Paul DeRienzo

Keeping an Eye on the New World Order

Friday, November 22, 2002

Here are some thoughts that I've developed on the issue of conspiracy theories. There has been some controversy at Pacifica over Michael Ruppert and his view that the Bush administration had advance warning of the 9/11 attacks. Today Ruppert was interviewed by Gary Null on these issues and here are main the points of disagreement with the anti-conspiracists the we share.

1. Despite the fact that Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and many Pacifica journalists have often relied on questionable characters as sources for their reports on allegations of criminal activity by the US government Ruppert has been attacked for allegedly using similar sources. Why should we believe Mike Vreeland who Ruppert says warned the US government of 9/11? Vreeland has been called a liar and a crank, why isn’t he?

2. The Nation’s David Corn says Ruppert's citations often "don’t pan out." How do we know that Ruppert's facts are accurate? In fact Corn presents himself as an “expert” on 9/11, its causes and its perpetrators. However, Corn has not presented any theories of any kind that explain 9/11 except in the most general terms that poverty in the third world contributes to a violent hatred of the US government and capitalist establishment. Corn makes no reference to the recent congressional hearings that showed a shocking lack of attention to numerous threats of terrorist actions against eh US. Corn makes no reference to the tape of FBI informant Emad Salem that was uncovered by Pacifica reporter Paul DeRienzo showing some sort of possible foreknowledge of an attack on the World Trade Center by FBI officials. That tape is played often to this day on WBAI and Corn has made no comment on its troubling potential meaning. Neither does Corn make reference to Jean-Charles Brisard’s book “Forbidden Truth” that targets US-Taliban secret oil diplomacy as a cause for the 9/11 attacks. Brisard has been a guest on Democracy Now saying many of the same things as Ruppert and yet neither Corn nor Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has made any criticisms of Amy Goodman as they have made of Ruppert.

3. In the wake of 9/11 many have questioned the role of the US government, often based on past lies and conspiracies. In fact in the late 80s there was a conspiracy theory labeled “The October Surprise” based on the theft of Democratic party planning documents and rumors that George Bush Sr. was plotting with the Reagan administration to launch a war or other intervention in Central America to create a patriotic backlash and insure a 1988 Republican election victory.

The “October Surprise” was widely presented as fact on the Pacifica network, especially WBAI. In fact Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting members and associates were among the loudest proponents of the “October Surprise” conspiracy theory. In fact FAIR often mentioned the mainstream media’s ignoring of the “October Surprise” as a symptom of conservative and corporate control of the media. Currently FAIR founder and former Executive Director Jeff Cohen has been hired by MSNBC as senior producer of the Phil Donahue show. Prior to that, while still employed by FAIR, Cohen was a panelist on Fox TV’s “Fox News Watch.” FAIR member Norman Solomon has bitterly criticized Mike Ruppert because of his tenacious investigation into possible US government foreknowledge of 9/11. Why was the “October Surprise” conspiracy theory good enough for FAIR in the 80s, but Ruppert’s current research, in the era of FAIR’s rise to commercial media prominence, not good enough for today’s Pacifica, especially taking into account FAIR’s deep involvement with the recent Pacifica civil war.

4. Chip Berlet has deservedly made a career on critiquing other people’s journalism, while searching for evidence of creeping right-wing influence in leftist movements. Berlet says he is not against conspiracy theories per se, but he is worried when these theories overshadow more conventional leftists analysis of the worlds ills. But, what Berlet leaves out is the chilling effect his work can have on honest inquiry. Currently no one really knows for sure who was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center. No one knows for sure why the Center was attacked except for general and obvious reasons like dislike in some quarters for US policies in the Middle East and support of Israel. This has caused a great deal of consternation among liberals and leftists who fear loosing the political high ground to conservative war hawks like Bush who are speaking to many American’s anger and desire for justice and retribution against those deemed responsible for the attacks. Looking at the Democrats’ disastrous showing in the mid-term elections are we being paralyzed, as the democrats were, by our fear of dealing honestly with what might turn out to be very uncomfortable facts about the nature of terrorism. Why aren’t you contributing to a right-wing backlash by focusing on conspiratorial so-called “evil groups,” as charged by Berlet, within the government as the reason for oppression and suffering?

