Osman on Robert Knight

A posting last week about Robert Knight’s complaint reminds this list that we share a responsibility to make certain that Robert’s charges are fairly evaluated and, if it turns out to be necessary, to make certain that appropriate action is taken to guarantee Robert and all Pacifica workers and volunteers a workplace free of violence and the threat of violence. Public attention and widespread and constructive concern can help assure all involved that a politically difficult issue is not put aside.

In a follow-up email the writer wrote: “I just remember the kind of crap that Knight took back in the Christmas Coup days. I had hoped, and still hope, that those rotten times are over.”

I would like to see those rotten times fade into memory.  But hoping alone will not make it so.  There are obstacles yet to be surmounted — not just the question of what happened to Robert Knight at WBAI — before the staffs at Pacifica stations, particularly those of us who seek to reform the way the stations function and who support more effective community participation, can have a reasonable expectation or even hope that the ‘rotten times’ are gone.

If it’s right to keep our collective attention on Robert Knight’s situation until we’re certain that his charge has been given the consideration it merits (and it certainly is) then we ought to scroll back a page or two and ask whatever happened to the complaint that KPFA’s Miguel Molina filed alleging an attack on him by KPFA Program Coordinator Vini Beacham.

Miguel filed the complaint along with supporting materials (witness statements) with KPFA’s management months ago. He sent copies of the complaint to KPFA’s union and also to Pacifica ED [Executive Director] Dan Coughlin. The silence with which all three have greeted Miguel’s appeal for redress ought not be accepted by decent Pacificans. If there has been any investigation at all it has not included interviewing the witnesses who filed statements that accompanied Miguel’s complaint and it has not resulted in a public or even a private report.

The refusal to conduct an evaluation of Miguel’s grievance can not honestly be attributed to carelessness or inattention. The context of and the reason for the inaction is internecine division at KPFA. Miguel stands on the wrong side of that division to expect any protection from hostile or unfair behavior by members of the station’s leadership.  We may hope that Roy Campanella II, KPFA’s new manager, intends to take up the issue (I am informed that he has been told that it is still outstanding). And, in fairness, it should be said that he has only recently become KPFA’s GM. But so far the silence continues.

The most disheartening aspect of this failure and the part that most makes me fear for KPFA’s soul is the fact that so many of the station’s staff members who disagree with Miguel about station politics have been willing to see his charges ignored. After Miguel filed his grievance more than fifty KPFA staff members signed a horrible letter which in part condemned the chair of KPFA’s LSB [Local Station Board] for doing in regard to Miguel’s complaint more or less what has been done on this list in regard to Robert’s. The letter ‘charged’ that Riva Enteen had advocated the use of email lists to alert concerned Pacificans about management’s foot-dragging on Miguel’s complaint. As one item in a litany of complaints about reform-minded LSB members the letter levels this ‘accusation’:

“The LSB Chair asked that a now-resolved internal staff issue be broadcast far and wide to the public via email, even though it was a personnel and union matter beyond the purview of the LSB. In doing so, she has rendered the station vulnerable to potential litigation by the maligned staff member.”

The issue (Miguel’s complaint) had been ‘resolved’ in the sense that it had been duly received and had been duly ignored; in the end it disappeared down the memory hole. It was ‘beyond the purview of the LSB’ in the sense of ‘mind your own damn business’ (the issues involved are, of course, well within the purview of the LSB). And the question of whether Vini had been maligned (which would mean, I suppose, falsely accused) and therefore the question of whether he was in a position to sue had not and still has not been evaluated  – trying to create some public support for getting said evaluation started being Riva’s ‘offense’ in the first place.

So, more than fifty KPFA staffers publicly and in writing condemned an attempt to mobilize public pressure to persuade the interim GM to look into Miguel’s charges. And that was the end of that. Miguel’s complaint could be safely ignored. Much else could and should be said about this widely circulated, influential, and shameful letter but that’s for another time.

This sorry story gets even sadder. But it’s not boring. And it sheds light on the question of whether there’s reason to think that the rotten times may already be over.

Doubtless emboldened by the fact that so many KPFA staff members publicly expressed outrage at the LSB chair for her having conspired to make sure that the charges against him were evaluated, Vini took to his own defense/offense. He made an impassioned speech at an LSB meeting in which he claimed that the bringing of charges against him was an attempted lynching. At the end of his speech he suddenly produced a hangman’s noose, brandished it for all to see, and then dramatically threw it on the floor.

In sanely managed organizations, organizations in which reasonable behavior is required by both formal sanction and peer pressure, responsible employees who have been accused of misconduct are well advised to say something like: “There is an ongoing investigation of the charges against me. I am confident that when the facts are all evaluated I will be exonerated. In the meantime I have no comment.” But any hope of an ongoing investigation had been blown out of the water. And no one can honestly argue that ‘responsible KPFA employee’ was the image that Vini was seeking to convey.

Waving around a symbol of racist murder at an LSB meeting was understood by many of us to convey a much more aggressive message namely: “Understand that I equate the filing of charges against me with threatening me with murder — and be warned that I will respond accordingly”. Before any of us are tempted to declare the rotten days are over please consider the fact that many supporters of more listener power at KPFA understand Vini’s noose wielding as a warning, a renewed threat against Miguel and anyone else who might criticize Vini or complain about his actions in the future. And we interpret the station’s refusal to mount a fair and thorough investigation into Vini’s LSB performance and into Miguel’s original charge as a chilling and conscious demonstration of our vulnerability.

The bottom line is that there is still only silence from KPFA about Miguel’s complaint (despite the fact that many months have passed) and Vini Beacham is still KPFA’s Program Coordinator (despite the fact that one can never be certain that he is not carrying a noose).

I appreciate what has been said and and done on this list in regard to Robert Knight’s as yet unacted-upon charges. I join in your concern and in your determination to make sure a fair evaluation takes place. But it’s still much too early to comfort ourselves with the thought that the rotten times may already be over. The rotten times are very  much with us still.