From R. Paul Martin, Chief Steward, WBAI/UE Local 404
Updates in red.

It is Sunday afternoon, 8/19/2001 16:47:14, and by now everybody knows that Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash came to WBAI late on the night of December 22nd, and had all of the locks changed. Ms. Wash declared Utrice Leid Interim General Manager of WBAI.

During a “Report to the Listener” on January 24, 2001, Utrice Leid reinstituted the “gag rule” prohibiting anyone from talking about “internal WBAI business” on the air. The WBAI Union has taken a position opposing the new “gag rule.”

Here is a page offering a recording of Utrice Leid's initial announcement of the coup.

Here is a transcript of Ms. Leid's initial announcement.

WBAI Program Director Bernard White has been fired.

Sharan Harper, a Collective Bargaining Unit member, has been fired for no stated cause. The WBAI Union has filed a grievance on this illegal firing. The WBAI Union has now filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against WBAI Management.

It has now been established that a contingent from the group “United African Movement” has been brought in as a personal security detail for Utrice Leid. It has not been definitely established whether or not they are armed. Many WBAI Staff are very concerned at having someone's personal gang lounging about the station. The contingent from the “United African Movement” has now been reduced to one on most days, although on special occasions it has reportedly been increased to five.

For a number of months a group for police and corrections officers had been brought in to be “guards” at WBAI at night. This group is no longer occupying the station at night.

The other side of this coin is that some irresponsible people have made threats and statements about “storming the station” to reinstall Valerie Van Isler as General Manager. It is hoped that no one will make this experience even more unpleasant by taking such actions.

On the morning of June 4, 2001, eighteen listeners from a group no one had ever heard of before attempted to enter Master Control at WBAI and read a statement. An altercation broke out and they left when asked to. Unfortunately, this sort of thing does not help matters. It gave Management more excuses to not relax its “security” measures against Staff.

Citing the above mentioned incursion by a group calling itself “LOUD RAPP” WBAI Management has installed eight security cameras and many card key readers at WBAI. Many Staff are now restricted in terms of what hours they can move through and work in the radio station because several internal doors are locked by the card keys as well as the front door. Movements and activities within the station are monitored by the cameras, including meetings in the WBAI Conference Room. All video from the cameras is recorded and computers track movement throughout the station by monitoring card key usage.

Regular building guards are only allowing “restricted access” to WBAI's tenth floor suite. It was announced in the wee hours of December 23rd, that things would go “back to normal” as of Tuesday, December 26, 2000. In fact “restricted access” continues to be enforced to this day.

Only Paid and Unpaid Staff whose names are on a Management-generated list are being allowed into the station. This has seriously disrupted the production of some programming that is not done live or that has heavily produced segments.

The WBAI LAB has been told by WBAI Management that it cannot hold its regular, bimonthly meetings at WBAI anymore. The reason given was that WBAI Management doesn't want listeners coming into the station. Ironically, the WBAI LAB's membership mostly consists of listeners! The WBAI LAB tried to hold its regular meeting at WBAI on the evening of January 23rd, 2001. Management refused to allow this and in the end nine were arrested, two of whom were LAB members. One person who sat in at WBAI on that night has been tried, convicted of criminal trespass and sentenced to time served while being booked, no jail time, no fine. The case of the other arrestees is still grinding its way through the courts.

The main concern of WBAI Management was that listeners who oppose current Management would gain access to the station. A mandated part of the LAB meeting agenda is a “Public Comment” session. In order to have public comment the LAB must allow the public to attend the meeting. This is why their meetings have now been banned from the station by WBAI Management.

WBAI Management has issued a memo to all Staff demanding personal information and photo ID. WBAI Management now demands that all Staff, including Unpaid Staff, give Management copies of photo ID, full details of addresses and other data before they can receive one of the card keys that will give them restricted, time limited access to WBAI's premises.

I am no longer sure of the number of WBAI Staff who have been banned from the station premises. Some are claiming that the number is over 20. If this is the case I do not know who most of them are. It is reported that at a meeting on Tuesday, December 26, Interim General Manager Utrice Leid refused to say why additional Staff had been banned stating, “They know why they were banned. They did extreme things.” Three Unpaid Staff were banned as of December 26, and another Unpaid Staff member was banned from WBAI on Wednesday, December 27th. Mimi Rosenberg, who did the program Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report, and who has been at WBAI for 32 years was told in a letter dated February 5, that she's been removed from the air and that she is now banned from the station. The letter also informed Ms. Rosenberg that she would be arrested if she came to WBAI. This banning is the subject of a grievance filed by the WBAI Union.

When Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report co-host Ken Nash read a statement on the air concerning the banning of his co-host Mimi Rosenberg on March 5th, he was interrupted by WBAI General Manager Utrice Leid bursting into the studio and cutting him and his guest Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens off as they discussed the current WBAI crisis. On March 8th, Congressman Owens made a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives about this incident and the current crisis.

On May 15, 2001, Congressman Owens and the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a forum on the Pacifica crisis in Washington, D.C. You can listen to the Congressional forum here. Perhaps as a result of this probe Pacifica National Board member Michael Palmer resigned.

After a pause of a couple of months WBAI Management has resumed banning people. Robert Lederer and Robert Knight have been banned in August.

Here are the initial documents issued by Management regarding the firings and bannings. Some subsequent bannings may not have been put in writing.

On December 26th, Utrice Leid and Bessie Wash spoke together on WBAI. Does it sound as if Ms. Leid was surprised more than once by what Ms. Wash said?

Utrice Leid has said that she is committed to renegotiating a Union Contract with WBAI Staff. Union and Management have been renewing the Contract on a monthly basis since April 1996, when then Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott and ousted WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler began an action with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which eventually resulted in all Unpaid Staff being removed from the WBAI Collective Bargaining Unit and Union. The WBAI Union had been attempting to resume Contract negotiations since the NLRB decision came down, but Van Isler had resisted for more than a year.

In a move spearheaded by those illegally hired by Management since the Midnight Coup the Paid Staff are considering switching Unions.

Pacifica Management has apparently taken the official WBAI Web site back from opponents of current Interim General Manager Utrice Leid. A mirror site of the opponents' version of the WBAI web site still exists.

A number of people are taping most of the relevant programs that are being broadcast on both WBAI and elsewhere, as well as taping meetings. Lyn Gerry's Free Pacifica! Web site is endeavoring to make audio from all of these programs and events available, along with some transcripts of them.

The WBAI Union has issued statements regarding the Midnight coup and its aftermath.

Pacifica Management used the law firm Epstein, Becker & Green, which one of its new Board Members, John Murdock works for, to attempt to shut down two listener Web sites. They eventually gave up on this assault on free speech. Pacifica Management has since fired Epstein, Becker & Green as their lawyers.

This page and this site will be updated as events warrant. I'm putting the most recent updates in red so that people who repeatedly come to this page can find what's new more easily.

I've been holding off on publishing my own opinions on the current crisis at WBAI because I don't want anyone to get the misimpression that I'm speaking for anyone but myself. However, I've said enough elsewhere so that I should put my own opinions on this Web site. To find out what my thoughts are on the current crisis CLICK HERE.

On Thursday, November 30, 2000, WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler held a meeting of WBAI Department Heads in her office. At that meeting she told them that Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Bessie Wash had told her that she could either accept a job at Pacifica National in Washington, D.C. or she could take a severance package.

Van Isler's last official day on the job was supposed to be Friday, December 1, 2000. She was to begin training a replacement on Monday, December 4, 2000. She would be allowed four weeks to train the interim replacement.

Van Isler does not accept her removal and is rallying supporters to protest this action to Pacifica National. A “Report to the Listener” was broadcast on WBAI on Friday, December 1. Van Isler's removal was discussed on that program with Van Isler present. To go to a page that will allow you to listen to or download the audio of the part of that broadcast that relates to Van Isler's removal click here.

On Monday, December 4, no one showed up to be “trained” for the position of WBAI General Manager.

On Tuesday, December 5, Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Bessie Wash showed up in the afternoon and spoke about the current crisis with whatever Staff were present at WBAI at the time. Immediately after speaking to the Staff members she delivered a letter of termination to Valerie Van Isler, telling her that she would be terminated as WBAI General Manager as of January 1, 2001.

The following memo is from the WBAI “Management Team.” The only people at WBAI who are Management are Valerie Van Isler and Program Director Bernard White.

