On 3/13, Pacifica Radio’s board voted to fire its executive director, Summer Reese. Four days later, Reese sent an email to the entire Pacifica staff announcing that she was not recognizing the board’s authority: “I want to assure you that I am in possession of a signed and valid contract for three years of employment from the board of directors and that I fully intend to complete that contract.”
And so it was, said an LA Weekly story, that Reese marched to the Pacifica national office in Berkeley on 3/17, bolt cutters in hand, removed a padlock placed on the front doors over the weekend, and essentially occupied the building. When newly appointed interim executive director Margy Wilkinson showed up, Reese and 12 of her compatriots — including Reese’s mother, a longtime anti-war and civil rights activist — refused to let Wilkinson, her husband and two of her allies pass.
“You’re all going to be personally liable — and I’m going to enjoy your houses!” Reese shouted at them, according to former board member Sasha Sutran, who backs Wilkinson.
Later Reese read for all the staff, in her deep and booming voice, from the Book of Joshua: “Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.”
“I feel like I’ve ended up in an insane asylum,” Sutran told L.A. Weekly a few hours later, still in disbelief.
“I’m not leaving the building until this is resolved by either the Attorney General’s Office or the court,” Reese told the Weekly. “I don’t want these people to destroy Pacifica.”
The story noted that during an average 15-minute period, just 700 people listen to its Los Angeles station, KPFK-FM, for at least five minutes, according to Nielsen Audio, which monitors radio ratings.
For L.A.’s other public radio stations, KCRW and KPCC, that number is 8,000 and 20,000, respectively. KPFK draws roughly one one-thousandth of all radio listeners in the Metro Los Angeles area.
Pacifica’s New York station, WBAI, is even worse off, with too few listeners to register on the Arbitron rankings, and is all but bankrupt. Last year, most of the staff was laid off, including the entire news department.
Making matters worse, the federal government, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, is withholding Pacifica’s grant money, thanks to the network’s “failure to provide documentation” for a 2012 audit.
Reese accuses her enemies of plotting to cover up financial malfeasance and even embezzlement. Reese’s opponents accuse her of incompetence and scheming to turn over control of the organization to Gary Null, an alternative-medicine guru and longtime Pacifica host, who sells his own vitamins and nutritional supplements during pledge drives — for which he takes a healthy cut, according to several board members and managers who spoke to the Weekly.