The state of WBAI (dire)
[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 completely.
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 disastrous.
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?
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.