Recent developments at WBAI have raised serious concerns in New York about
(1) Workplace safety and the threat of violence, and
(2) Privacy and the protection of confidential journalistic sources.
I had the misfortune to personally suffer explicit threats of violence and an unconscionable invasion of privacy when, on January 5, 2005, one Ayo Harrington, a local producer and management partisan inexplicably pored through, inspected and thoroughly rearranged my desk, file cabinet, recordings and confidential reporter’s notes, as well as tampered with my production computer. Objects and materials are missing or misplaced, and the intrusion has set back current production, including the production and anchoring of WBAI’s segment of Pacifica’s national Inauguration coverage. Ms. Harrington conducted her “fishing expedition” despite the explicit instructions of one or more department heads that she cease and desist her unprecedented intrusion.
When I arrived at the locked office I share with another local producer and fundraiser, Ms. Harrington was still present. Because of her prior involvement in
provocative incidents at contentious local board meetings, and out of concern for possible false accusations if we were alone in the office, I spoke with sufficient clarity to guarantee the protection of being heard by corroborating witnesses in the hallway outside. I asked where my things were, and why she had raided my desk. No explanation was forthcoming other than her preposterous claims that “All of this is just about a little dusting” and “I thought it needed straightening out.” At this point there was no exchange of profanity, or even proximity between Harrington and myself.
During this exchange, the office was entered by local engineer Tony Ryan, who proceeded to say “Stop acting like a bitch, you bitch, or I’ll kick your ass;” “Come
on, step outside and I’ll kick your ass;” and “Get your bitch ass out of here.” Since I was then seated at my desk and Ryan was standing above and behind me, I rose for my own protection and stated that I was going nowhere and he would have to do whatever he intended then and there, in order to preclude any possible outside ambush. Although physical blows and the act of battery were thereby avoided, Ryan further stated “I ain’t worried about this punk motherfucker. Do you know how many people I’ve kicked ass before this?” The preceding statements are witnessed, corroborated and provable. Ryan’s threats are tantamount to assault and menacing under New York law, and I have not witnessed this level of behavior since the violent antics of Clayton Riley during the notorious days of the Utrice Leid regime at WBAI.
Following the exchange, I proceeded to a chaotic WBAI Local Station Board meeting elsewhere in Manhattan, where I informed station manager Don Rojas of Harrington’s “black bag job” and Ryan’s menacing incident, and advised him that safety concerns precluded my return to the station to do my “Earthwatch” program that evening, since Ryan was still in-station. Rojas promised to meet with me and resolve the matter the following day, which never happened, despite daily unanswered telephone calls on Thursday through Monday, January 6-10. Rojas did, however, meet and consult with Ryan and Harrington on Friday, January 7, and is now demanding that my complaint be presented only in writing, a standard that did not obtain for the perpetrators. Following my lodging of an AFTRA complaint of a hostile and hazardous workplace, I have since been threatened with termination by the manager, who has thus far left the situation unresolved, except for an e-mail “press release” on workplace violence.
Although the political situation within WBAI is currently tense, I acknowledge that, despite our transient differences, and the difficulty of the current situation, Don Rojas has on prior occasions exercised some sense of moral authority at WBAI. I anticipate a renewal of that spirit, particularly since, as a former editor, he can be assumed to understand the sanctity of reportorial notes and sources.
Inasmuch as this incident follows on the heels of yet another confrontation involving fisticuffs at the station, I request that the Board use its good offices to encourage the following remedies:
1. That appropriate action be taken with Mr. Ryan for escalating the situation with crude and repeated threats of violence, and that a process of resolution aimed at future comity be initiated.
2. That Ms. Harrington immediately be denied access to the office containing my materials, and be assigned to any of several alternative workspaces available elsewhere in the station, since her interest in espying my notes and materials can only be enhanced, following this complaint.
3. That, as part of the relief sought in item (2), a clear and unambiguous statement be made reaffirming the confidentiality of journalistic and investigative sources, and the protection thereof.
Whatever my personal fate may be, the loss of sanctity for news sources and notes goes beyond the individuals involved, and impinges on the hard-earned reputation of Pacifica (and WBAI) as secure outlets for investigative journalism.
Thank you for your consideration.