TO: Pacifica National Board
FROM: The Democracy Now!
DATE: 2 October, 2001
We have heard that the Pacifica National Board is holding an
emergency meeting on Wednesday, October 3, to discuss Democracy
Now!. We have not been contacted regarding this meeting. We would
like to express our willingness to discuss the conditions under
which Democracy Now! will return to the airwaves. To this end, we
have drafted the following summary of what has transpired between
Pacifica management and the Democracy Now! staff.
Since August 14 the staff of Democracy Now! has been suspended
without pay, after being driven out of WBAI studios by a vitriolic
campaign of public defamation and harassment, including physical
threats and assaults by the present Pacifica executive leadership.
AFTRA, the union representing the Democracy Now! staff, has deemed
WBAI an unsafe workplace. We are producing Democracy Now!, without
compensation from Pacifica, at Downtown Community Television in
Lower Manhattan. The program continues to be carried by Pacifica
station KPFA and Pacifica affiliates around the country.
The Democracy Now! staff (and attorneys representing Amy Goodman)
have previously written directly to Pacifica Management, to the
Pacifica Board, and to its attorneys, detailing the harassment which
we have faced and urging that immediate action be taken to stop the
abuse of the Democracy Now! staff and to rescind the unfair
disciplinary actions which have been taken against us.
Most recently, Pacifica's former National Program Director Steve
Yasko, resigned following revelations that he operated a website
which featured hyperlinks to sites containing hard-core pornographic
material demeaning to women. In fact, one of the postings Yasko
permitted on his website included a pornographic fantasy about Amy
Goodman who was imagined as "a 6 3" muscular jock with a six pack
and a heavy package that needs attention."
The Democracy Now! staff had already filed numerous complaints
against Mr. Yasko. These included Amy Goodman's gender harassment
union grievance. Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash and the
Pacifica Foundation aggressively defended Steve Yasko on he AFTRA
grievances, including the harassment and gender harassment charges.
Amy was repeatedly called a "liar" and her allegations derided as
"garbage" by senior Pacifica management and Board members. Pacifica
Executive Director Bessie Walsh not only has failed to apologize for
Steve Yasko's reprehensible conduct towards Amy and the Democracy
Now! team, she has never even communicated with us about these
events. In fact despite repeated e-mails to her, she has not
communicated with us in almost a year.
Although management has not officially notified us, we understand
that Bessie Wash replaced National Program Director Steve Yasko with
former WBAI interim Station Manager Utrice Leid. Since her
appointment as interim Station Manager at WBAI in December 2000,
Utrice Leid and WBAI staff and producers under her authority have
routinely vilified the staff of Democracy Now!, threatened us with
violence, and made us the objects of racist and/or sexist slurs.
These documented attacks have occurred during on-air broadcasts, at
the station during working hours, and at staff meetings. Pacifica
Management has never addressed the attacks.
In the incident which prompted the staff of DN! to leave WBAI for
its own safety, Ms. Leid physically accosted Amy on August 10, 2001
This physical assault against a Democracy Now! staff member is now
being grieved by AFTRA. The next week day, WBAI staff used a master
key to enter our office and harass us while we were trying to
prepare the show. They shouted so loudly that the on-air host left
the studio to tell them they were disrupting his broadcast.
Pacifica management said they would investigate these incidents
and report back the results on September 10. They never interviewed
Amy or the Democracy Now! producers who witnessed the incidents, and
Pacifica never completed its investigation. Instead, Pacifica
promoted Utrice Leid to head of National Programming.
Two days after Ms. Leid was promoted, she told a WBAI producer to
tell Democracy Now! engineer Anthony Sloan not to return to WBAI,
referring to Anthony as "that nubian warrior defending that white
maiden." On Monday, she wrote a memo to the building staff, that he
was not to enter the premises. Again, this is after she has been
named Pacifica National Program Director. This banning is
management's first official action towards Democracy Now! staff
since the "Peace Initiative" put forward by Mr. Farrell.
Incredibly, a week after the World Trade Center attacks, Ms. Leid
instructed the Arts Director to inform all programmers at WBAI that
they were not to discuss the tragedy or its aftermath on the
airwaves, that only "healing music and poetry" were to be played. In
addition, she removed the only weekly radio program on South Asian
politics in New York City from the air and banned its producer from
the airwaves. This at a time when the Asian community is under the
most serious attack. The Jewish show, which had prepared a major
World Trade Center special, refused to play only music as the Bush
Administration prepared for war. Their program did not air.
