Alex Steinberg, former Chair of the Pacifica National Board, has proposed that Pacifica’s stations may accept corporate underwriting for individual shows. This is a grave error that will permanently change the character of the network. WBAI Listener Jack Shalom has submitted the following rationale for OPPOSING the proposal for underwriting. I agree with Jack’s analysis and stance on this issue.

Mitchel Cohen, former Chair, WBAI Local Station Board

From Jack Shalom, WBAI producer and listener

The defense of underwriting proposals for Pacifica is undergirded by both factual and conceptual errors. This is going to be long, but I urge you to read through it all. There’s a lot that needs to be said here, it’s a very important issue.

1) First, let’s deal with the “Slippery slope.”

Alex Steinberg dismisses it as a logical fallacy. This is nonsense. No one is putting forth the truth or falsity of slippery slope arguments as an abstract philosophical concept. It is used in these discussions as a shorthand for *the historical and material context* in which these proposals exist. Every such proposal must be evaluated in such a context if we are to arrive at a rational conclusion.

These proposals do not exist in a historical or experiential vacuum. We have *past experience* and *actions* to help guide us to understand whether or not a minor abuse *in a particular context* might lead to a major abuse – which is essentially what the slippery slope argument is about.

2) Is corporate underwriting a danger?

Alex Steinberg assures us that corporate underwriting is not much of a danger.

IF THAT WERE TRUE THEN PACIFICA WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN INCORPORATED AS A LISTENER SPONSORED STATION IN THE FIRST PLACE. The founders of Pacifica well understood the dangers of corporate underwriting; that’s why we are a listener-sponsored network. Is the uniqueness of WBAI and the rest of the network just dumb luck or merely some crazy accident? Of course not. It is due to *one singular reason* – its funding is for the most part listener sponsored.

NPR when it first begun had quite a number of WBAI alumni–Margot Adler, Steve Post and Neal Conan come to the top of my head right now, probably others. So why is NPR now such a corporate propaganda machine, though it had all these great producers? Because it’s not just about the producers, but the structure of funding that determines the political content. Despite what some may think, NPR, notwithstanding its on-air requests, gets very little funding from listeners – only 12%. So the pitches you hear on NPR for listener contributions are basically branding; in fact its biggest source of revenue is corporate sponsorship. So next time you listen to the disgusting corporate lies of NPR on Marketplace and other shows, you’ll understand why.

It’s Corporate Underwriting.

3) Alex Steinberg assures us that the Pacifica affiliates accept corporate underwriting and they have not been compromised, so no worries. On the contrary, he is comparing apples to oranges, and the affiliates make just the opposite case.

It should be understood that the Pacifica affiliates are not run under exactly the same mission statement as the five Pacifica stations. Their mission statement is similar to the five main stations, but is missing one key passage. The part of the mission statement that is *not* included is this:

“to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.”

That’s what motivates much of the leftist and anti-war political programming at WBAI and the other stations.

I mean that’s okay, they’re entitled to do as they wish; but let’s see what in fact affiliate programming looks like. I took as a measure of political engagement on the air the very crude metric of number of hours of news and talk that a station has in its 168 hour week. By looking at station schedules posted on their websites, I compared that number at three of the Pacifica stations to three of the affiliates that Alex mentions. Here are the numbers:

News and Public affairs at three of the Pacifica stations:

WBAI: 70 hours/week news and public affairs

KPFT: 53 hrs/week news and public affairs

WPFW: 40 hrs/week news and public affairs

Now compare to the three affiliates that Alex Steinberg mentions:

WRFG: 35 hours /week news and public affairs

WORT: 30 hours/ week news and public affairs

WMNF: 17 hrs/ week news and public affairs

In the case of WMNF, that’s only 10% of the total air time! I am not faulting these stations, but saying to use them as a test case for underwriting is ludicrous. If anything, it shows a negative correlation of underwriting to political engagement – as might well be expected.

4) Alex Steinberg assures us that his proposal provides enough restrictions and oversight to forestall a bad ending. If we have learned anything through history and experience at Pacifica it’s that there is very, very, very little oversight or transparency about much of anything. This is a network where GMs are hired and fired willy-nilly, coups occur that have to be fought off, big checks for thousands of dollars sit in drawers for years, EDs are hired in a non-transparent manner, management evaluations sit on desks or committees for years and are never evaluated, lawyers make ad hoc interpretations that favor one faction or another, factions paralyze the governance structure and on and on. And yet somehow corporate underwriting will prove an exception to this.

Do you really think that when it involves potentially large amounts of money and power – because make no mistake, those who bring in those dollars into the stations become the powerful ones and the powerful shows, subject to much less scrutiny – and when we are faced with elements within Pacifca who wish to destroy it and gain it for themselves – do you really think that they will not use this proposal as a wedge, as a way to accrue more power for themselves? Do you think New Day will vote down this proposal? Or will it be seen as an easy way to hijack the network once more? I know how I would vote if I were seeking to destroy the station.

Pacifica’s power and uniqueness has always been its singular way of funding itself. By and for the listeners. It is only through the listeners that Pacifica will be saved. The appeal for underwriting is dangerous, lazy, unimaginative, and naive. We have all the history and experience of Pacifica to speak against it.

Jack Shalom


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