June 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Marc Norton
It was Friday afternoon before the big Saturday, June 5 anti-war rally. The alleged assault on Miguel Molina, a long-time programmer on KPFA's radical, ground-breaking Flashpoints show, occurred in KPFA's parking lot, where Molina was talking with some of the crew and one of his sons. When Vini Beacham, the recently hired Interim Program Coordinator, came by, Miguel complained to him about the reversal of a decision to broadcast the June 5 rally.
According to numerous witnesses, Beacham completely lost it, started yelling a string of profanities at the top of his voice, got right up next to Molina, and thrust his arms out. Molina wisely avoided responding in kind, which was likely the only thing that prevented an actual assault. Instead, Molina took a couple of days off, and then came back to work.
To the best of anyone's knowledge, no disciplinary action has been taken against Beacham, despite numerous reports and complaints to the station's Interim General Manager, Jim Bennett. At the most recent meeting of KPFA's elected local board, there was an open call during public comment for Beacham to be suspended pending an investigation of the incident. Bennett offered no response.
The crew at Flashpoints is no stranger to controversy. The show recently broke the news of the abduction of Haiti's elected President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, by U.S. military forces. In 1999, it was the attempt by the then corporate-dominated KPFA management to drag Flashpoint's founder, Dennis Bernstein, off the air during the show that set off a weeks-long occupation of the streets around the station, in the very location that Beacham's alleged temper tantrum took place. The occupation led to a shut-down of the station by management, and set off a mass movement that ultimately forced out the old Pacifica Foundation board and replaced it with an elected board.
But things have definitely not cooled down at the station, the incident in the parking lot being but one example, albeit a significant one. The apparent failure of management to take any visible disciplinary action against Beacham seems indicative of the lack of direction at the station. Most workers are well-aware that if they did what Beacham is alleged to have done to a fellow employee, they would be out of a job in no time flat.
Bennett has been around KPFA and Pacifica for a long time, as have a number of KPFA programmers. Then again, so have a whole set of programmers who were sent packing during the corporate reign at the station, widely dubbed the "banned and fired." They include the venerable William Mandel (a Soviet expert and mainstay of the station for decades), the popular Mama O'Shea, and a whole slew of unpaid community programmers much less well-known. Few have been brought back, despite all the turmoil in the last few years.
The new KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) was elected in February. Each of the other four Pacifica stations -- in New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington, D.C. -- also elected boards. These five boards, in turn, elected a new national Pacifica Foundation Board. But democracy creates its own problems. KPFA and some of the other stations are rent with factions, and the contention for power and air time is intense.
The biggest decision that the new KPFA board has made so far was to uphold a decision by the station's Program Council to move Amy Goodman's renowned "Democracy Now" show from its 6-7 AM broadcast to 7-8 AM, which most observers agree is the most listened-to time slot, and to move the Morning Show from its current 7-9 AM slot to 8-10 AM.
This decision has engendered stiff opposition from some long-time programmers. For example, an LSB staff representative from the news department complained at a board meeting that letting the listeners make such decisions is like letting the passengers of an airplane take over and fly the plane.
Related to the Democracy Now/Morning Show decision is the feeling shared by many listeners that the Morning Show could be a lot better, especially since the departure of Kris Welch from the program to her own show. For example, Welch's replacement recently compared Haiti's Aristide to Saddam Hussein: "There seems so many parallels here between the situation in Iraq, the idea that there are people who really wanted a leader out of power but didn't want to be occupied, it seems to be exactly what's happening in Haiti as well, even the New York Times editorial drew some conclusions about Iraq and Afghanistan and Haiti..."
The LSB vote on the Program Council decision won only a slim majority of the board. However, it won a large majority of the listener representatives on the board. One-fourth of the members of the LSB are staff representatives. The staff voted nearly-unanimously against the listener-instigated change. The only staff member who voted with the listeners was -- Miguel Molina.
So far, Bennett has not implemented the decision to adjust the time slots for Democracy Now and the Morning Show. He is instead doing a "survey" about the matter. Perhaps he will also do a "survey" about what to do about Beacham.
Molina is no stranger to struggle. His first introduction to politics was when organizers fromthe United Farm Workers showed up in a field where he was working with his family. Molina has worked at KPFA for 25 years, and has been with Flashpoints for the last year.
Just a few days before the incident in the KPFA parking lot, Beacham sent out a "Programmer's Memo," which said, in part, "What is an 'Interim Program Coordinator?' Your guess is as good as mine... I do strive to be business-like in what needs to be done... I feel I should conduct myself in a professional manner without compromising my esteem or demeaning anyone in the process of TCB [Taking Care of Business]. Consider me by my actions... I don't have time for games. I don't believe you do either."
Marc Norton has been listening to KPFA since 1967.