Pacifica has never taken action on any of the documented
incidents involving Ms. Leid or other WBAI staff and producers under
her control. Instead, Ms. Leid has been elevated to the No. 2 slot
in the network. In that role, Ms. Leid has full authority over
Democracy Now!, including authority over all budgetary and
programming issues. Ms. Leid's promotion can only be seen as an
endorsement of her conduct by Pacifica Management and by extension
the entire network.
Leid has cast her attacks on all perceived opponents of the
current management of Pacifica, including Democracy Now! staffers,
as a battle against "white supremacy" despite the fact that many of
these opponents, most of those fired by the current management, and
a current staff member of Democracy Now!, are people of color.
Further, she has unambiguously incited listeners to violence
against Pacifica dissidents. One of her typical on-air comments
(made during a recent fundraising drive) was broadcast as part of
National Public Radio's Morning Edition report on the crisis at
Pacifica (June 21, 2001): "We're talking here today about the
European psychological warfare against Africans. And that's what the
whole thing is about" adding that "I need you stalwart soldiers out
there . . . This is a call to arms. I told you it's a war."
Under Ms. Leid's supervision, the Democracy Now! engineer was
threatened with having his legs broken, Democracy Now! producers
have been harangued and insulted, and Amy Goodman has been
personally targeted by a public campaign of defamation. On-air and
off-air, for many months now, she has been called a bitch, a liar,
and a "Svengali" who has, on her own, orchestrated the entire
Pacifica crisis. Ms. Leid has gone so far as to accuse her of
"defecating" and "vomiting" on the air. When WBAI producer Clayton
Riley accused the news anchor Robert Knight of "kissing the ass of
that white bitch," Ms. Leid called Knight into her office and in her
presence, Riley went further, physically accosting him. Knight and
Goodman were fired from their morning show slots within days. Leid
rewarded Riley by doubling the length of his program. Rule of thumb:
ban those who express support for Democracy Now; reward those who
Ms. Leid has claimed that Amy Goodman fabricated accounts of the
1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, which she was witnessed and
at which she was beaten. This baseless and bizarre accusation
prompted an outraged letter to Pacifica by Nobel Peace Prize
Laureate Jose Ramos Horta in support of Amy.
Ms. Leid's attacks constitute just one part of a year long
campaign of harassment tolerated and tacitly encouraged by Pacifica
Executive Director Bessie Wash. The attacks on Democracy Now! began
in earnest last Fall when Steve Yasko, then Pacifica's new National
Program Director, threatened Amy with termination if she did not
follow new work rules including prohibitions on public speaking on
non-work time, an outrageous restriction of her right to free
Immediately after Yasko's hiring, the attacks on Amy and the
staff of Democracy Now! by other Pacifica employees escalated. When
Ms. Wash named Utrice Leid WBAI General Manager, Ms. Leid fired Amy
from her 8 year position as co-host of the local WBAI morning show
Wake Up Call. Leid engaged in and tolerated vitriolic attacks on Amy
over WBAI's airwaves, tolerated physical threats against Democracy
Now! staff members, intermittently refused to broadcast Democracy
Now!, and forced the show into inferior studio space inappropriate
for the production of a national program, causing serious technical
During his tenure neither Mr. Yasko nor Bessie Wash ever
substantively addressed even one of our documented concerns and
complaints. AFTRA soon filed a series of grievances on behalf of Amy
Goodman. These grievances remain unresolved and are now heading for
arbitration. Like so many others at WBAI, Amy has also filed
grievances through United Electrical Local 404 union charging a
hostile work environment and challenging her summary dismissal from
WBAI's award-winning morning news show, "Wake- Up Call."
These grievances also remain unresolved and are also going to
In addition, Amy has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint
with the National Labor Relations Board charging retaliation by
Pacifica management for exercising her trade union rights.
Amy has also retained private counsel to help her find ways in
which she can further protect her career and professional
reputation, as well as provide for her own physical safety. The
campaign of defamation has extended to the highest officials at
Pacifica. Pacifica Board member, Epstein, Becker and Green attorney
John Murdock, has gone on the record calling Amy Goodman s claims
"garbage" and saying that, "she should take her show and go
somewhere else." In Alameda Superior Court, Pacifica's attorneys
claimed that Amy was sponsoring an illegal boycott against Pacifica,
a charge that was not only untrue and defamatory, but which was
apparently designed to harm Amy's relationship with Pacifica Board
members and employees, and to malign her professionally. These same
attorneys also filed court papers falsely accusing Amy of
"extortion" and "economic coercion." Despite these wholesale attacks
by the present Pacifica leadership and some Pacifica employees, the
"Democracy Now!" staff has continued to produce an outstanding
editorial product which is widely acknowledged as the most popular
and successful offering on the Pacifica national schedule.