5. Why should journalists “give you a megaphone” as asked by David Corn? Is here a tendency by some charged-up political activists to self-identify as “experts” who feel they should be the ones to tell progressives what they need to hear. Is it acceptable in a Democracy to filter ideas through a handful of such “experts” in order to “protect” the public from controversial, disturbing or even wring headed ideas. What does it say about these “experts” and so-called political activists that they, despite their self-proclaimed progressivism, have such a low opinion of the public as to believe they would be so easily mislead as to need to be protected from investigations that might not jibe with the accepted orthodoxy of the leftist community. What ever happened to informed decision making by democratic citizens?

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Coming soon: The REAL "strike" at Pacifica Network News. Or how to stiff a stringer.

It was a year ago yesterday that flight 587 crashed on takeoff in Queens. The tragedy occurred in the morning as Santiago Nieves and I were gabbing on the WBAI morning show as we did every weekday. Almost to the day it was two months after 9/11 so the sight of the burning wreckage and the magnitude of the devastation left New Yorkers more shocked and jittery than ever. I remember one caller, a woman reacting as if she was my sister as we discussed the trauma of 9/11 in the context of the day’s disaster. Some interesting programs on Gary Null's Natural Living show on WBAI this week. Since may I've been Executive Producer, developing health, nutrition and investigative reporting programs on a daily basis for WBAI, our Washington sister station WPFW and Pacifica’s LA station KPFK. I'm proud to report that Gary's show is by far the biggest fundraiser for Pacifica. In New York despite attempts to dilute our power by Bernard White and Valerie Van Isler we raised over $600 a minute, in DC we broke the last record that Gary held from the past year in numbers of pledges and at KPFK Gary did so well in the middle of the night on the Roy of Hollywood show that we might get our own KPFK daytime show. One thing that's really exciting is that we're doing it by returning to the roots of Pacifica --Peace in a time of war. This week we had War Resister League stalwart and Presidential candidate Dave McReynolds and earlier Scott Hunt whose book "The Future of Peace" is about the lives of some of the worlds best known and effective peacemakers. In contrast to the almost pro-Saddam Hussein drumbeat from most other Pacifica public affairs programmers Gary is truly upholding the mission of Pacifica radio and Lew Hill would be proud, after the past 11 months of rolling in his grave.

The future of Lew Hill's dream is really in trouble at WBAI these days. The role of WBAI producer Bob Lederer is worthy of some looking into since he is champion of an unusual scheme for local advisory board representation at WBAI. I first met Bob in the early 1980s when I was researching an article for the Yippie newspaper Overthrow on uranium mining in Puerto Rico. Bob was close to several radical Puerto Rican liberation support groups and in a long interview he provided me with a lot of background information. Soon afterwards I traveled to Nicaragua with my friend the late Pete Mastrangelo a radical New York City High School teacher. I returned with a slide show about the struggle of the Sandinistas to rebuild the country after a bloody revolution and in the midst of a US sponsored contra war. In Nicaragua I met up with Marilyn, partner of lawyer and radio host Ron Kuby's. She was building a health clinic in the mountain town of Esteli. Later we marched with US activist aid workers and Yippie founder Abbie Hoffman at the US embassy in Managua where a vigil was held every Thursday morning. That's where I experienced the fact that not only did Abbie speak perfect Spanish, but he was a well-known hero throughout all of Latin America, more so then in the US where the government had hounded and imprisoned him for his anti-war work.

Anyway back with the Yippies in New York a few of us got together to and planned a showing of my Nicaragua slides. We invited Abbie, a Salvadoran activist and Bob Lederer to speak about Puerto Rico. Bob was fighting an attempt by the government to jail him for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking into a spate of bombing by radicals in the US. I don't know or care if he knew anything about it, but wither way he wasn't talking and he spent two months in jail for civil contempt of court along with another activist from the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, a radical group famous for its support of the so-called theory of "white skin privilege. (more on that later)" Well the show was great, Abbie came and the Salvadoran guy spoke and afterwards a couple of splifs started making the rounds of the large crowd who had come to the event. (A couple of joints at a Yippie event is usually not a big surprise). Well Bob got really uptight about it and came over to me and asked if I could get them to stop smoking. Well if there's anything more unpopular at a Yippie event then not sharing ones dope, it's telling people to put it out, sorry Bob.

