Jeffrey Blankfort on Bill

In the following email exchange, Jeffrey Blankfort relates the history of Bill Mandel’s banishment from KPFA, including the complicity of current staff members Philip Maldari and Kris Welch. He also writes about Bill’s courageous fight against HUAC and other red-baiting congressional committees during the McCarthy period, which prefigured Bill’s ongoing battle against KPFA’s notorious gag rule. Bill has expressed appreciation for Jeffrey’s statement.


From: Roy Campanella II
To: Jeff Blankfort

I respect Bill and would also like to have him return to KPFA airwaves. Long before this petition was started I personally reached out to Bill. We met at my invitation for nearly two hours. It was a very friendly exchange. I invited Bill to do on-air commentaries and explore doing segments for various programs, such “The Morning Show” or “Flashpoints.” Unfortunately, Bill rejected these options. He only would accept having his old program restored. This may or may not be possible. I am hoping that he will reconsider my previous offer. Thanks for your concern.

From: Jeff Blankfort
To: Roy Campanella II

Date: March 18, 2005

Thanks for your message which apparently was in response to my recent statement on behalf of Bill Mandel’s reinstatement that I sent to his web site.

Ironically, I found it in my mailbox upon returning from the Post Street Theatre where I had just viewed the play, “Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted,” based on letters that the late writer and distinguished member of the Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo, had written to his son, his friends, and to various other figures over the years.

What distinguished Trumbo as a human being was not only his genuine writing talent but the courageous and principled stand that he took as an unfriendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, which landed him a year in federal prison for contempt of Congress. I had a particular interest in seeing this play because my late father, Henry, was also a screenwriter and a friend of Trumbo, and four years later, he, too, became an exceedingly unfriendly witness when subpoenaed by the same committee, a stand that while not landing him in prison, cost him his screenwriting career.  I was a politically active teenager at the time, and consequently well aware of what was happening and its significance. As a consequence, the courage shown at those times by Trumbo, my father, and others has served me as a solid guidepost in almost everything I do.

One of those “others,” and a very important one, at that, happens to be Bill Mandel, and it is safe to say, given the passage of time, that there are not too many left. I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to hear or read his testimony before HUAC and earlier, before the Senate committee chaired by Senator Joe McCarthy, but if you haven’t I would suggest you do so. It would be instructive and might help you better understand why I and so many others who know Bill and are familiar with his history, and that includes more than three decades on the KPFA airwaves, are demanding that he be returned to those airwaves that he so distinguished by his presence. [Editor’s note: Bill’s testimony before various committees during the McCarthy period is archived on his website at www.billmandel.net.]

It seems clear, from your suggestion that Bill make on-air commentaries on the Morning Show, that you are not familiar with the circumstances which led to him being taken off the air, so as briefly as I can, and as best as I can recall, I will describe them.

After 37 years doing a regular Monday night program on the Soviet Union with an active listener call-in component, Bill’s schedule was reduced to two Sundays a month and a once a week commentary on developments in East Europe on the Morning Show. On one of the days that he was scheduled to do a commentary, he read a column in the San Francisco Chronicle by the otherwise liberal columnist, Art Hoppe, attacking affirmative action.

As you are evidently unaware, Bill was heavily involved in the civil rights movement long before the movement with that name came into existence, and as a consequence, he felt the need to express his thoughts about Hoppe’s column. Bill assumed, quite naturally, that he was speaking on what we are constantly reminded is “free speech radio,” but he soon found out, as would others later, that this was an illusion, a slogan that if once true, no longer had any basis in reality. For the crime of not having informed the producer, Andrea Kissack, now happily departed, and the Morning Show co-hosts, Philip Maldari and Kris Welch, who remain at the station, of his change of subject, he was taken off the Morning Show. That’s right. You read it correctly. He was taken off the Morning Show for defending affirmative action.

To my knowledge, neither Maldari or Welch have ever apologized for their role in Bill’s removal or worked do undo that wrong. Since Maldari is still a host of that program you can now understand how inappropriate it is to suggest that Bill once again subject himself to his jurisdiction.

After that, Bill still had his twice a month Sunday program but listeners to that were asking why he was no longer on the Morning Show. Finally, he decided to tell them and gave out my phone number on the air for listeners to call to express their opinions. It came as no surprise that my phone began ringing, as they say, off the hook, with longtime listeners expressing their outrage at his being taken off the air. They would be further outraged when for breaking the so-called “dirty laundry” rule, Bill was now removed permanently.

Despite letters and statements of protests by hundreds of long-time KPFA supporters, your predecessor as general manager, Marci Lockwood, would not relent. Like the man in the White House, they had a plan.

It turned out of course, that Bill’s ouster from the station was a key part of it when in August, 1995, more than 100 programmers, many of them long time political activists and women and men of color, were purged. This action, like Bill’s firing, was supported on the air by virtually all of the paid staff who are still at the station.

It was clear that Pacifica and KPFA management believed that if they could get away with firing Bill, they could get away with ridding the station of the other activist programmers, and for a time, they were right. They got away with it. It was an ugly period and for those who resisted it and who know the truth, there will be no closure until Bill once again has a slot on the air. It is as simple as that.

Best wishes,
Jeff  Blankfort