Democracy Now! has exceeded every measurable objective for the
program, from audience building and fund raising to journalistic
accolades and publicity. The program, originally started in 1996 as
an election year special, proved so successful that it soon formed
an integral part of the Pacifica programming line up. By 1998, under
the direction of Julie Drizin, the Pacifica national programming
line-up consisted of five daily programs Larry Bensky s "Living
Room," "The Jerry Brown Show," "Pacifica Network News," "Democracy
Now!," and "Voices of Pacifica."
In fact, the record established by Amy Goodman and the Democracy
Now! team has been unparalleled in the history of Pacifica.
Democracy Now! won the 1998 George Polk Award for the radio
documentary "Drilling and Killing: Chevron and Nigeria s Military
Dictatorship." Amy Goodman has also won numerous awards for the
radio documentary she co-produced with journalist Allan Nairn,
"MASSACRE: The Story of East Timor," including the Robert F. Kennedy
Prize for International Reporting, the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia
Silver Baton, the Armstrong Award, the Radio/Television News
Directors Award, as well as awards from AP, UPI, and the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting. Goodman and Nairn were both present during
the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor in which Indonesian
soldiers gunned down more than 250 Timorese. Amy Goodman has also
reported from Israel and the Occupied territories, Cuba, Mexico,
Haiti and last year became the first journalist ever to interview
Lori Berenson in her Peruvian jail. Goodman also broadcast the first
US radio interview with imprisoned East Timor rebel leader Xanana
Gusmao and conducted an exclusive half hour interview with President
Clinton on Election Day.
Prior to the beginning of the Democracy Now! crisis last year,
the program raised more than one million dollars in pledges through
on- air fund raising and generating enormous positive publicity for
Pacifica. Democracy Now! also pioneered multi-platform broadcasting,
resulting in the most dramatic increase in audience in Pacifica
Radio history. Through a unique multi-media collaboration involving
non-profit community radio, the internet and satellite and cable
television, Democracy Now! expanded its potential audience to twenty
five million households nationwide during the 2000 Democratic and
Republican conventions. It generated scores of positive articles in
The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other
publications and media outlets from Fox to NPR at a time when the
coverage of Pacifica was negative to nil.
While Democracy Now! has continued its editorial excellence,
Pacifica National Programming has otherwise been gutted. Polk award
winner Larry Bensky and the Living Room team were fired following
the removal of KPFA General Manager Nicole Sawaya and the change in
Pacifica's governance structure in early 1999. News Director Dan
Coughlin was ousted in November 1999 for covering the Pacifica
crisis and esteemed Pacifica Network News (PNN) anchor Verna
Avery-Brown, the only African-American news anchor in public
broadcasting, resigned in protest over this censorship. More than 40
stringers launched a strike protesting the ousting of Avery-Brown
and Coughlin and the on-going censorship by Pacifica. The striking
reporters currently produce a half-hour daily news program, Free
Speech Radio News (FSRN), which airs on 49 stations nationwide.
Pacifica Management's actions have made the network a laughing
stock and a pariah in the journalistic community, seriously
undermining a reputation that has taken decades to build.
Pacifica's affiliates, the backbone of our nationwide "network,"
have been up in arms since the KPFA crisis, the subsequent collapse
in Pacifica's national programming, and the removal of the Ku
service from KPFA to WPFW.
The affiliates have complained repeatedly about poor service and
questioned the integrity of Pacifica's programming given the on-
going censorship and staff firings. Indeed, we understand the
Pacifica Network News (PNN) now airs on less than 20 stations as
compared to 63 affiliates less than two years ago. Democracy Now!'s
affiliates, which number some 25, have made it clear that they will
abandon the network and PNN if Democracy Now! is discontinued.
Yesterday we received a letter from fifteen affiliates saying they
are cancelling their contracts if Democracy Now! is cancelled.
Disgust, fury and outrage don't begin to describe our response to
what Pacifica management is doing to our beloved network. But we
have no time for those emotions. Even as we mourn the 6000 people
who have died just down the street from our studio, the US is
beating the drums of war, insuring more loss of innocent lives. We
will continue to broadcast to the growing number of community
stations that are running our daily two-hour War and Peace Report.
Host, Democracy Now!
Producer, Democracy Now!
Producer, Democracy Now!
Engineer, Democracy Now!