Letters to the Editor

Mary Frances Berry talks back, defending KPFA strategy; Cintra Wilson is "simplistic and condescending; differentiating between self-love and self-absorption.

Topics: George W. Bush, Stephanie Zacharek

There’s something about Mary
BY JUDITH COBURN

(10/13/99)

I have not described “white male hippies over 50″ as somehow a problem at KPFA
or anyplace else. What I have called attention to is the need for greater
diversity and a larger audience at KPFA and at other Pacifica stations. The
Arbitron data analyzed for us by Audience Research Analysis show that about
90 percent of KPFA’s audience (only about 146,000 in a potential market of 8
million persons) is non-black and non-Hispanic. The greatest share of that
audience, which was in decline in the year before the protests started, is
male and white and over 45, with many over 50. I do not point this out to
play a race card but to deal with a reality. By the way, Arbitron Data was
already being collected and analyzed for Pacifica before I became chair; it
is not some recent innovation.

This does not mean KPFA should ignore the existing listeners. It does mean the station needs to pay greater attention to drawing from the populations of people of color who live in the
area, from San Jose to Mendocino, that KPFA is expected to serve. Pacifica’s
mission is social justice, inclusion and a voice for today’s and tomorrow’s
voiceless. Meeting Pacifica’s goals at KPFA and throughout the network
requires change, not stagnation. There must be greater involvement of a
wide range of social activists to insure that their needs are met by KPFA
programs. There must also be greater outreach to children and youth, and
people of color, as volunteers, programmers and audience — both to sustain the
stations and to extend the reach of the progressive voice.

I accepted the non-paying volunteer post as Pacifica’s board chair when former
chairman Jack O’Dell asked me to do so, because I have worked in the
cause of social justice for most of my life. Although, change is often
controversial and conflict-ridden, I still believe local staff, programmers
and listeners will find a way to move the agenda forward.

– Mary Frances Berry

Chairwoman, Pacifica Foundation Governing Board

I am writing to clarify the discussion regarding the U.S. Commission on
Civil Rights. As the presidentially appointed staff director, I serve as the
chief executive officer for the commission and am responsible for the
supervision and management of the day-to-day activities of the agency.
Under my tenure, with Dr. Berry as the chairwoman, the commission has
finished the backlog of reports that were not completed due to a lack of
resources and ideological conflicts among a commission divided in a 4-4
split. As my Oct. 1, 1999, letter to GAO indicates, we have completed the
three specific management recommendations that GAO identified as having gone
unaddressed since the early 1980s. The article’s reference to Berry and a teaching job for an employee contained inaccurate information. Nevertheless, a thorough investigation by the GAO found no impropriety in this matter.

Over the past two years, the commission has completed reports on critical issues such as equal education opportunity, enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, racial and
ethnic tensions in American communities, equal access to quality health care,
and schools and religion. Most recently, the Commission has examined the
problems and progress of young African-American men in the inner cities. In
addition, we responded to alleged incidents of police brutality in New York
City by conducting a one-day hearing which examined police
practices and civil rights in that city.

– Ruby G. Moy

Staff director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Judith Coburn’s piece on Mary Berry described someone I don’t know.
The Mary Berry I know was a valued inside-the-government source for me
when I was at the New York Times during the Carter administration. She
became a friend shortly thereafter and a colleague in many constructive
endeavors, including work on the Jackson campaigns in ’84 and ’88, the
Free South Africa Movement and on the board of the NAACP Legal Defense
Fund.

Unlike Coburn’s anonymous sources, I have found Mary to be a
thoughtful, collaborative energetic and entirely reliable colleague in
some of the work that I have valued most in my lifetime. The Free South
Africa Movement is one of the best examples of the way Mary works. We
demonstrated every day, rain or shine. A lot of people showed up only
on the sunny days when celebrities were getting arrested and the cameras
were around. Mary showed up on the cold rainy days when only the
toughest and most dedicated anti-apartheid activists came out. She was
also always there for the hard strategizing and the tough fund-raising.
And she didn’t make a lot of noise or get her name in the paper or break
consensus either.