To: Bessie Wash, Executive Director, Pacifica Foundation
From: WBAI Management Team
Date: November 30, 2000
Re: Actions proposed against station manager

It has come to the attention of the WBAI management team that Pacifica's executive management is in the process of an attempted removal of the station manager at WBAI. We find it incredible that you would even contemplate such a move because such behavior is a clear contradiction to the document that you authored and circulated throughout the network, Pacifica in the New Millennium: Community Radio with Vision.

In this document you spoke forthrightly about the need to change the culture of Pacifica as it related to personnel. You wrote:

“We intend to improve policies and procedures that assist employees to air concerns and receive thoughtful, responsive and fair replies. We also intend to put into place mechanisms that promote respect and teamwork. This includes responsiveness, dialogue and better communications.”

We saw these proclamations as a necessary and welcome departure from the philosophy and actions of previous administrations and are anxiously awaiting their implementation.

However, the actions you are now proposing are a direct contradiction to what you told us you intended to do. We took you at your word and it appears that you have violated our trust. We believed that we were headed in a new direction and here we are back in 1998 - a time even the most inexperienced observer would agree was a management and fiscal disaster that threatened the very framework of Pacifica. Your proposed actions tend dangerously toward a replication of that awful time.

Another reason we find your proposed actions unconscionable is because they would destroy all of the hard-earned goodwill and positive energy that we have built up with our listenership over the last several months. As a result of what took place in Berkeley, we began to lose membership (and income).

Our listeners began to lose faith in Pacifica. It was the efforts of this management team that promised to repair that damage by renewing the trust that was lost through no fault of our own.

Your non-consultative and ill-advised proposition to immediately install an “interim manager” at WBAI is as untenable as it is procedurally out of order, inasmuch as Valerie van Isler is--and we expect her to remain for the foreseeable future--our station's manager. It is unclear to us whether you have followed personnel guidelines in this matter, as well as in your claim to be opening a “search” for the position. Even if it were your intention to change management at WBAI at this inopportune time, any person sent here under such circumstances would almost certainly be unable to function in an effective manner, given the mistrust, the opposition, the community ill will and the confusion implicit in your proposal.

This management team demands an audience with you regarding actions proposed against our station manager and, therefore, against our station. This meeting should take place as quickly as possible. We are proposing Friday, December 1, 2000, in our conference room. We are sure that you wish to get beyond this precarious moment as much as we do. So, please respond as quickly as possible.

The following is an E-mail containing a letter to Pacifica Management from Ms. Magazine.

Date: Fri, 1 Dec 2000 23:06:28 -0500
From: Eileen Sutton

December 1, 2000

To Bessie Wash, Pacifica executive director,
David Acosta, chair,
And all members of the Pacifica National Board:

We are writing to voice our protest at the sudden and unexplained severance of Valerie Van Isler, General Manager of Pacifica station WBAI in New York. As members of the media committed to the freedom of speech, we protest the actions of Pacifica's management and demand greater accountability to the community. Because Van Isler was given an unattractive job offer with the implicit assumption that she would not accept it; and due to the recent history at Pacifica, such as the censorship at Berkeley station KPFA and the firing of a producer at Houston station KPFT, among other acts of malfeasance; we fear this action represents a larger plan to de-politicize and silence WBAI.

WBAI is a vital unique voice: without it, New Yorkers will have nowhere to turn for progressive programming. WBAI's award-winning news department, its ground-breaking morning show Wake-Up Call, and programs like Democracy Now!, which comes out of the WBAI studios, are essential to keeping diverse voices and opinions alive. In the mornings, New Yorkers want to hear real news and there is absolutely nowhere else to get it. In these times of multinational conglomerates and corporate-owned media, it is more essential than ever that community radio survive, especially in this, the media capital of the world.

We at Ms. magazine have followed with distress the deepening crisis at the country's first listener-supported community radio network. Over the last year and a half, Pacifica's management has increasingly interfered with programming decisions, engaged in acts of censorship, and made retaliatory personnel moves, disenfranchising listeners and local advisory boards, in order to impose its often regressive decisions on the network. We fear that the Pacifica National Board is turning toward profit and away from democracy.

We demand that Pacifica return to its founding ideals of free speech and progressive community radio.

