After the intense protests at WBAI four years ago over moves by parent company Pacifica to shake-up station management, a station board of directors was set up for elected representatives of listeners and staff. But that deal did not bring peace because the factions who had squared off during the 2001 protests merely transferred their battle to the board. Recent meetings have featured members screaming charges of anti-Semitism or racism at each other. On websites and public access television, the factions accuse each other of election fraud, financial mismanagement, and physical intimidation.
Now the board—on which a faction called “Justice and Unity” (distinct from the rival “Listeners and Staff for Progressive Elections” bloc) holds a majority—has voted to suspend board member Paul DeRienzo for “for his racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and personal attacks.” Film of a recent meeting shows DiRienzo storming up and down the aisle screaming.
But DeRienzo tells the Voice that he does not consider himself suspended and will show up for the next meeting. He depicts his rivals as “nuts” who have “put the whole foundation in tremendous fiscal danger,” namely by risking a lawsuit by DeRienzo. He has his own website, displaying video that appears to show a man trying to prevent the filming of a recent board meeting.
Lisa Davis, a member of Justice and Unity, says she does not feel the station’s leadership is faulty, as DeRienzo and his allies charge. “From what I can see with the management they’re trying hard to work with people,” she tells the Voice. “I’m not going to say that anything is perfect.” Davis also denies that the board is trying to silence DeRienzo’s views on station management: “It was more than him shouting. It was definitely abuse. What this really comes down to (is) does a person sitting on a board have a right to curse people, to degrade them, to joke about a genocide?” she asks, alluding to comments in which DiRienzo allegedly compared some board members to Nazis.
But one of DeRienzo’s backers, former on-air personality Marjorie Moore, said his outburst were nothing compared to the tactics used by others in the WBAI disputes, going back many years. She claims these include death threats and phone taps. “I can’t believe my progressive soulmates can act like that,” Moore says. “So Paul loses it. In one meeting he loses it. So what?” Moore contends that the media often has mischaracterized the debate at WBAI as being between the corporate forces of Pacifica and grassroots listeners. In fact, she says, some listeners and staff supported the changes Pacifica tried to make in late 2000.
One can’t help but think that somewhere Ralph Reed is chortling as progressives bloody each other, once again. That is of course, if everyone involved in the WBAI dispute is a progressive. In fact, the factions question each other’s commitment to progressive ideals.
“It’s a mess,” says Moore.