When I was in the Kennedy and Johnson
administrations, we blacks thought it was our job to break the
prevailing consensus because, believe it or not, there are a lot of
people around Democratic administrations who either don’t give a hoot
about racial or economic justice or who are convinced that they know
better than anybody what is good for the black folks or the poor folks.
Usually they were seeking a consensus that had to do with the well-being
of the administration rather than of the folks the programs were
designed to help. We blacks who called them on it were not valued for
that by people who basically condescended to us. But we were valued by
outsiders like Whitney Young, Jim Farmer, Martin King and Roy Wilkins.

Similarly, when I wrote about HEW issues in the late 70s at the Times,
I found that time after time Mary was fighting for the black and the
poor against people who “knew better” and who valued quiet consensus
over justice. As American history tells us, the process of obtaining
justice is rarely neat and tidy; it takes forceful advocates for
people who themselves have no voices. I thought Mary covered
herself with honor during those days, and if those she opposed thought
she had a big mouth — well, I say hooray for that mouth for justice.

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I don’t know enough about the Pacifica problem or about the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights to comment on those portions of Coburn’s
story. But I do know Mary Berry, and I do have an example of Coburn’s
journalism. Hands down, on all counts, I put my money on Mary. There’s
something about her that’s splendid.

– Roger Wilkins

Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History

George Mason University

Despite the fumbles of Pacifica there is a point to be made about the on-air staff complaints, professionalism and the relevance of the station’s programming.
In what other form of media would employees be allowed to use the medium
to complain about the boss? For those of us who work and have worked in broadcasting, the on-air
complaints about Pacifica were mind-boggling. What did they expect? No
one in this industry has a job for life, unless you work for KPFA.

Professionalism is not a dirty word. High production standards, good
writing and attention to technical detail doesn’t mean that the station
can’t still champion progressive issues. Somehow the idea has caught on
that to be liberal or progressive you have to tolerate mediocrity.

KPFA has a signal that booms out over the entire Bay Area and into the
Central Valley, yet it pulls in less than half a share in the ratings
books. Compare that to right-wing talker KSFO, which is in the top
10 stations with a 3 or greater share. These numbers show that KPFA
isn’t even reaching the choir in the Bay Area, let alone informing the
masses to the progressive point of view in local and national affairs.

– Mel Baker

As a longtime Pacifica listener and supporter (through KPFK in Los Angeles), I’ve
closely followed the current problems concerning KPFA and Mary Frances
Berry’s clearly dubious leadership of the network. However, I must also
note how sick and tired I am of the phrase “using the race card.”

Its usage normally indicates that the notion of race and or racism is
being unfairly injected into a situation where it is clearly not
appropriate. As a young African-American male who almost every day is
subjected to the far too often overt slights generated by a society fueled
by paranoia, ignorance and fear, forgive me for being skeptical as to
whether that kind of situation can truly exist.

While giving sole blame at KPFA or any of the Pacifica stations for their
lack of a diverse listenership is a gross misstep by Berry, it’s not
wrong on her part to voice concern about it. Quite honestly, I think more
people, regardless of race, should support and listen to Pacifica (and NPR
for that matter) just because it adds badly needed dimension to the mass
distribution of news and analysis to the nation.

Regardless, there seems to be an endless desire by people (primarily, but
not exclusively, white) to deny or downplay the effects of this country’s
inability to deal with its institutionalized racism. It’s usually
dismissed cavalierly, with the phrase “playing the race card.” I, for
one, am sick of it.

– Roland Poindexter


Xenophobia in the search for cabinetry

BY CINTRA WILSON

(10/13/99)

Cintra Wilson acts as if she has just woken up to the fact that
there are classes of society that are different from her own. She
describes people in a superficial and dismissive way that yields little
insight into their situations.

Her meek attempts to find the good in people, which she seems to want to
do to avoid xenophobia, are simplistic and condescending — Arabs as
good roofers, etc. Also, it is hard to believe that any New Yorker could be so stupid as to
not have any inkling of the social customs of Muslims, or at least not
to be savvy enough to intuit what might not be a welcome gesture (the
handshake).

Finally, after dissing everyone else, the author magnanimously points
out her warm feelings for the Hasids. But, what does she know of them?
If the Hasid were repairing her roof, he would probably not shake her
hand either. Why are they better than the Arabs, or the guy from New
Jersey? Because they look like penguins?

Is the author deploring xenophobia? Does she even know what it is or
how it could be avoided? Has she explored any of the subjects she has
raised in any depth? It appears not.