/*This message comes via the freepac list. */

The group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has issued the following media advisory:

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and news reports

Free speech may be issue in firing of long-time New York station manager

December 1, 2000

In a move reminiscent of last year's attack on Pacifica station KPFA in Berkeley, the Pacifica Foundation told WBAI-New York's long-time general manager Valerie Van Isler that it is removing her from her position. On Tuesday, November 28, during what was supposed to be a routine evaluation, Pacifica's executive director Bessie Wash informed Van Isler that she was being reassigned to a newly created position in Washington, DC. Van Isler, who has been at the helm of WBAI for 10 years, said she wanted to remain at the station, and was told that she would therefore be fired.

Pacifica, a network of community-supported radio stations, has long been torn by charges that its national board is bent on taking the network in a more timid, ratings-driven, commercialized direction. Listeners, as well as staff at some stations, have organized protests against the board's continuing centralization of power.

Van Isler had been told to report to her new position, "executive producer of national programming," in Washington, DC, in January. Though she had recently brought WBAI into the black, Van Isler had locked horns with Pacifica Management over the airing of a speech that Cuba's Fidel Castro delivered in New York on September 8.

According to a station insider, Van Isler was also upbraided by Pacifica management for WBAI's coverage of the Palestinian Right-of-Return March in Washington DC on September 23. According to the source, Pacifica Management admonished Van Isler after receiving a complaint from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a presidentially appointed agency that provides funding to the Pacifica Foundation. Van Isler had also clashed with Pacifica officials recently over the network's treatment of Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.

Pacifica plans to replace Van Isler as early as Monday (this was later extended to December 31, 2000). WBAI Management and staff were shocked by the sudden decision, which Pacifica has yet to formally inform them about. Pacifica has not yet named an interim General Manager. [See attached letter from WBAI Management Team to Pacifica Executive Director Besse Wash.]

Pacifica's latest move is reminiscent of the 1999 removal of KPFA's general manager Nicole Sawaya, general manager at Pacifica's KPFA-Berkeley, which led to protests by thousands of listeners and volunteers, the arrest of staff and the closing of the station for several weeks.

The firing of Van Isler follows other attacks on Pacifica staff and programming, including the transfer of Pacifica news director Dan Coughlin, who like Van Isler was forced out of his position after airing a 30-second headline about a protest against Pacifica. Pacifica has also recently threatened to fire Amy Goodman, co-host of the network's flagship national newsmagazine, Democracy Now!, who recently filed grievances against Pacifica for censorship, harassment and gender harassment.

The KPFK Listeners Group has also issued a statement.


The KPFK Listeners Group opposes the efforts of the Pacifica Foundation to remove the Manager of its New York station- Valerie Van Isler of WBAI- on the grounds that this removal is an unmistakable effort on the part of Pacifica to censor the broadcast content of WBAI as a whole.

We also hold that the role of the Corporation for Public Braodcasting in encouraging the censorship of WBAI programming must be criticized and opposed by all Pacifica listeners, staff and management.

We are deeply concerned, given the efforts on Pacifica's part to censor Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzales and “Democracy Now!,” that Pacifica has chosen this juncture to target Ms. Van Isler, who had been playing a role in defending “Democracy Now!” from its would-be censors.

The creativity and political daring of the WBAI staff and the programming they produce make that station an invaluable resource for the New York community, a resource that must be guarded from all external efforts to weaken it.

Finally, while our own position is that further cooperation with the illegally constituted Pacifica National Board of Directors is futile, we support all efforts by the WBAI staff, management and its Local Advisory Board to maintain their autonomy and self -determination, and all efforts to resist the censorship of WBAI programming and the removal of Van Isler as WBAI's manager.

The following letter was written and approved during the regularly scheduled monthly Tri-County meeting of various KPFA listener groups including members of North Bay for KPFA, the Coalition for a Democratic Pacifica and The Marin Peace and Justice Center Taskforce

December 3, 2000


We are outraged that Pacifica is attempting to remove the manager of WBAI against the stated wishes of the WBAI management team and without a process which includes the larger WBAI community.

We support your heroic efforts to retain control of WBAI and ensure progressive access to the air waves of New York City.

We support all opposition efforts including

Please contact us with suggestions as to how we can help you in this current crisis.

Contact people:

Individual Signers:

To the Pacifica Theft Page

To the WBAI Union page

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