Statement on the WBAI "Halloween Massacre"
by Bill Weinberg
In the nearly 20 years of my involvement in the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade, I have always maintained the ethic that self-censorship defeats the purpose of "free-speech" radio, and of doing every show as if it were my last. With my co-producers--Peter Lamborn Wilson, Ann-Marie Hendrickson and Sharon Gregory--I have sought to push the limits of dissent within WBAI, and to provoke thought and dialogue on issues that others have considered sacrosanct.
Over those 20 years, both the prevailing politics of WBAI and the level of tolerance at the station have dramatically deteriorated. Initially, following our anarchist ethic, we felt compelled to air dissent from the uncritical glorification of Fidel Castro. The program director at the time, Samori Marksman, was clearly miffed, but to his everlasting credit, he never made any threat of repercussions. Looking back on it, it all seems very innocent.
In the Christmas Coup of 2000, WBAI took a dramatic turn for the worse, from which it has never recovered. The station, especially in its fund-raising premiums, began plugging ugly right-wing conspiracy theory. One by one, dissident producers were purged. Despite remaining consistently on the offensive against coup leader Utrice Leid, we were spared the purge--possibly because it was felt that a cranky voice late on a weekday night was not worth purging.
The pressure was lifted with the restoration of Bernard White after the fall of the coup regime in January 2002. But the restored management gradually began to mirror aspects of the coup management. Lurid conspiracy potboilers again were used as premiums, and dissident producers were sacked--although never in the wholesale way they had been by the coup regime. With my co-producers, I continued to publicly oppose these moves. Bernard once called me in for a talk on this matter, but took no move to either censor or censure me.
Bernard White's ouster in May 2009, was not (as his supporters assert) a new "coup," because it was not carried out extra-legally. Nonetheless, I was reluctant to support it, because I feared a proverbial frying-pan-to-fire maneuver. Now, it appears that my fears have been vindicated.
The WBAI content and premiums that I have been compelled to protest under the current management are actually worse than under any of the former regimes. And for the first time, I have been punished for my dissent.
Since 1988, the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade has been on at midnight. Nothing will convince me that our current exile to 2 AM is anything other than retribution for my outspoken dissent from BAI's promotion of the most noxious conspiracy theory and health quackery. And it is taking place in the context of a programming schedule shake-up--the so-called 2010 "Halloween Massacre"--that emphasizes some of the very worst elements at the station.
The return of Gary Null to BAI's airwaves is a profound embarrassment. An HIV-denialist who has been protested by ACT-UP and other AIDS activists for spreading potentially deadly disinformation, he is exploiting our ostensibly non-commercial radio station to build his commercial empire of quack cures. Sacking him was the correct move by Bernard White, even if he did it for the wrong reason (i.e. the fact that Null opposed him). Null's return comes amid a growing use of premiums and programming from similar quack marketeers.
I understand the argument that WBAI's dire finances necessitate such measures, and I don't claim to have an alternative solution. But I do know that turning our station into a soapbox for self-promoting charlatans defeats our very purpose and mission. It is the William Westmoreland approach--destroying the radio station in order to save it.
Alarmingly, dubious "health" programming seems to have usurped the 11 PM news rebroadcast, and the Spanish-language news show Informativo has been axed altogether. In addition to being an incredibly bad programming decision, this last move is almost unbelievably impolitic. Given the accusations from Bernard White's camp that the "new BAI" is moving in a whiter direction and purging voices of color, this is surely a blunder even from a tactical standpoint. The on-air gloating from certain producers at the removal of Informativo compounds this demoralizing error.
In this light, the incessant unseemly crowing from some producers about the supposed improved direction of the "New BAI" is especially nauseating. BAI is at its lowest nadir we have seen any time since the coup period.
The worst abuses of the current management continue to concern the premiums. Leaving aside momentarily the whole question of content, I continue to get complaints from listener donors that they are not receiving their premiums. To make premiums the lynchpin of fund-raising efforts, and then not even bother to reliably send them out represents the most arrogant and cynical betrayal of the listeners imaginable. If we have a backlog and the premiums department is overloaded, then we must stop making the hole deeper by offering a slew of new premiums with each of the now nearly permanent fund drives.
But given the abysmal content of many of these premiums, we can almost be grateful that the listeners are not receiving them. More toxic still than the health quackery is the increasingly wacky conspiracy theory. BAI has promoted a rogue's gallery of 9-11 hucksters who also spew anti-immigrant and Holocaust-denial rhetoric on their websites. It has promoted rightist fantasies about the Rothschild plot to undermine American sovereignty. And finally, earlier this year WBAI crossed the line and promoted a real, live neo-Nazi--in the form of the slick if none too subtle ex-sportscaster David Icke, who believes that the world is secretly run by powerful Jews that are actually "shape-shifting reptilian aliens from the fourth dimension." This would be funny if it weren't true.
I do not believe it is a coincidence that the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade has been exiled to the wee hours just weeks after I vocally protested the use of our airwaves to promote this sinister nonsense.
Here's the most difficult part of what I have to say. It has become a cliche for Jewish producers at WBAI to accuse management of anti-Semitism after being sacked or disciplined. Alas, when I have been punished for exposing BAI's promotion of a neo-Nazi, the issue is an inevitable one.
First, I want to make clear that I am not accusing the current station management of being consciously anti-Semitic. I believe that what is at work here is either a naivete that is incapable of recognizing fascist propaganda, or a cynicism that is willing to accommodate it if it is perceived to be profitable. These are both lamentable possibilities, but I don't believe there are ideological anti-Semites in BAI's leadership.
A second point is a warning against any attempt to warp my comments to fit into the depressing Black-versus-Jewish paradigm. Over the years, some of the worst promoters of anti-Semitism at BAI have been white. Perversely, some have even been Jewish. The fact that the current program director and station manager are Black does not strike me as particularly relevant. In my protests of this programming, I have repeatedly emphasized that anti-Semitism is part and parcel of the ideology of white supremacy. Blacks who buy into it are accepting the oppressor's ideology no less than that majority of American Jews who support the European colonialist project known as Zionism.
I accept full responsibility for everything I have said, and I am ready to face the consequences. I welcome the vindication of censorship. I emphasize that I am speaking here as an individual, not on behalf of the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade collective. We are told there is no gag rule at WBAI; tonight I put it to the test. And I will continue to do so as long as I have access to the microphone, until things are put right. This includes, but is by no means limited to, the return of the Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade to its rightful and long-established midnight timeslot.
The risk I am taking is small in the grand scheme of things. The worst they can do to me is take away my radio show. Talk is notoriously cheap, and that's all I'm doing. So at risk of seeming ridiculous, I will nonetheless close by invoking a fabled freedom fighter who gave the last full measure of devotion.
In the spirit of Crazy Horse--It's a good day to die.
Broadcast Dec. 28, 2010