, book reviews, poetry readings, imports from the BBC Third Programme and from similar things in other countries — and so on and on — modern jazz, traditional jazz, ethnic music, folk songs, a program “Music of the Italian Masters” which is far better than anything on the air in Italy.
It seems to me Pacifica would be way better if they just dumped the tin hat conspiracy theories, stopped peddling snake oil and magic beans, and instead just played content from their vast archives - even if they could only afford to broadcast over the internet by doing so. I would love to listen to Kenneth Rexroth bloviate about world literature and cubism, or whatever. Heck, I bet if MetaFilter took over Pacifica programming it could be turned into something well worth listening to.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:14 PM on March 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


DN definitely has an angle but Amy Goodman is doing vital, serious journalism on a shoestring budget on topics (including most impressively, foreign policy) that the mainstream US media hardly touches. I honestly could not possibly give less of a shit about whether she was nice enough to some people she worked with, or if some people think she has a big head or is power-hungry.

I also think calling her a "bitch" should be totally unacceptable in a MeFi thread even if you were sort of referencing-but-not-quoting the article. I flagged it but I think it was probably a little late.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:40 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are many media stars who, however good their work, are terrible people to work with, and because of the ways performance intersects with gender presentation, they're often terrible in very conventionally gendered ways.
I had some friends working for Keith Olbermann at the height of his Bush-bashing. And Keith Olbermann is a TOTAL DICK!
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:02 AM on March 21, 2014


> gendered epithet

That's from a pullquote in the LA Weekly article

I'd love to be able to subscribe selectively, to support the people like Amy Goodman who can cite sources I can check for their stories, because I do look this stuff up. I may disagree with their interpretation, I'm allergic to spin no matter what direction. Given cites, I can check, and that's all I ask of a story.

This reminds me a lot of Perlstein's piece "The Long Con" at The Baffler, about the nitwittery on the other wing.
posted by hank at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]




Amy Goodman is very good with the wonky stuff, but doesn't have the polish that most people are used to.

Maybe she's changed since I stopped listening at the time of the first steep decline some 10+ years ago, but my impression of Goodman wasn't so much that she lacked polish as that her on-air demeanor was juvenile. I remember straining to understand some of her reporting because she was using mocking puns of politicians' names, and during political upheaval in Indonesia she kept making the story all about her ego and her own experience there as a heroic journalist many years earlier.

I've tried tuning back in to KPFK periodically, but each time I heard nothing but shrill Truthers.

It's a shame Pacifica has declined so bad. When I was young and poor and struggling and wondering about my place in the world, I had a job as a delivery driver and would listen to KPFK from morning to night. It was formative, and even helped shape my career path. I shudder to think it may have continued to have that effect on another generation.
posted by univac at 9:42 AM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


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