Monday, November 11, 2002

Jumping ahead to the spring of 2001. I'm walking along 1st Avenue in Manhattan past the construction site associated with the Theater for a New City or TNC. The TNC was started by Crystal Field who made her name as an originator of the Manhattan Halloween parade, which can attract throngs of costumed revelers. The TNC also produces various small plays, usually financed from city, state and federal arts grants. In the months before the Pacifica civil war broke out the TNC was involved in their own civil war within the Lower East Side community where they're situated by allowing the construction of a 17-story luxury apartment building with condos going for more than one million dollars. The Lower East Side is not only a predominantly low-rise residential area with a large poor population it has also made a mark by resisting the high-rise developments that have destroyed most other neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Lower East Side has a long history of labor and social activism and it's the strength of that history that's kept out plans for an 8 lane expressway that was once planned for the 'hood and defended hundreds of homeless people in Tompkins Square Park.

In fact on August 6, 1988 more than one hundred unsuspecting neighborhood people were injured in an infamous "police riot" sparked by an attempt to shut down Tompkins Square Park by force. That action forced the park to be reopened and for three years a war was raged between squatters, homeless people and activists vs. neighborhood yuppie gentrifiers, city agencies and the police. I was there and my audio documentary about the police riot is available at where I archive many of my best tapes. During the same period the city discovered that dozens of abandoned buildings had been quietly seized by hundreds of squatters. That began decade long battle superimposed on the Tompkins Square park struggle. When I came to WBAI as staff reporter the Lower East Side, my neighborhood since 1981, was in turmoil. It was a great time to be a local news reporter.

By the late 90s and 2000 the spirit of '88 had largely been forgotten. The more radical and more insane squatters were largely dead or driven from the hood. The wealthier, better skilled squatters were working out a deal to legalize the possession of their homes and rich yuppies, emboldened by the Clinton economic bubble had driven rents up to $3000 a month and more for an apartment that used to rent for $300/month. In was in this climate that the TNC faced a bitter economic reality, they could no longer support themselves and they were going bankrupt. Facing that reality Crystal Field signed over development rights to the city. In return for a huge payment to cover TNC rent arrears and another shot at solvency (they have to continue making exorbitant rent payments to the city) they had to allow the city to find a developer to build a high-rise monstrosity, towering over the 6 story tenements surrounding them. Even more importantly the construction of that luxury high-rise above TNC is a slap in the face to a century of battles against the city and the fight of the old timers who stopped Robert Moses' attempt to bulldoze the Lower East Side in the 60s.

Add to these concerns the labor problems that spiraled out of control as the structure was built. At one point a 100-foot high construction crane fell over striking the TNC and coming within inches of destroying a neighboring tenement. Neighbors of TNC told me that they lived in constant terror of a construction disaster for more than a year. So imagine my surprise that on April 30, 2001 the Concerned Friends of WBAI were about to have fundraiser at the TNC. It was a the Monday after the WBAI event that I was walking by the TNC only to find about 20 men with picket signs protesting in front of the site. It was the International Machinists Union local 14-14B and they were protesting non-union crane and equipment operators that they said (and I had directly seen) were endangering the neighborhood. The next day during the WBAI morning show I mentioned the picket line as a news story and very briefly editorialized that Amy and the Concerned Friends, who were constantly identifying themselves as a labor movement, had in fact crossed a picket line at TNC. Well that little statement caused all hell to break loose. Mimi Rosenberg actually called the union and extracted what she said was basically dispensation for her group, that in fact they had not violated any labor morality by holding their events at the TNC. The reaction taught me if I didn't know it before that the Concerned Friends struggle was not a real union struggle but a continuation of the efforts of some volunteer producers to create a system where their shows would never be challenged, changed or removed. The Concerned Friends were just another hack group trying to stay in power.

An interesting side note is the alleged connection between TNC owner Crystal Field and the WBAI Local Advisory Board. Field is a close associate of LAB member Panama Alba.

There are so many anecdotal stories stemming from last year's Pacifica civil war, here's one that really clarifies the situation at WBAI. First some background. How did I get to be news reporter in the morning at WBAI? I had actually been a half time news reporter for WBAI snce 1992, that after being a volunteer reporter since about 1986. It all began when I was called by East Village radical artist Seth Tobocman and a group called "Brooklynites Against Apartheid," which included Mitch Cohen and a number of young anarchist women from Cornell, to particiapte in disruptive protests against South African interests. Our first target was South African Airways at JFK airport. I wrote articles, and supplied photos of the protest to the Guardian and New York Daily News. We carried out two seperate actions, both designed to disrupt boarding on SAA aircraft, the second time I recruited some squatter friends from the Lower East Side who took it on themselves to build a South African style squatter shanty on the gangway to the plane, provoking the riot police. I happened to bring my little walkman tape recorder and I got some great sound of the cops beating people. Later my friend Pieman Aron Kay got me in touch with Bob Fass who said I should call the WBAI news department.