– Dawn Suleri

Cintra Wilson might have her hosannahs dashed a
bit were she to hang around the fashion district late on Friday afternoons
every week in the lovely city of New York. There she would see her
heaven-holders ascending to all kinds of mischief. I suggest that she open her
eyes to the world of men everywhere. There are no hosannah-men.

– Catherine Fuller

The real America gone mad
BY JOE GIOIA

(10/13/99)

So the Zeitgeist of the ’90s is about humiliated, injured or dead women?
Men’s expressions of delight in women’s humiliation and pain is at least as old as Western civilization. David LaChappelle is quoted as saying, “Pictures are an escape.” What has the
injured woman lying on the pavement in his photo “escaped,” and what
“escape” is offered to women viewing this thing?

But hey, lighten up, girls! Being hit by a car and then violated and humiliated can be glamorous
as well as funny. Where’s your sense of humor? Is it OK because it’s
Pamela Anderson, because any woman with tits that big deserves this treatment?

– Jan Kinney

Stroking my inner boyfriend
BY DANIEL REITZ
(10/12/99)

Daniel Reitz rightly points out that narcissism is not the same as loving oneself. Coming to terms with the “inner boyfriend” is a long and painful process that must necessarily take in the good with the bad. Gooch’s narrative is filled with the same shallow and clichid prattle that fills so many self-help books. I rather doubt that Gooch has ever truly felt the self-loathing that is engendered by abusive early home life or by society. Gooch may have the fab apartment, the big toy, the youthful face, the wonderful job, ad nauseam, but he remains a shallow and empty shell of a human being. He should write us a book on being human and learning to love the inner self that is caring and kind, loving and constant.

Before modern cosmetics, face paints were made with beeswax; lovely furniture screens were created to protect the ladies’ faces from melting by the hearth. Gooch’s book is one of those screens, written to keep his face from sliding off and revealing the lizard beneath.

– J.A. Murray

Charlottesville, Va.

Reading, writing, quarterly results
BY MARK GIMEIN

(10/13/99)

I note your point that most new businesses in
America — the small ones, the ones that create most of the jobs — are not
funded by venture capitalists. The thread business my uncle started in
1937 was funded by my grandmother. She came to this country in 1912, and
somehow had managed to save $1,200 — a fabulous sum back then,
especially for a working-class family struggling through the
depression. My father tells me she handed the cash to his elder
brother David and said, “Here, go start a business.”
I believe the Koreans have an institution called the “kibun,” in which family members
contribute a fixed sum every month. Once a year or so, a different
family member takes the collected pot and starts a business, invariably
hiring to work in it the closest relative in need of work. There is
much blather about discrimination and access to “capital,” but the
fact is that the ladder for economic immigrants is formed of private
savings and sweat equity.

Still, I work out here in Silicon Valley, and I know how poor I am, despite my
being here only a year and seeing my options increase in value. I
don’t know how long this amusement park will stay open,
and I don’t claim V.C. madness is a model for life, but it is as good
an introduction as any to “the business game.” Better that then sex
education, values clarification, reading methods that do not use
phonics, or any of the greater frauds perpetrated by the educationists.

– Richard D. Henkus

Santa Clara, Calif.


Kubrick’s last film: An open and shut case?

BY SEAN ELDER

(10/08/99)

I think you missed the point: Brill’s Content’s “Eyes Wide Shut” piece was about the way misleading pre-release perceptions of “EWS” as a taboo-busting, sexually explicit thriller
influenced people’s (largely negative) reactions to the film when they saw
it, and may have hurt its reputation in the long run. The movie was simply
not what people had been told to expect. Warners, PMK, Cruise, Kidman
and Kubrick (who approved the sales strategy before he died) made a choice
to go for the traditional exploitation-movie approach: Sell the sex (even if
there isn’t much), open wide and pack ‘em into the theaters on opening
weekend before word gets out that the movie isn’t the erotic romp we said it
was. It was a calculated business decision, that’s all. Perhaps the film would have
received better reviews, and better word of mouth, if critics and audiences
hadn’t been deliberately misled, but the film would certainly have taken
much longer to gross $55 million that way — and it might never have reached that total.

Kubrick biographers have written that the director was frustrated by
the number of years some of his films (like “2001″) took to reach profitability.
Maybe with “EWS” he just wanted to cut to the “money shot” a bit faster.

– Jim Emerson

Seattle

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