Is Black Washington Pacifica’s enemy? That was the question raised in an article by Askia Muhammad, long time broadcaster on Pacifica station WPFW in Washington DC. Muhammad referred to a “Berkeleyite faction” of broadcaster and their supporters associated with another Pacifica station, KPFA serving the Bay Area in Northern California, and the original station of the 50 year-old Pacifica Foundation. Pacifica also owns radio stations in Los Angeles, Houston and New York City. In his article Muhammad quotes interim Pacifica National Board member Jabari Zakiya as saying "It is the notion that a small group of people--primarily white Berkeleyites in this case--have a divisive ideology which is being seriously played out in the Bylaws, the Foundation restructuring vote, and the ‘Democracy Now!’ productions contract."
Democracy Now! is the daily national program produced by Amy Goodman, which recently received an indefinite multi million-dollar contract from Pacifica that has many of the Foundation’s supporters in a snit. The Board is also currently embroiled in a controversy over new Bylaws for the Foundation that has set former allies against each other arguing the role of government mandated Local Advisory Boards in the day-to-day running of the networks five stations. But it’s at DC’s WPFW where the internal conflicts over the direction of Pacifica and its “Mission” (the new leadership says they are committed to a “Mission” based role for Pacifica) are coming to a head. Some WPFW insiders say that the current Pacifica regime, spearheaded by Executive Director Dan Coughlin, iPNB chair Leslie Cagan, and their supporters is waging a desperate campaign to eliminate and harass employees, “cook the books” to justify firings, layoffs and generally make themselves look good, finance outside organizations and quietly pay off some creditors and ignoring others. Some say that Pacifica’s management may have broken the law and put the Foundations broadcast licenses in jeopardy.
The Pacifica Foundation has a complex and little known relationship with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Foundation is funded primarily through individual donations and memberships, but a crucial 15% of the networks budget comes from the Federal government through grants made by the CPB. The CPB money comes annually in the form of five checks, one for each station. The checks come into WPFWs Washington offices (where the national office is located pending a move to Berkeley which was approved by the iPNB late last year.) The WPFW check is deposited to the stations bank account and WPFW employees send off the remaining CPB checks to the other four local stations. According to sources when the checks arrived in the mail a few weeks ago Yhasmine Bryan, who is the interim controller for Pacifica, demanded that “all CPB checks be given to Dan (Executive Director Dan Coughlin.)”
Despite Bryan’s orders WPFW deposited their check according to past procedure, but a WPFW employees says she “was accosted at her desk and made to call the woman (who brought the check to the bank) and tell her to bring back the check.” According to the source a WPFW manager told her to “hang up the phone” and ignore Pacifica’s order, causing to a “loud exchange” between the manager and Yashmin Bryan. The source described the incident as another example of why working at WPFW as “like “riding a psychotic horse.”
Dan Coughlin had briefly been Bureau Chief for the now defunct Pacifica Network News but was fired by then Executive Director Lynne Chadwick, who said at the time it was for “incompetence.” According to sources the real reason was because Coughlin “attacked a Black guy.” Joe Gill, a long time Pacifica technician was put in charge of the Ku Satellite transmitter, which serves national programming to Pacifica stations and affiliates and sources say Coughlin “didn’t like it.” Another source says Coughlin was “was trying to control things, to get Joe Gill to kowtow but Joe wouldn’t.” According to one account Coughlin “burst into a meeting with Lynne Chadwick and went off -- it was ugly. He didn’t appreciate that Joe Gill was promoted without his input.”
A source says the night Coughlin was fired he was seen along with now Deputy Executive Director Verna Avery Brown (who had resigned as a PNN news editor) taking equipment and documents from the Foundation’s offices in the middle of the night. According to a source who witnessed the incident Coughlin was spending time on a computer, “we though he was trying to get personnel records,” and Brown was seen carting away “at least 10 boxes” of review copies of books sent to the station. Carol Spooner, an iPNB board member from Northern California, was seen going through Pacifica financial records on multiple occasions. This happened despite the Foundation’s Bylaws, which forbid Board members from involving themselves in the day-to-day operations of the Foundation.
Although the Board is not supposed to be involved in day-to-day operations sources claim that Coughlin is currently telling the WPFW news department whom to hire. The source continues to assert that Verna Avery Brown regularly “steals supplies” from WPFW for use by her own Pacifica Peace Watch program. Although Brown is African American the source asserts the iPNB is “racist” because “They want to get everybody Black out of there.”
There are also charges that Pacifica is using WPFW as a “cash cow” to finance national office projects. According to witnesses Coughlin demanded WPFW give Pacifica $5,000 last November 15, another $5,000 on December 15 and $5,000 more on December 29 to pay for legal bills under the guise of the budget entry Central Services. Yet another $33,000 was demanded and paid by WPFW for Pacifica central services in one month. Then another $33,000 was demanded, $20,000 for legal alone, for total of $86,000 in a period of three months. Sources say Coughlin is “trying to get WPFW and all CPB money into Central Services because the national office has no revenue stream, its only revenue is from the stations.”
Part of the budget problem was Coughlin’s $50,000 phone bill and Verna Avery Brown $20,000 phone bill. The Quest long distance carrier bill was $6,000/month for conference calls alone. The Quest bill was charged to WPFW – Quest threatened that were going to cut off service until it was paid – so they switched to a new carrier, finally when Verizon, the new carrier said it wouldn’t switch unless the bill was paid Pacifica had to pay Quest, using money from central services.
There are also claims of a disturbing pattern of what’s called “plugging” of budget numbers to make them balance out in the system because the national office had already spent the CPB money (called deferred income in the budget) before the stations received it. Sources say Yashmin Bryan and Coughlin “were plugging numbers,” which at least one knowledgeable observer says is illegal, going in and changing numbers so Coughlin could say as he did on the Pacifica web page that WPFW only raised $770,000 during its October fundraiser when in fact WPFW raised $1.4 million allowing Coughlin to justify Pacifica’s criticisms of WPFWs staff.
Sources say that Pacifica is still wasting large sums of money. Former WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler was supposed to be promoted to the position of National Program Director but no one knows where she should go or what she should do. Coughlin can’t fire her without giving the appearance that Bessie Wash was correct when she originally (after offering her the same job as National Program Director) fired Van Isler in December 2000.
The source confirms that Democracy Now! producer Amy Goodman was paid $90,000 a year by Pacifica “under the table and she can’t deny it.” The source adds that the recent contract for Democracy Now is $600,000 a year, paid through Central Services. Yet, Pacifica continues to force WPFW to pay half and possibly all the salary for a reporter on Brown’s Peace Watch program amounting to more than $30,000 a year. Meanwhile more than $50,000 is owed to stringers for the Pacifica Network News including one former reporter currently undergoing cancer treatment.
In yet more serious problems for Pacifica, WPFW hasn’t had a certified engineer on the premises since August 2001, despite still having former senior engineer Bob Daughtry’s name and certificate up in the station, she adds that “it’s invalid.” WPFW has also failed to remain in compliance with the FCC’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules mandating logging regular monthly tests of the EAS system. Recent fines levied by the FCC for failing to maintain an EAS system have ranged from $6,000 to $10,000.
In related developments, former KPFK General Manager Mark Schubb is being stiffed for thousands of dollars owed him by Pacifica despite a decision in his favor by the National Labor Relations Board. The first settlement check received by Schubb from Pacifica actually bounced.Documents
backing up these claims will be posted on the Internet shortly. Return to this site for more information or go to the Return Pacifica to the People
web page to learn more.