There I met a very cool person who fell in love with my work, claiming I was the best street news reporter who ever worked at WBAI. We made a partnership and produced a very exciting Saturday evening news program for a about a year. We used to party at Wo Hop's in Chinatown and over at my loft on Avenue D every night after the news. Eventually Dred Scott Keyes (who was homeless and living in the news room at the time) recruited me for a volunteer morning news slot, but that didn't last long since I had a regular job teaching English as a Second Language and subbing for the Board of Ed. I was at WBAI for some time before Amy Goodman came on the scene, I don't know the whole story but I heard she had some problems with staffers at WNYC where she had a feminism show. She seemed nice enough at first, but she was incredibly ambitious and soon, through force of personality, had basically taken over the news department at WBAI. By 1992 I had wrangld my self into a couple of hours a week of paid work in the News Department and I combined theat with paid engineering duties and a part time gig working for Dennis Bernstein's show Contragate/Undercurrents. Valerie Van Isler was the busnesss manager for Bernstein's show, she later became general manager at WBAI.

During this period there was a an unpopular Program Director named John Scaggliotti who was one of the first people I met at WBAI with the opinion that most of the station's prgrammers were incompetent and felt there should be radical programming changes. As much as there was animosity between Scaggliotti and the volunteer producers, he always liked me, because he said my work was always comptetent. It's funny that I hit it off with the folks who wanted standards at WBAI and had problems with some of the people who like Valerie saw her role as defending the status quo. Valereie tried to fire me soon after I began working in the news department without giving any reason. Since I got along as well as anyone with Amy at the time I always suspected that Robert Knight was jealous and thought that I was competing with him for the role of "enfant terrible" at WBAI (which I wasn't, but I suspect he was very insecure). It could have been others as well who had Valierie's ear. I never knew Valerie to make too many important decisions on her own. The Union helped me and after that I became very involved with WBAI union activities, to the extent that there were any.

The union had begun as a reaction to Scaggliotti and was primarily an organization of volunteer programmers against management. The dynamic at WBAI in the late 80s and early 90s was almost entrely about stopping anyone from making major programming changes, the stafff was united on that point. Pacifica soon backed down on plans for major changes and Scaggliotti happily left to be a successful filmmaker. Interstingly it was Dennis Bernstein who broke down staff unity for the first time by forcing his program then called "Contragate" into the 8 AM Monday thru Friday slot, it was the first "strip prgramming" show and it started the pattern that lead to the development of Democracy Now! and the decline of the union representing unpaid staff. The first show to fall to Bernstein was Fred Herschkowitz's "Home Fries." Bernstein had actually written a book of poetry he self published called "French Fries," the book cover looked like a McDonald's french fry carton. I'll never forget Dennis bruskly kicking Herschkowitz out of the studio at 8AM and a fuming Fred exiting only to be confronted with a stack of copies of Dennis's book on a table next to the control room. I'll give Fred this for professionalism he kept his cool, but barely.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

Another word on the so-called Unity Caucus that's threatening WBAI with the specter of sectarian domination, cursing the station and the network with another decade of dead-last rating and total irrelevancy. LAB member Mimi Rosenberg seems to have a big interest in WBAI despite the fact that the show she shares with Ken Nash has virtually no audence. Its called "Building Bridges" but it should probably be renamed Burning Bridges for the absolute depths of hackneyed apologies for corrupt unions that the program regularly spews. Last year Santiago and I would laugh til blue in the face as we reported on the corruption investigation at AFSCME District 35. That's the union where Ken Nash works as a librarian.

In November 2001, I attended the Pacifica National Board meeting in northern Virginia. It was one of the strangest events that I have ever particiapted in, I'll describe it detail in another post, but one interesting drama was after I announced I was at the meeting as shop steward for WBAIs fledgling AFTRA local. At the meeting Mimi Rosenberg was seen lobbying Board member John Murdoch trying to block approval of the AFTRA bargaining unit at BAI. Later I went up to Murdoch and he referred to Mimi as that "crazy woman," telling us that there was no way she could block approval of AFTRA because the vote had already been taken, a unanamous vote of the Board, a vote that included current Board chair Leslie Cagan had already approved recognition of AFTRA.

