The state of WBAI (dire)

Posted by: *Doug Henwood* | August 10, 2010

[I just sent this to Mitch Cohen, chair of the WBAI local station board, to
be read at tomorrow night’s board meeting.]

To Mitch Cohen and the WBAI local station board:

I’ve been around WBAI for more than two decades. I started as a frequent
interviewee on Samori Marksman’s show in 1987, moved on to regular
commentaries on his show a few years later, and then began doing the
Thursday editions of his Behind the News in 1995. I’ve watched the station
go through considerable turmoil over the years, but the current situation
has me more worried than ever. I was very relieved and hopeful when Bernard
White and Co. were removed from office. But I’ve lost that feeling

Our financial situation remains dire. Indeed, it’s hard to see how we can go
on like this much longer. Not only are we not paying our bills, we’re
dragging the whole Pacifica network deeper into the red. In this context,
it’s easy to understand the temptation to offer sensational fundraising
premiums to raise a lot of money quickly. But this strategy is proving

A few words about those premiums. During the last few drives, WBAI has
offered a variety of rather embarrassing videos and publications. We’ve now
moved well beyond the familiar 9/11 conspiracies. Now we also have miracle
cures (which, it wouldn’t surprise me, could put us at legal risk for
offering, since they make claims about curing disease that, to put it
gently, would be very difficult to prove), stories about chemtrails (the
theory that the government, for some mysterious reason, is poisoning us by
spraying chemicals from the sky), and most recently, a series of videos
explaining how the Illuminati are about 90% of the way to taking everything
over (it’s only a matter of time until they plant microchips in our heads
and solidify a regime of total control). (Tastes of that stuff
here <>.) I’m told, though I haven’t heard
this stuff myself, that we’re also hawking the work of Kevin
who’s been convicted <> of credit
card fraud and has been fined for making false and misleading claims – and
who’s been frequently sued by disgruntled customers. Of professional
interest to me are stories about financiers and the Federal Reserve which
have no basis in historical fact – and I say this as someone who knows more
about Wall Street and central banks than anyone involved with Pacifica. Many
of these narratives have deep roots in far-right politics – the Wall
Street/Federal Reserve stuff has long been associated with crypto-fascist
organizations like Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby (e.g. the works of Eustace
Mullins <>). Trudeau is a big
fan of Matt Drudge and the odious Michael Savage.

None of this stuff can be taken seriously by anyone with an ongoing
relationship with Planet Earth. For that reason alone, it’s a disgrace that
we give it such prominence. The health claims expose us to prosecution and
litigation – a legal risk we can’t possibly afford. But, that aside, airing
this sort of stuff drives away sane and solvent listeners. Given the recent
drop in our fulfillment rate, it seems reasonable to surmise that people who
pledge on this stuff are more likely than most not to come through. So this
strategy fails even on purely monetary grounds. But by driving away the
audience, we’re undermining the station’s future. Do we really want to be
known as the nonprofit telemarketing arm for lunatics and convicted

I’ve shared these concerns with interim program director Tony Bates and he
dismisses my concerns as mere “outrage.”

We urgently need to figure out why we’ve lost listeners and how we can build
the audience back up. This is not the way to go about it. It’s a guaranteed
route to insolvency and ridicule.