Doug Henwood hosts Behind the News, a left economics show on Pacificia affiliate WBAI in New York. He just sent an open letter to the chair of the WBAI board about the station’s disintegrating situation. He’s been there over 20 years.
Whatever you’ve heard about the decline of Pacifica lately, well, it’s getting much worse. The financial situation at WBAI is dire indeed. Yet the board and many others continue to fight insane battles against each other rather than actually do anything to fix their multiple problems.
Then there’s the premiums they offer to subscribers.
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 and here.) I’m told, though I haven’t heard this stuff myself, that we’re also hawking the work of Kevin Trudeau, 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 criminals?
The fulfillment rate is the percentage of pledgers who actually send in money. The WBAI fullfillment rate is dropping like a rock. This should come as no surprise considering much of the audience is now arguably detached from reality.
So, if Pacifica goes down and the stations have to be sold, that would be several hundred million dollars.
Who would get that money and who would control it?
I volunteered with Los Angeles Pacifica affiliate KPFK some years back. Their internal politics were gibbering lunacy then, and it’s clearly gotten much worse.