As the specter of war in Iraq seems to dissapate for the time being where is Pacifica. It's obvious that the nations largest community radio network has lost its way and is unable to mount a serious role as anti-war leader. The provincial divisions between the 5 stations and particularly between Bekeley's KPFA and the other 4 is crippling what could have been a true national media alternative to the war. Instead has been 60s radicals are leading the network into even greater fragmentaion by handing over leadership to a group of sectarian self proclaimes "leftists" who seem more intent on proving thier ..ism is trully not a ....wasm (thanks to Abbie Hoffman), then creating a true national network that unites rather than divides. As long as folks like the clique of hacks who dominate the WBAI Local Advisory Board continue to call the shots Pacifica will be more a Tammany Hall outpost than a peole's radio network.

Saturday, November 09, 2002

Pacifica is seemingly devolving into utter chaos. The idea of creating local boads to oversee management and on air content is totally in contradiction with founder Lew Hill's mission. It seems that the current leaders of Pacifica have risen to prominence by promising certain cliques that they will be guarenteed control of ther station, but the management folks really can't deliver. This is causing a great deal of internal conflict. Years of mis-management, combined with minimal attempts to raise more funds and grow has put a billion dollars worth of radio licenses in the hands of the group least able to handle the responsibility. They suffer from extreme provincialism arising from the "community" nature of their interpertation of Lew Hill's mission. To the point of staunching any debate. It's a deep poverty of philosophy, a lack of goals and an over reliance on totalitarian personalities attemting to stay in power by brute force. In a recent posting Carol Spooner claimed that the FCC can be kept at bay by creating a lab structure seperate from the board structure required by law, but also prohibited from anything more than an advisory role. She hopes the law will be interpreted as allowing these over arching boards as long as they are seperate. Maybe she's right but what surprises me is that anyone would see this as progressive, to have secret committees like the ones WBAI is so fond of act as political Kommissars and star chambers to keep thier cliques in power. If the government allows this structure for a public station it must be because the government wants Pacifica to be run this way.. and why not.. a divided network will fall, and surely it will be unable to make a national impact.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Already running on reduced staff because of the various boycotts and internecine feuding that had broken out among WBAI staffers and producers only a few of us were on hand on the 9/11 as we confronted the biggest news story ever covered by WBAI, arguably the biggest story in the history of Pacifica. Officially I was the morning news reporter and the 9/11/01 was supposed to be the New York Democratic mayoral primary election, a hard fought racially charged fight between a white liberal and a Puerto Rican moderate the in many ways mirrored WBAIs own internal problems. The night before I had been visiting my friend activist Dana Beal's Bleecker Street headquarters and salon when we got a surprise call from a neighbor, subway gunmen Bernie Goetz who was also running for mayor. He wanted to come over and campaign, although he was hard pressed to find a supporter among Dana's lefty group of anarchists we all laughed and invited him over. Bernie dropped by and during his visit my cell rang... it was Santiago Nieves the host of the WBAI Morning Show calling to tell me he couldn't get in the next morning and asking if I’d handle the show for him. With no guest prepared and an important election I remembered what Samori Marksman used to say about the chronic lack of resources and available talent at WBAI, "make use of what you've got." What I had was a mayoral candidate, Bernie Goetz. Santiago had already interviewed imprisoned candidate hopeful and convicted murderer Abe Hirschfeld so I figured a controversial, convicted felon like Goetz would make a great radio foil for a call in show. It turned out to be great radio and an amazing lead in to the events of 9/11.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

At about 5:30 PM we had to leave and I walked over to the still smoking edge of what had been the twin towers.

WBAI was one of the few stations still on the air because we transmit from the Empire State Building and not the World Trade Center antenna.

It's been more than year since the disaster at the World Trade Center. At the time I was morning news host on WBAI's morning radio show and was just signing off when the engineer pointed out the smoking hole in the side of the first building that was hit. Our studios on the eastern end of Wall Stree were only about 6 blocks away and the first sign that something was wrong came as a blizzard of paper began falling from the sky. As the disaster unfolded thousands of people came streaming to the waster's edge where a flotilla of boats (reminded me of pictures of Dunkirk) began the evacuation.